While Ankara renews its national security document and changes its redlines, Athens again accuses Turkey of ‘continued provocations’ in the form of threatening war and violating Greece’s aerial and naval sovereignty. Athens says it has a right to extend its territorial waters and that it is reserving this right.
Athens is accusing Ankara of «continued provocations» in the form of threats and violations of the country’s aerial and naval sovereignty that have allegedly occurred despite improving relations between Greece and Turkey.
«To keep this war threat alive in the year 2010 is anachronistic and is effectively a provocation,» said a diplomatic source in Athens. «Turkey has a right to disagree with us, but should put forward this disagreement in other ways. There are more civilized ways to resolve this. In the 21st century, you cannot threaten a neighbor with war.»
The continued tension comes against the backdrop of some of the Aegean neighbors’ best relations in decades. The relationship has greatly improved over the past 10 years and annual trade volume reached a total of $3 billion last year, with cultural interaction and the tourism sector growing the most rapidly.
Problems, however, remain on a number of issues, especially on issues stemming from Greece’s desire to extend its sea borders from six nautical miles to 12 nautical miles from the Greek coast. Ankara, however, declared the consideration a “casus belli” after it was first announced in 1995.
Turkish officials said that in the event of such an extension of Greek territorial waters, the Aegean Sea, which has a vast number of Greek islands, would effectively be rendered a Greek Sea. Ankara, as a result, said such a situation would be unacceptable.
Greece, however, says that under international agreements, it has the right to extend its territorial waters.
«The longstanding threat of war … is unacceptable and has no place in our European and global family of values and principles,» Greek Foreign Minister Dimitris Droutsas said in a speech to the United Nations General Assembly in New York on Sept. 29.
Turkey is currently in the process of renewing its national security document, and initial reports suggested Ankara might be ready to rescind the casus belli. However, top Turkish officials subsequently made it clear such a move would not be forthcoming.
Aerial and naval rifts
Further adding to the tension between the two countries are Greek accusations that Turkey is violating its airspace. Greece claims 10 miles of airspace, yet Turkey rejects this, recognizing only six miles of Greek airspace. As a result, Turkish and Greek fighter jets often enter into dog fights in the disputed area.
Greek officials said Turkish airspace violations peaked in July this year before decreasing.
In July alone there were four extreme cases of overflight, in which Turkish fighter jets flew directly over Greek islands in the Aegean, the diplomatic source in Athens said.
«This is more than a diplomatic row. People are just scared on those islands. This is unacceptable,» the source said.
A third source of friction is the continental shelf, which became a topic of heated dispute this summer when the Turkish naval research ship Piri Reis sailed in July into the eastern Mediterranean.
According to Greece, the ship was not inside Greek territorial waters but was sailing along what Greece considers its continental shelf, where Athens maintains exploration rights of the potential undersea mineral and fossil fuel deposits.
Turkey rejects the Greek designation of the continental shelf and said the aim of the expedition was to survey seismic activity in the Mediterranean.
As late as last week, parts of the Greek press reported that the Turkish Navy corvette Beykoz was seen off the islands of Crete, Rhodes and even mainland Greece, sometimes in international waters and sometimes in Greek territorial waters, operating in what they described as a «suspicious and provocative» way.
Other causes of bilateral friction in the Aegean include the demilitarized status assigned to some of the Greek islands in the area and the Turkish suggestion of gray zones of undetermined sovereignty over a number of islets.
‘No easy solutions’
The decades-long dispute of Cyprus remains a major source of friction between Greece and Turkey. In a speech to the United Nations, Droutsas said the solution of Turkish-Greek disputes would not be easy.
«Greek-Turkish relations are burdened by a heavy historical past. Therefore, it is not an easy task to change their course and turn a long-standing rivalry into good-neighborliness, free of the threat of the use of force, or unfounded territorial claims,» he said.
Droutsas reiterated Greece’s support for Turkey’s eventual membership to the European Union on the condition that Turkey meet the EU criteria for accession. The diplomatic source in Athens said Greece’s complaints would be included in the European Commission’s next progress report on Turkey, whose release is expected in November.