by Uzay Bulut
On April 17, two Turkish fighter aircraft harassed the helicopter carrying Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras and the Greek Armed Forces Chief Admiral Evangelos Apostolakis as they were flying from the islet of Ro to Rhodes.
With the illegal seizures and occupation of northern Cyprus in 1974 and the Syrian city of Afrin this March — with virtually no global response — Turkey apparently feels unchallenged and eager to continue; this time, it seems, with the oil-and-gas rich islands of Greece.
Another provocation by the Turkish government recently took place when three young Greek men recently paid tribute to a dead pilot by planting five flags in some islets in the Aegean.
According to the Turkish media, Turkey first urged Greece to remove the flags, then carried out a military operation against a tiny islet, Mikros Anthropofagos, at night: special operation units (SAT) of the Turkish Navy allegedly removed them on April 15.
“Do not take dangerous steps,” Turkish foreign minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu, warned Greece: “Our soldiers might cause an accident.”
Many Turkish media outlets proudly covered the operation as if Turkey, in a triumphant battle, had conquered new realms. The Greek media, however, reported that according to witnesses in the area, all five flags are apparently still in place.
The Aegean islands that Turkey keeps threatening to invade, legally and historically belong to Greece.
Since Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan visited Greece last December, the Turkish media has escalated its anti-Greek, pro-war reporting concerning “the Greek occupation of the islands.” Some newspapers claim that “Greece has become home to terrorists hostile to Turkey.” Others say, “Greece is planning to invade Turkey.” Some columnists claim that “Turkey can fight against Greece in the Aegean”, while others accuse Greek consular officials in Istanbul of trying to revive the Greek Byzantine Empire through an exhibition the Greek consulate organized in Istanbul from December 2017 – January 2018.
Why are so many Turks obsessed with Greece?
In 1923, after a major attack against Anatolian Greeks — the 1913-1923 genocide – the Turkish republic was founded. Since then, Turkey’s expansionist goals seem to be inspired by a seeming historical aggression, hatred towards Greeks, neo-Ottomanism and an Islamic tradition of conquest, or jihad.
From the mid-15th century until the proclamation of the first Hellenic republic in 1822, modern Greece’s borders were occupied by the Ottoman Empire. Erdogan has been open about his goals of resurrecting the Empire or at least expanding Turkish territory as much as possible:
“There are physical borders and there are borders in our hearts,” he said. “Some people ask us: ‘Why do you take an interest in Iraq, Syria, Georgia, Crimea, Karabakh, Azerbaijan, the Balkans, and North Africa?’… None of these lands is foreign to us. Is it possible to divide Rize [in Turkey] from Batumi [in Georgia]? How can we consider Edirne [in Turkey] to be separate from Thessaloniki [in Greece]? How can we think that Gaziantep [in Turkey] has nothing to do with Aleppo [in Syria], Mardin [in Turkey] with Al-Hasakah [in Syria], or Siirt [in Turkey] with Mosul [in Iraq]?
“From Thrace to Eastern Europe, with every step you take, you will see traces of our ancestors… We would need to deny our true selves for us to think Gaza and Siberia, with whom we speak the same language and share the same culture, is separate from us. To take an interest in Iraq, Syria, Libya, Crimea, Karabakh, Bosnia and other brotherly regions is both the duty and the right of Turkey. Turkey is not just Turkey. The day we give up on these things will be the day we give up on our freedom and future.”
Erdogan also referred to the Misak-ı Milli (“National Pact”), a set of decisions made by the Ottoman Parliament in 1920 concerning the borders of the future Turkish state to be established in Ottoman Turkey. The National Pact is commonly referenced by Turks when calling for Turkish territorial expansion.
The Turkish newspaper Hürriyet wrote:
“Some historians say that according to the National Pact, the Turkish borders include — in addition to the current borders of Turkey — Cyprus, Aleppo [in Syria], Mosul, Erbil, Kirkuk [in Iraq], Batumi [in Georgia], Thessaloniki [in Greece], Kardzhali, Varna [in Bulgaria], and the Aegean islands.”
On April 18, the Turkish foreign ministry asserted, “the Kardak rocks [Greece’s Imia islets] and their territorial waters and airspace above them are exclusive under Turkish sovereignty.”
Major political parties in Turkey unite in their desire to invade the Aegean islands — what they disagree on is who is guilty of having allowed Greek sovereignty over the islands in the first place. The main opposition party, the CHP, (Republican People’s Party) accuses the ruling AKP (Justice and Development Party) of “letting Greeks occupy Turkish islands”; the AKP accuses the CHP, the founding party of Turkey, of “letting Greeks take the islands through the 1923 Lausanne treaty.”
Turkey’s quests for new economic gains from additional tourism, but especially from the newly-found Aegean oil and gas potential, seem to have intensified Turkey’s renewed interest in Greece.
In 2011, after facing an economic crisis, Greece re-launched its own gas and oil exploration. Last year, France’s Total and Italy’s Edison companies signed a lease for oil and gas exploration off Greece, Reuters reported.
Although Greece might well be willing to partner with Turkey in economic agreements, Turkey appears to prefer “other means.”
Turkish needs are in reality supplied by its association with the US. Turkish officials usually get whatever they want from the West, but they seem to have chosen to align themselves with Iran and Russia, possibly in attempt to blackmail the West for more.
In the meantime, Turkish politicians threaten Greece on Turkish national television. Yiğit Bulut, a chief advisor to Erdogan, recently said that he wants to avenge the blood of his grandfather, whom he claims was killed by Greeks:
“Anatolia [Turkey] will walk all over Greece. And no one can prevent this. Greece should know its place. If they try to attack and rape this geography like they did 100 years ago by trusting [French President] Macron, England, the U.S., Germany and [Angela] Merkel, these attempts will end terribly.”
The time to stop Turkey is now.
Uzay Bulut is a journalist from Turkey and a fellow with the news and public policy group Haym Salomon Center. She is presently based in Washington D.C.
© 2018 Gatestone Institute, Reprinted by permission.