Russian Orthodox Monks Worried by Turkish-Greek Tensions Over Mount Athos


Mount Athos

January 5, 2016

Russian Athos

Translated from Russian by Kristina Rus for Fort Russ

Turkey announced Athos and other parts of the Aegean sea the territory of its military exercises

Turkey declared restrictions for air navigation in the area of Mount Athos and in other parts of the Aegean sea on the sovereign territory of Greece in connection with “military exercises”, reports RIA-Novosti.

In particular, Ankara issued notifications Α5885/15, Α5884/15 and Α5881/15, announcing the closure of three districts in Northern, Central and Southern parts of the Aegean sea for a year in connection with military exercises. The areas of “Turkish exercises” include Greek territorial waters and parts of the Greek territory – the Athos peninsula, Lemnos, Skyros, Patmos, Tinos, Mykonos islands and others.

Greece regards such action by Ankara as a provocative attempt to undermine the sovereign rights of Greece on its territory. According to the Greek source, the areas specified by the Turkish authorities include oil fields in the North Aegean sea, the island of Skyros, which is the central pillar of the Greek air defense in the Aegean sea, housing anti-aircraft systems Patriot PAC-3 missiles and MM-40 Exocet.

In response Greek civil aviation issued three NOTAM notices to the pilots which annulled the three Turkish NOTAM about the closure of the three areas of the Aegean sea. The Greek notice stated that only the Greek authorities are authorized to issue notifications relating to Athens flight information region (Athens FIR). The document notes that “the coordinates given by Ankara overlap the areas of national sovereignty of Greece” and affect international aviation corridors R19 and L995, as well as domestic corridors.

The ‘Aegean dispute’ is a long-standing explosive issue in relations between Turkey and Greece, which repeatedly led to escalations, close to an outbreak of military conflict between the two states (the most serious in recent times – in 1987 and 1996). It stems from contentious claims on the territorial waters, continental shelf and air space in the region, which Turkey has repeatedly made clear to Greece.

Mount Athos remains under threat In this conflict between the two powers . For many centuries a part of Turkey, the Athos peninsula was occupied by Greek troops only in November 1912. However, as noted by Professor O. Petrunina (Moscow State University), the final inclusion of Mount Athos into Greece can only be ascribed to 1926. Before that neither the London nor the Bucharest conferences and the peace treaties signed there (1913) authorized the annexation of Athos by Greece, leaving this issue unresolved. 

Due to the fact that the Russian monasteries on Mount Athos were exposed to pressure and discrimination at that time, the Russian Empire decided to station Russian troops on Mount Athos at the end of 1916 to protect the Russian Athonite monks. On 3(16) January 1917 a joint Franco-Russian squad landed on Mount Athos, which took control of the peninsula to ensure order. The Russian Empire was opposed to the inclusion of Mount Athos into only one state, defending the need to preserve the international sovereign status of the peninsula as an Autonomous Monastic Republic under the protectorate of the Orthodox states, which had monasteries on the peninsula (Russia, Greece, Bulgaria, Romania and Serbia). However, further tragic events of 1917 have left these plans unfulfilled.

The contentious nature of the inclusion of Mount Athos into the Greek state repeatedly gave Turkey a reason to doubt the legality of this act.

Given the recent deterioration of relations between Turkey and Russia, which has always acted in defense of Greece, the escalation of the Greek-Turkish tensions along the ‘Aegean dispute’ is a direct threat to Athos, and in particular the Russian monastery located here, which in the case of military escalation may end up on the “bleeding edge”.   

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