Turkey ratchets up tensions

3 February 2017
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In the aftermath of Wednesday’s barrage of Turkish air space violations, believed to be in response to Defense Minister Panos Kammenos’s helicopter flight over the Imia islets in the southeastern Aegean earlier in the day, Ankara ratcheted up the rhetoric on Thursday, with Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu suggesting that both countries were close to the point of “no return.”

“Turkey knows how to give the right response and, by Allah, in the event of an accident there will be no return,” Cavusoglu said in an interview with Turkish daily Hurriyet, and urged Kammenos to “come to his senses,” in reference to his flight over the islets, whose status has been repeatedly disputed by Ankara. Kammenos had dropped a wreath over Imia to commemorate the death of three Greek servicemen whose helicopter crashed at the height of a crisis over the islets 21 years ago.

Cavusoglu further claimed that Greece has been engaging in provocative actions and said Turkey is displaying prudence so as to avoid tensions with its neighbors. Turkey has been “mature” in its behavior and so should Kammenos, he said.

For its part, Athens opted for a low-key response to what is being described as a spike in the incendiary rhetoric emanating from Ankara.

“We are a country that believes in good-neighborly relations,” Greek Foreign Minister Nikos Kotzias said on Thursday. “We do not want friction with anyone but we will not yield to pressure from anyone.” He added that Greece “believes in the international rule of law.”

Cavusoglu’s remarks exemplify Turkey’s worrisome behavior since Greece’s Supreme Court refused to extradite eight Turkish servicemen who Ankara wants to put on trial for their alleged role in the failed coup in the neighboring country in July.

Turkish TV crews have been sighted on the mainland opposite Imia where they are reportedly monitoring movement around the islets.

Athens has so far opted for a principle of proportional response, meaning that when Turkish coast guard vessels appear in the area of the islets, the Hellenic Coast Guard is dispatched. When the Turkish Navy appears, its Greek counterpart also sends vessels to the area.

Athens has also issued strict instructions to military authorities to ensure that an accident is avoided at all costs during the mock dogfights that erupt over the Aegean Sea when Greek fighter jets lift off to intercept Turkish aircraft entering Greece’s air space.

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