Speaking in an interview with the website of the Strategic Council on Foreign Relations regarding Turkey’s ownership claim of 14 islands in the Aegean Sea and Greece’s letter of denial to the United Nations, Rasoul Alipour stated: Turkey believes that under the Lausanne Treaties of 1923 and Paris Agreement of 1947, Greece could not have any armed forces or establish a military base on the islands under its control in the Aegean, except for the establishment of law enforcement forces to ensure the security of its inhabitants.
He added: Conditions after the First and Second World War led to the separation of 12 islands in that sea from Italian rule, which later came under Greek rule, and some of those islands are near the coast of Antalya in the Aegean Sea and are hundreds of kilometers away from Greece. Turkey now claims that Greece has violated the treaties and challenged them.
Increased Greek military activity in eastern Mediterranean islands
Recalling that the tensions between the two countries over the islands are not limited to a specific period, and have intensified, especially since 1960, and have sometimes led to military confrontation, the expert on Turkey affairs explained: From 1960 onwards, there was disagreement between Turkey and Greece over the sovereignty, supervision and maintenance of security of the islands. Turkey said Greece is building military airport and other military installations on the islands, which is considered a threat to Turkish security.
Alipour said: Greece had also announced that the restrictions had changed as conditions changed at the time of signing the treaties. Greece believes that the Treaty of Montreux in 1936 replaced the Treaty of Lausanne, which provided for the absence of any military movement and deployment in the straits, and that there were no longer any previous restrictions on Greece.
He continued: With the increase of Greek military movements and joint exercises with the United States in those islands, tensions with Turkey intensified. Ankara described them as provocative actions by Greece and warned that if Greece did not fulfill its obligations, Turkey would claim sovereignty over the islands.
The analyst of Turkey affairs, saying that the United States had given the green light to sell F-35 fighter jets to the Greek Prime Minister during his recent visit to Washington, added: Turkey was a member of the project to build those fighter jets and various parts of it were made in Turkey. The United States was supposed to sell them to Turkey, which later announced that it would leave Turkey out of the project and not sell the fighters to it due to criticizing Turkey for buying the S400 from Russia.
Alipour said: It is said that from 2021, the movements and deployment of US and Greek troops in the Greek-ruled islands in the Aegean Sea has increased rapidly, and since Greece sees the United States by its side, with the increase in movements, its military bases in those islands have increased to 10.
He added: These tensions are not limited to the issue of sovereignty over the islands, Turkey has not done much to claim sovereignty so far, because it knows it is against the treaties and is not supported internationally, but because the level of tensions has risen, this issue was raised. In any case, Ankara is trying to manage tensions so that the crisis does not escalate to the point where it further undermines its relations with European countries and the United States.
Alipour cited demarcation of the so-called territorial waters, the continental shelf and the exclusive economic zone as tensions between Turkey and Greece in the eastern Mediterranean, and continued: Greece believes that due to its sovereignty over those islands, the islands, like the mainland of Greece, have a continental shelf and an exclusive economic zone, and Turkey cannot be present by sending a frigate around the Greek territorial waters and explore energy. Greece emphasizes that those problems must be resolved in the International Court of Justice, but Turkey has not accepted the court’s mandatory jurisdiction, declaring that the islands cannot be considered as mainland.
The expert on Turkey affairs, saying that under the status quo neither side is willing to face a serious military confrontation, noted: Although both countries are members of NATO, Turkey feels that so far in tensions it had with Greece it has been left alone by NATO and the United States and other NATO members are on Athens side. Under this situation, with warnings Turkey tries to persuade them to judge fairly about such issues.
Turkish sovereignty disputes with Greece rely on verbal claims
Emphasizing that Turkey’s sovereignty dispute with Greece will not go beyond verbal claims, he added: Greece is concerned that an operation such as the Turkish military invasion of Cyprus in 1974, on the islands under its control, will take place; for this reason, it describes its actions as defensive. Under such circumstances, the prospects for those movements and the possibility of military tensions depend on Greek action and the extent of progress on the islands near Turkey.
He considered reliance on the issue of refugee management, as well as Sweden and Finland’s membership in NATO, as the trump card and pressure lever of Turkey so that the country will not be in the position of weakness and added: Turkey knows that the US has played a prominent role in the coups and overthrows of previous governments and when it establishes military bases around Turkey and gives fighter jets to Greece, with which it has long-standing differences, its worries increase.
Alipour, meanwhile, added: The government based in Turkey is a government that came from a coalition of moderate parties and Turkish nationalists and has about a year left until the elections. Under such circumstances, Turkish politicians usually prefer to use international issues in order to make the most of domestic nationalist sentiments. During the previous elections, we witnessed similar tensions between Turkey and countries such as Germany and the Netherlands; therefore, as the elections approach, we will continue to see such verbal tensions.