Turkish Foreign Minister threatens Greek island sovereignty

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Turkish Foreign Minister Hakan Fidan threatened to challenge Greece's sovereignty over several Aegean islands, sparking fresh tensions between the two countries, according to the Nordic Monitor organisation. This comes despite a recent visit by Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan to Greece, where he pledged to improve relations.

Fidan, in a letter to parliament, claimed that existing treaties regulating the status of the islands, including Mytilene, Chios, Samos, Icaria, Lemnos, and Samothrace, could be considered null and void if Greece does not fulfill its obligations. He cited the 1923 Lausanne Treaty and the 1947 Paris Peace Treaties, which established the islands' demilitarized status.

Turkey argues that Greece has violated these agreements by militarizing the islands, posing a security threat. Fidan warned, "The violation of the non-military status of the islands poses a serious threat to the security of Turkey and the region."

This renewed threat follows similar statements from Fidan's predecessor, Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu, in February 2022. Çavuşoğlu threatened to revoke Greece's sovereignty over the islands if they continued to be militarized.

The situation in the Aegean Sea remains complex, and these renewed claims from Turkey raise concerns about potential escalation and threaten to undermine efforts to improve relations between the two countries.

In response Greece argued that its sovereignty in the islands is not conditional on any obligation whatsoever, including any obligation to demilitarize them. In a letter to the UNSC on July 28, 2021 Maria Theofili, the Greek ambassador to the UN, challenged the Turkish claims.

"Greece rejects all the Turkish allegations contained in the aforementioned letter with regard to the purported 'material breach of its demilitarization obligations', as well as the allegations that Greece's sovereignty over the Eastern Aegean islands is conditional on their demilitarization, as totally unsubstantiated, arbitrary and in bad faith," she said.

Fidan's recent letter to parliament surfaced following criticism from the opposition in December, accusing the government of remaining silent in response to what it deemed provocative statements made by Greek officials regarding an islet called Zourafa (Ladoxera) in the Aegean Sea, the status of which is disputed by both sides.

In October 2023 both Turkey and Greece issued Notice to Airmen (NOTAM) warnings in the Aegean around the Zourafa islet, each claiming sovereignty in the area. Turkey's military drill in the region between October 30 and November 2, accompanied by the issuance of a NOTAM, prompted Greece to issue a counter-NOTAM, asserting that part of the area covered by the Turkish NOTAM overlaps with Greek sovereign territory.

Athens claimed the Turkish NOTAM was null and void as it intruded into Greek airspace. Ankara responded by issuing a new NOTAM stating that the gun-firing area lies within Turkey's sovereign territory and asserting that the initial NOTAM remains in effect.

Turkey and Greece frequently confront each other, primarily due to the failure to establish FIR (Flight Information Region) demarcation lines in the Aegean Sea, stemming from conflicting claims over territorial waters.

Turkish President Erdogan visited Greece on December 7, 2023, six years after his last visit, in what was seen as a charm offensive in diplomacy amid Turkey's troubled relations with the United States. During the visit, the two sides signed the Athens Declaration on Friendly Relations and Good-Neighborliness, in which they stressed their commitment to fostering friendly relations, mutual respect, peaceful coexistence and understanding.

Abdullah Bozkurt, a Middle East Forum Writing Fellow, is a Sweden-based investigative journalist and analyst who runs the Nordic Research and Monitoring Network and is chairman of the Stockholm Center for Freedom.
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