Greece has rejected new accusations by Turkey of promoting “maximalist policies” and raising tension in the Aegean made on Thursday by Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Defense Minister Hulusi Akar.
Greek diplomats told Kathimerini that this is normal Turkish rhetoric aimed at exerting pressure for the demilitarization of Greece’s eastern Aegean islands and is being used once again for the migration issue to gain leverage. Turkey is determined to maintain rhetoric at high decibel levels, they said.
During a video message on Thursday to a conference on the Aegean and the Eastern Mediterranean in Izmir, Erdogan said that “instead of making a meaningful contribution to our well-meaning efforts, Greece has accelerated its maximalist policies.”
Referring to migration, he said that “while the refugee crisis could have led to cooperation between the two countries, this historical opportunity was wasted due to Greece’s uncompromising attitude,” according to Turkey’s Hurriyet Daily News.
On broader issues related to the Aegean and Eastern Mediterranean, Erdogan claimed that Turkey has “taken care not to be the party that increases the tension until now.”
“We acted calmly in the face of the violation of the non-military status of the islands in the maritime jurisdiction areas and in the steps of our neighbor Greece… which increased the tension. We gave priority to solving our problems through dialogue and negotiation,” Erdogan said.
Addressing the same conference earlier on Thursday, the Turkish defense minster also took a swing at Athens, but additionally at Nicosia, saying that Ankara will take “every necessary step” to protect the rights of Turkish Cypriots in the occupied north of the island.
“No project that ignores and disrespects Turkey’s and Turkish Cypriots’ rights in the Mediterranean can succeed,” he said.
Akar also accused Greece of violating Turkish minority rights in the province of Thrace and on the islands of Kos and Rhodes. He further said that Greece supports terrorist organizations.
“Another problem we have with Greece is its support for terrorist organizations. Everybody knows that Greece supported and trained at Lavrio [a port town southeast of Athens] members of the [Kurdish separatist] PPK and [Turkish extreme leftist party, designated as terrorist group] DHKP-C and now hosts FETO members,” Akar said, referring to supporters of preacher Fetullah Gullen with an acronym that stands for the Fetullah Terrorist Organization.
Greek diplomats were more concerned about the rhetoric on migration, at the time when the takeover of Afghanistan by the Taliban is leading to increased migration flows. They see the pressures on the Aegean Sea rising as Washington’s discomfiture and the European Union’s geopolitical incapacity are evident. They also see Erdogan playing the “unfeeling Greece” card to a Western European audience, at least those segments sympathetic to the plight of migrants and refugees.