Turkish Prime Minister Binali Yıldırım has sent a letter to his Greek counterpart Aleksis Tsipras to convey Ankara’s disappointment at the court decision rejecting the extradition of eight Turkish soldiers, calling on the Greek government to “act like a neighbor” and renewing his government’s demand.
“The refusal to extradite coup plotters is a frustration for us. I have sent a letter to Mr. Tsipras about it. I have again expressed our expectation for the extradition of these people by reviewing this verdict within the boundaries of the law,” Yıldırım told reporters in Ankara on Feb. 2, adding that he sent the letter quite recently and had yet to receive any reply.
Tension in the Aegean Sea has flared once again after a Greek court denied the extradition of eight Turkish troops who escaped to Greece during July 2016 coup attempt in a military helicopter. After the ruling, Turkish Chief of General Staff Gen. Hulusi Akar and all force commanders paid a surprise visit to Kardak islets in the Aegean on the 21st anniversary of the crisis that brought the two neighbors to the brink over a war over the disputed sovereignty of the islet.
Yıldırım called on Athens to hand over the troops to Turkey “just as other neighbors have already done.”
He said Turkey and Greece as two neighbors should always try to get along well, as they cannot change their geography, stressing that Turkey has no intention to break its ties with its Aegean neighbor.
“We are replying to some exaggerated [moves] and provocations coming from the other side of the [Aegean] by smiling. They should not misread it,” Yıldırım added.
Recalling Greek Defense Minister Panos Kammenos’ visit to the rocky islets in the Aegean, where he posed for photographs, Yıldırım said they have “no meaning for us at all,” adding that there were 130 islets and rocks whose sovereignty is “not certain.”
“Problems in the Aegean are not new. They have a long history. But we can’t build a constructive neighborhood relationship if we always put forward our differences. We should talk about our mutual future and mutual interests, not about problems,” he said, warning that Turkey has the “power to reply to any hostile attempt.”
War of words between Ankara and Athens
Meanwhile, Turkish and Greek ministers have continued to engage in a war of words, as tension between the two countries rises over the Aegean islets of Kardak, over which both countries lay claim.
Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu said Greek Defense Minister Panos Kammenos should “come to his senses,” after the latter visited the Kardak islets on the Aegean Sea on Feb. 1 and called Turkey’s acts “cowboy antics.”
The islets, known as Imia in Greek and Kardak in Turkish, are two small uninhabited rocks in the Aegean Sea, situated between the Greek island chain of the Dodecanese and the southwestern mainland coast of Turkey. Greece and Turkey nearly went to war over the islets in 1996 in an escalation that resulted in each side landing soldiers on one islet.
Stating that Kammenos and Greece were “conducting provocative acts,” Çavuşoğlu said Ankara was acting with “good sense” in order to prevent tension between the two neighbors.
“We have not even mentioned many of [the violations of Kardak by Greece]. They increase the tension by using the Kardak issue. The defense minister [Kammenos] should come to his senses,” Çavuşoğlu told daily Hürriyet on Feb. 1.
“They should not abuse our attitude of good sense,” he added, stating that dispute between the two countries should be resolved through dialogue to avoid further tension and possible “mistakes.”
“We are acting maturely. The Greek defense minister should also act with maturity,” Çavuşoğlu said.
Çavuşoğlu’s remarks came after Kammenos earlier on the same day criticized what he called Turkey’s “cowboy antics.”
“We want peace. We are not looking for a fight or for trouble in the Aegean. But there won’t be any aircraft that will not be intercepted,” Kammenos told Antenna Television, according to Reuters.
He was speaking after visiting the air space over the Kardak islets, located about one nautical mile from Turkey’s touristic resort of Bodrum on Feb. 1, leaving a wreath in the Aegean Sea in memory of three Greek soldiers who died in a helicopter accident during the 1996 crisis between the two countries over sovereignty of the islets.
“It was my obligation to be there … I won’t ask for anyone’s permission,” Reuters quoted Kammenos as saying after the visit.
His remarks also followed Turkish Defense Minister Fikri Işık’s statement to the Hürriyet Daily News on Feb. 1 that Turkey did not want to be the one to escalate tension with Greece but it would also not “bow to any fait accompli.”
“Greece has recently increased the frequency of its border violations. From time to time this is due to Greek domestic politics. But that is not something good,” said Işık, adding that problems need to be solved through dialogue.