by Aggelos Skordas
In the wake of the release of all eight Turkish servicemen who fled to Greece following the 2016 coup attempt, Ankara has increased tension in the Aegean while accusing Athens of not keeping its promise to extradite them.
Only hours after lawyer Omiros Zelios, representing the eight Turkish former soldiers, announced their release from Greek police custody, four Turkish fighter jets violated Greek air space in the Eastern Aegean seven times within less than 30 minutes.
The formation of the Turkish F-16s was split in two pairs seconds after entering Athens Flight Information Region (FIR) at 10:35 am. One pair flew over the Greek islands of Mavria (twice) and Levitha at high attitude, while the second flew over the islands of Kinaros, Levitha, Mavria and Agathonisi before leaving Athens FIR at 11:03 am. The Turkish aircrafts were identified and intercepted by Hellenic Air Force fighter jets.
Earlier on Monday, the Turkish Deputy Prime Minister Bekir Bozdag accused the Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras of not keeping his word, referring to an alleged promise to return them to Turkey following the July 2016 plot was suppressed, while repeating that Greece is providing shelter for terrorists. Greece’s Supreme Court has rejected all extradition requests, arguing they will not receive a fair trial in Turkey and the eight now reside at an undisclosed location in the region of Attica, under heavy police protection.
“We see that Greece protects terrorist members of FETO who have plotted a coup in Turkey. The Greek state provides them support. Greece, which has gone through tough times because of the coups, supports the coup organisers. We cannot accept this. With certain statements the Prime Minister of Greece made immediately after the coup, we have had a positive climate and the impression that they would be extradited. Admittedly we had hopes. We thought the word of Mr. Tsipras was the word of a man. But then with the activation of judicial mechanisms we saw that these coup plotters were not sent back”, Bozdag characteristically said. Moreover, he threatened that no matter what, the Turkish authorities will find the eight servicemen, “pack them up” and bring them back to Turkey where they will stand trial.
On his behalf, Greece’s Foreign Minister Nikos Kotzias, in an interview with public broadcaster ERT, rejected Ankara’s criticism and said that “such unfounded remarks are typical of those who conduct foreign policy with their gaze fixed on domestic politics”. As he pointed out, “Turkey knows we are not playing games. They can not, will not and won’t be allowed to come here and forcibly take someone. Unfortunately, a segment of Turkish politicians cannot understand the relationship between politics and the rule of law”.
In light of the Turkish fierce reactions, the Greek main opposition New Democracy leader Kyriakos Mitsotakis urged Tsipras to “give some answers” on his alleged promise, while labeling the Turkish officials comments as unacceptable. “Greece is a member state of the European Union and has a duty to uphold the principles of European law; to defend human rights and, of course, to respect the autonomy and independence of the Greek justice system”, he added.