Guest article – Erdoğan is once again sending Turkish jets over Greek islands – and ignites out of sheer fear

Guest article: Erdoğan is once again sending Turkish jets over Greek islands – and is igniting out of sheer fear

In the dispute between Turkey and Greece in the Aegean, Turkish fighter jets apparently flew over two Greek islands on Tuesday. It is not the first time that Turkish President Erdoğan has ignited the region. Beate Apelt, Turkey project manager at the Friedrich Naumann Foundation in Istanbul, analyzed the background to the dispute.

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Turkish President Erdoğan and Greek Prime Minister Mitsotakis only met in April to defuse their bilateral tensions in view of the Russian war of aggression. But hopes for an improvement in the notoriously conflicted relationship were short-lived: In a televised address after the cabinet meeting on May 23, Erdoğan used heavy rhetorical artillery and ranted that Mitsotakis “no longer exists for him” and that he will “never meet him again.

The current occasion was obviously Mitsotakis’ speech before the American Congress, where shortly before he was the first Greek prime minister to speak. There, the Greek head of government had implored the Americans not to resume their arms deliveries to Turkey. They are on hold because of Turkey’s purchase of the S400 missile defense system from Russia. In the course of Turkey’s growing negotiating leeway in the context of the Russian war, hopes are being raised in Ankara that it will soon be able to buy F16 fighter jets again. The American President had already sent positive signals on this.

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Erdoğan: “I advise Greece to avoid dreams, actions and words that it will regret”

But Erdoğan did not stop at criticizing Greek lobbying in Washington, but also raised an issue that has long been a thorn in Turkey’s side: Greece’s military presence on some of its islands, which lie close to mainland Turkey and are actually “demilitarized”. should be.

“I advise Greece to avoid dreams, actions and expressions that it will regret. Come to your senses!” Erdoğan warned. And followed up with a tweet in Greek: “Turkey will not waive its rights in the Aegean and will also exercise its rights under international agreements when it comes to arming islands”.

Speaking in Turkish, Greek ex-Prime Minister and leader of the left-wing Syriza party Alexis Tsipras replied that Greece would defend its sovereignty against any threat and that dialogue should be returned. In the weeks that followed, Turkey’s Foreign Minister Çavuşoğlu repeatedly threatened that the islands’ sovereignty would be in question if Greece did not end its rule-breaking. The fact that Mitsotakis visited three of the islands in question, Kos, Pserimos and Astypalea, in early June was commented on in the Turkish media as an “EU-backed show”.

The situation itself is complex in terms of both international law and politics

In addition, there were mutual accusations that they had violated each other’s airspace, and Ankara accused Greece of harboring former PKK fighters in one of its refugee camps. Before the NATO foreign ministers’ meeting in mid-June, NATO Secretary General Stoltenberg finally felt compelled to call for moderation on both sides; Washington and Brussels warned Turkey to respect Greek sovereignty.

The situation itself is complex in terms of both international law and politics. The 1923 Treaty of Lausanne and the 1947 Peace Treaty of Paris stipulated either full or partial demilitarization for the affected islands. Greece has not adhered to this for a long time and justifies this partly with a different interpretation of the legal situation, partly with the threat from numerous Turkish landing ships in the immediate vicinity and the right to self-defence laid down in the UN charter.


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Escalation around the Aegean islands: In the end, it was probably just a diversionary maneuver by the Turkish president

The scramble for islands doesn’t happen in a vacuum. Turkey, which traditionally sees itself as a “lone wolf” in the region despite its NATO membership, is suspicious of Greece’s military strengthening by other allies. Only a few days before the prime minister’s visit to the USA, the Greek parliament passed the renewal of a defense agreement that guarantees the USA the use of three military bases in central and northern Greece as well as a naval base for five years.

Although the increased American presence officially serves to stabilize the region in the face of the Russian threat, Ankara feels it is directed against itself and reacts accordingly with thin skin.

Although the escalation surrounding the Aegean islands is based on tangible points of contention, it is more likely to be a diversionary maneuver from Turkey’s domestic political misery. With historically poor poll numbers and official inflation over 70 percent, the president has to worry about his re-election next year. The staging of a self-confident policy against external opponents should be good for his reputation. It is also playing with fire, which gives cause for concern.

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