ATHENS – Greece's then-ruling Radical Left SYRIZA in July 2016 wanted to hand over to Turkey eight soldiers who landed a helicopter in northern Greece as they fled a failed coup against President Recep Tayyip Erdogan but there was no communication.
That was said by former defense minister Evangelos Apostolakis in an interview with Greek broadcaster Mega, although the government he served later didn't make any further attempts to do so.
“Even when the helicopter with the eight (servicemen) landed, an attempt was made to return the helicopter, but communications (with Turkey) were lost,” he said.
“When the helicopter landed, I tried to contact [Turkish Defence Minister Hulusi] Akar, because the matter would have been closed much more smoothly,” he said, indicating SYRIZA was eager to send them back although they later told a Greek court their lives would be in danger.
When communications were restored and Akar finally asked Apostolakis to extradite the Turkish officers, “the situation had developed, they (the officers) had been arrested, they had entered the asylum procedure, Justice had been involved, there was no way to do anything,” said Apostolakis.
“The point was, at that moment, before they were accepted, to have had some communication so as to do what had to be done,” he said in a revelation as to what happened that night.
Apostolakis claimed that Greece had information on the afternoon of July 15 that a coup was being planned and that the head of the National Intelligence Service (EYP) spoke to Akar about it.
But Nordic Monitor, a news portal that reports about developments on extremism, terrorism, crime, foreign policy, security and military matters, reported in November, 2019 that then-Foreign Minister Nikos Kotzias wanted to send them back on the spot.
The site said the Turkish military had prepared a plan to get them out of Greece, citing and publishing secret documents revealing the scheme that didn't happen and would have seen Turkish Special Forces involved.
According to the intelligence memo, Greek authorities agreed to return not only the helicopter but also the eight Turkish officers who fled to avoid torture, ill treatment and possible death at the hands of the Turkish military and police.
Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavusoglu said he had spoken to Kotzias on the phone and claimed Kotzias assured him that Greece would return the eight soldiers as soon as possible, but then the Greek courts and asylum procedures took it over.