The territorial dispute that has been going on for decades between the two NATO member countries Turkey and Greece is not only not abating, but, unfortunately, is steadily gaining momentum. Countries regularly put forward claims against each other, including disputes over maritime borders and airspace in the Eastern Mediterranean.
In recent months, tensions between the two have escalated again after Turkey presented Greece with another claim regarding the militarization of islands in the Aegean Sea. The head of Turkish diplomacy, Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu, issued an ultimatum at the end of May: the Greek islands in the Aegean Sea must be demilitarized, otherwise the “question of their ownership” will appear on the agenda. According to Turkey, Greece is violating the terms of two peace agreements — the Treaty of Lausanne (1923) and the Paris Peace Treaty (1947), according to which Greece received a group of islands in the Aegean Sea, pledging not to allow their militarization. The head of the Turkish Nationalist Movement Party, Devlet Bahçeli, a close ally of President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan in the coalition, spoke in a no less sharp manner. “The property stolen from us must be returned,” Bahçeli pointed out, clearly referring to the disputed islands in the Aegean Sea, and added that this could be done either “amicably or with the use of force.”
In turn, Greece accuses Turkey of provocations and is fearing “hybrid threats aimed at internal destabilization” in areas bordering Turkey. In particular, the Greek side complains about the increased flow of illegal migrants entering the EU through the Turkish-Greek border. And although there is now a 40-kilometer fence along the border, Greece has nevertheless already requested additional funding from the EU to extend these barriers up to 120 km, as the Minister for Migration Affairs Panagiotis Mitarakis recently stated. In addition, Greece accuses Turkey of violations of Greek airspace and flights of Turkish military aircraft over Greek islands, as well as aggressive rhetoric. These accusations, as the Greek newspaper Proto Thema pointed out at the end of May, citing Greek government sources, were discussed in detail at the May bilateral meeting of Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis with German Chancellor Olaf Scholz.
This quarrel was continued by a whole series of loud statements concerning Turkish-Greek relations. In particular, in June, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, after accusing Mitsotakis of exerting pressure on the United States in order to block the sale of F-16 fighter jets to Turkey, suspended bilateral contacts and promised not to hold meetings with Mitsotakis again. The reason for such a sharp reaction by Erdoğan was the statements of the head of the Greek government during his trip to the United States in May of this year. According to the Turkish leader, Mitsotakis openly spoke against Turkey and called on the US Congress to disallow the sale of American F-16 fighter jets to Turkey. It was clearly under the influence of the position voiced by Greece that the Rules Committee of the US House of Representatives voted in mid-July to include the amendment of the Democrat Chris Pappas in The National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) for fiscal year 2023. This amendment prohibits the sale to Turkey of F-16 fighter jets or kits for the modernization of these combat vehicles “unless certain conditions are met” and requires the American president to “take particular steps to ensure that the supplied F-16s are not used by Turkey for unauthorized flights over the territory of Greece.” Turkey’s anti-Greek position was also strengthened by the fact that, in the meantime, the Chief of the Hellenic National Defence General Staff Konstantinos Floros visited the Lockheed Martin Defense Corporation enterprise in the United States and the production line for the fifth-generation F-35 multipurpose fighters that Greece intends to purchase, and which the US refuses to sell to Turkey.
For his part, the Minister of Foreign Affairs of Greece Nikolaos Dendias, speaking at the Greek Parliament’s Standing Committee on National Defense and Foreign Affairs on July 13, stressed Greece’s rejection of the demonstration of the map on which a number of Greek islands in the Eastern Mediterranean were designated as Turkish by the Turkish president’s Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s junior coalition partner Devlet Bahçeli who is the leader of the Nationalist Movement Party.
At the same time, it should be recalled that is not the first time that Devlet Bahçeli, pursuing the openly nationalist goals of his party, introduces territorial quarrels in Turkey’s relations with other countries behind Erdoğan’s back. For instance, in November last year, he published photo of himself near the “Map of the Turkish World,” on which almost two dozen regions of the Russian Federation, from Dagestan and the Orenburg region to Altai and Yakutia, are designated as Turkic lands.
At the same time, at the initiative of representatives of Turkish nationalist parties and associations, Turkey’s territorial ambitions have been manifested more and more often in the recent times. For instance, in February last year, a story was presented on the Turkish TV channel TRT1, in which the presenter demonstrated the territories that “will become part of Turkey by 2050.” Among these foreign territories were named, in particular, not only Russian territories (the Rostov, Volgograd, Astrakhan, Saratov, Samara regions, Chuvashia, Chechnya, Dagestan, Adygea, North Ossetia, Crimea, Sevastopol, the Krasnodar and Stavropol Territories), but also Greece, Armenia, Cyprus, Georgia, Abkhazia, South Ossetia, Azerbaijan, Egypt, Libya, as well as the Arabian Peninsula and most of Central Asia. By the way, it was this wave of pan-Turkism, that is, the idea of creating a great empire, that led the Turks back in the day to the side of the German bloc, as part of which they took part in the First World War, which resulted in the collapse of the empire.
Now many organizations in Turkey adhere to such a policy of pan-Turkism and are supported by the Turkish government, which is preparing for elections to be held in 2023, as well as for the celebration of the 100th anniversary of the establishment of the Turkish Republic next year. To this end, Turkey continues to strengthen its position on regional and global issues, reinforcing, among other things, criticism of Greece in deliberate violation of the Lausanne Peace Treaty. In particular, in his message on the occasion of the 99th anniversary of the signing of the Lausanne Peace Treaty, the Turkish leader recalled that thanks to this treaty it was possible to designate the land borders of Turkey, guarantee the rights of the Turkish national minority in Greece, and also confirm the demilitarized status of the Greek islands near the Turkish coast. According to him, Turkey cannot accept the fact that Greece, violating the provisions of this document, contradicts the principles of good neighborliness and commitment to agreements.
Considering all of this, one would be foolish to hope for a reduction in the intensity of animosity between Turkey and Greece any time soon.
Vladimir Odintsov, political observer, exclusively for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook”.