It was to be expected that the decision by the Supreme Court last week to reject Turkey’s request for the extradition of eight Turkish servicemen seeking asylum in Greece would prompt anger in Ankara. Also, it was certain that any Turkish provocation would take place in the Aegean Sea. It was of lesser significance that this came in the form of a maritime operation in a disputed area and not in the form of Greek air space violations.
On the contrary, it is important that the incident took place on the anniversary of the 1996 Imia crisis and involved the participation of Turkey’s army chief. In that sense, it was not just business as usual on the Turkish side, but a serious warning to Greece against making any unwise move in the area. After all, it’s an open secret that Turkey is monitoring statements made by senior Greek officials – and it makes no secret of its annoyance at ostensibly provocative remarks, particularly by Greek President Prokopis Pavlopoulos and Defense Minister Panos Kammenos.
However, what really got Ankara’s goat, prompting the latest Imia incident, was the unfortunate decision by Deputy Shipping Minister Nektarios Santorinios to submit a document in Parliament announcing plans to spur economic activity and create incentives for populating 28 uninhabited islands in the eastern Aegean as a response to Turkey’s questioning of Greek sovereignty on all or some of them.
It was unfortunate because projects of this nature are generally executed without prior announcement or simply not announced at all. It was also unfortunate because the announcement was bound to spark a Turkish reaction at a time when Greece was not in a position to play with fire. Backing down from an initiative that indicated poor judgment was inevitable.
Hence, it is wrong to believe that the senior Turkish army officer’s sensational “jaunt” around the Aegean islets was aimed at Turkey’s domestic audience in the context of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s efforts to augment his powers. It is wrong to believe that it was designed to reinforce Erdogan’s nationalist profile. There should be no question that it served as a warning to Greece, which should by no means be underestimated here.
That said, Greece isn’t the only country caught up in an extradition row with Turkey. A memo by Turkish diplomats yesterday revealed that Ankara has requested the extradition of former Turkish soldiers suspected of having links to the failed July coup from other countries, including Germany and Belgium. Its requests have apparently not been met. One could say that, in this matter also, Greece is better off thanks to its EU membership.