‘Greek defence minister should gather his wits’, Aegean crisis simmers

Greek Defence Minister Panos Kammenos visiting disputed islands in Aegean Sea.

Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said yesterday that Greece’s Defence Minister, Panos Kammenos, needed to “gather his wits” after the Greek minister visited the disputed Imia Islands (Kardak in Turkish) on the 21st anniversary of the incidents which took place in 1996.

A visit by Hulusi Akar, the Chief of the General Staff of the Turkish Armed Forces, and other high ranking officers to the disputed islets of Imia (Kardak in Turkish) in the Aegean Sea on Sunday, had raised tensions between Ankara and Athens. The Greek daily Dimokratia reported on the event with the headline “Enemy at the gate!”

The Greek President Prokopis Pavlopoulos also weighed in on the actions of the Turkish General saying, “This is a serious infringement. This is not just an infringement of Greece’s borders, but that of Europe’s too. I hope this will not be repeated in the future. Because this will not only have an adverse impact on Greece-Turkey relations, but will also impact Turkey’s relations with the EU.”

Referring to Kamenos’ visit to the disputed islands where he left a wreath to mark the occasion, Cavusoglu said, “they must not exploit our maturity. We know when we need to respond”.

Expanding on his comments, Cavusoglu said, “We don’t even raise most of their infringements. But they are using the Kardak incident as an opportunity to raise tensions. The defence minister needs to gather his wits. His actions are not anything new, he is constantly looking to provoke us. We told [Greek Prime Minister Alexis] Tsipras about his actions before. Both countries should solve disputes with dialogue. One needs to be prudent. If tensions escalate, God forbid an unwanted accident will be very difficult to repair. We are behaving very maturely. The Greek defence minister must behave with the same maturity.”

Greek minister Kammenos claimed yesterday that Turkish warplanes had conducted mass incursions into Greek airspace, actions he referred to as “cowboy antics”. Kammenos said, “We want peace, we are not looking for a fight or for trouble in the Aegean, but there won’t be an aircraft which will not be intercepted”.

The Imia/Kardak dispute has generally surfaced in the last couple of decades whenever political relations between Turkey and Greece have hit rocky waters. On this occassion the Turkish general’s visit to the disputed region came two days after a Greek court had rejected Turkey’s request of extradition for eight soldiers who fled to Greece the day after last year’s coup attempt. Turkey accuses the soldiers of being putschists.