ATHENS, Greece – Greece’s high military ranks set off an exceptionally severe set of warnings to Turkey, threatening to crush its troops if they dared to land on any islet disputed in the Aegean – but Ankara also failed to measure their words.
Reacting to violations of Greek airspace by Turkish jets over the Aegean Sea, Defense Minister Panos Kammenos warned that Ankara would pay a big price.
“If they make the slightest move, we will crush them,” threatened Kammenos. Athens wants peace and harmony, he said, but will not “concede a single inch” of their lands.
The Greek minister was visiting a military post on the small island of Leros in the Aegean Sea, so the bellicose rhetoric could be explained by his desire to raise the morale of the troops. But it was also repeated by Admiral Evangelos Apostolakis, chief of the Hellenic General Staff.
“If the Turks land on a rocky islet, we will knock it down. This is a red line that is adopted by the government,” said Apostolakis.
He suggested that a military confrontation with Turkey is a possibility but said that “along with the US and the European Union, we want to ensure that the Turks do not reach that point.”
The attack came after Greek military officials said a pair of Turkish F-16s flew over the island of Kastelorizo in the eastern Aegean Sea on Thursday, minutes after a helicopter carrying Greek Defense Minister Panos Kammenos, travelled to Athens.
Turkey, however, will not allow “any fait accompli in the Aegean Sea and the Mediterranean,” according to General Hulusi Akar, head of its General Staff. There is no way for Turkey to withdraw “from the rights of our country and our people,” he said.
Although formally NATO allies, Greece and Turkey share an uncomfortable story. The modern Turkish Republic was founded after a bloody war with Greece and the western powers in 1923, and in which Turkey exterminated over a million Greeks in Thrace, Pontus and Anatolia.
The hostility between Athens and Ankara persisted over several decades, peaking during the Cyprus crisis, which almost erupted in a full-scale war after Turkish troops invaded the island’s north in 1974 and expelled the entire Greek population and colonized the north with mainland Turks who now live in Greek homes.
Currently, Greece and Turkey have several disputes over the Aegean. The sea is dotted with dozens of small islets, making the delimitation of the maritime border especially challenging. Several clashes between the warships of both countries have occurred in recent years, along with numerous meetings in the air of Turkish and Greek jets.
At times, the two countries have tried to reach agreement on the matter, but so far they have not.