The government faces a crucial period requiring delicate diplomatic maneuvering following the request of eight Turkish soldiers who are implicated in a failed coup in Turkey for political asylum in Greece.
On Monday the eight officers appeared in a court in Alexandroupoli and were granted a three-day extension to prepare their defense on charges of illegal entry into Greece and violating Greek air space.
They landed at Alexandroupoli airport on Saturday after fleeing Istanbul following the failure of an attempted coup.
The eight claim to have been unaware that a coup was under way and to have fled aboard the helicopter after coming under fire by Turkish police.
The Turkish officers – three majors, three captains and three sergeant majors – fear for their lives in their country, their lawyers say, following indications by Turkish government officials that the death penalty could be restored for those found guilty of high treason.
Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras has avoided too many public statements on the matter.
Following talks with both Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Turkish Prime Minister Binali Yildirim, Tsipras said Greek authorities will examine the asylum requests of the eight officers “swiftly” but with full respect for international laws and human rights treaties.
On Saturday, he wrote on his Twitter account: “The government and people of Greece are following the ongoing situation in Turkey standing for democracy and constitutional order.”
Foreign Minister Nikos Kotzias noted that Athens would enforce European and Greek law while also taking into account the fact that the eight officers have been implicated in an attempted coup in the neighboring country.
Greek diplomatic sources indicated on Monday that Athens is determined to avoid “importing” Turkey’s crisis.
At the same time the government wants to display a neutral stance opposite the judiciary, ahead of the Turkish officers’ trial on Thursday, and opposite the Greek Asylum Service that will consider their applications.
With Erdogan having expressed his determination to rid the armed forces of “traitors,” Athens is now waiting to see how the failed coup will impact Ankara’s movements in the Aegean – traditionally the main source of tension between the two neighbors.
Diplomatic sources said that the traditional division between the military and politicians in Turkey is very often played out in the Aegean and attribute the spike in tension last March and April – coinciding with NATO naval patrols in the area – to an attempt by senior ranking military leaders, who played a leading role in the coup, to create diplomatic problems for the Erdogan government.
Meanwhile, according to sources, the Greek Defense Ministry had observed movement of Turkish tanks hours before the coup attempt close to the border, east of Evros river, which several analysts said demonstrated the amount of planning and organization that went into the coup.
In a related development, members of the Party of Equality, Peace and Friendship (KIEF), which represents minority Muslims in Komotini are to stage a rally in the northeastern city on Sunday.
The rally, which is being held to commemorate the party’s founder, had been planned before the attempted coup but there are concerns about possible tensions in view of the Turkish officers’ trial this week.