The contention on Friday by Turkish Defense Minister Hulusi Akar that the seas surrounding Turkey, including the Aegean Sea, lie within its territorial waters was interpreted in Athens as another instance of Ankara’s bid to revise the status quo in the region.
“We control the seas and the seabed… the Black Sea, the Aegean, the Eastern Mediterranean, which also includes Cyprus,” Akar reportedly said, adding that “these areas lie within our sphere of interest… we have the responsibility of ensuring peace and calm.” He was speaking at a military facility in Turkey.
Observers in Greece noted the timing of his remarks, saying it was no coincidence that they were made just two days after the trilateral summit in Jerusalem between Greece, Cyprus and Israel with the participation of US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.
To Ankara, the summit is part of what it believes to be a concerted effort to encircle Turkey, which now appears to be bent on entrenching its claims in the region.
A case in point was the front-page photo of the government-affiliated Yeni Safak newspaper on Friday depicting two Turkish frogmen holding a Turkish flag off the northern coast of Crete during a Ariadne-19 NATO last week code-named Ariadne-19, under the headline “The Mediterranean is ours.”
The photo first appeared on the Twitter account of the NATO Allied Maritime Command (MARCOM) on Wednesday. It was taken down after protests lodged by the Hellenic Navy at the prompting of Defense Minister Evangelos Apostolakis.
Moreover, Turkish activity in the Aegean and the Eastern Mediterranean on Thursday that coincided with the meeting between the foreign ministers of Greece and Turkey was interpreted in Athens as a message from Ankara underscoring its overall intentions in the region.
Hours after Akar’s remarks on Friday, his Greek counterpart, Apostolakis, urged Turkish officials to refrain from unreasonable statements that fuel bilateral tension. “I do not think that [Akar’s] statements can be taken seriously. [Turkish officials] have to get serious and watch what they say. They shouldn’t shoot off fireworks just to make an impression,” Apostolakis said.
“Although we are in a phase that we are struggling to find ways to defuse tension… [Akar] surprised us with something new, with things that are not based on reason,” the former Greek armed forces chief added.
“It is the principle of Greece that we respect international law and the treaties. When these principles are questioned, we have to be concerned,” he said.