With concern mounting over a recent spike in Turkish transgressions, Greece’s Foreign Ministry on Tuesday handed Turkish Ambassador in Athens Burak Ozugergin a demarche in protest at the harassment on Monday by fighter jets of the helicopter transporting Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras to the eastern Aegean island of Agathonisi to attend an event marking the anniversary of Greece’s 1821 uprising against Ottoman rule.
The incident occurred just days after the Greek and Turkish foreign ministers, Giorgos Katrougalos and Mevlut Cavusoglu, agreed that delegations from both countries would meet to discuss confidence-building measures based on an accord signed in 1988 between Greece’s Karolos Papoulias and his counterpart Mesut Yilmaz.
On the same day, which is also a religious holiday in Greece, Turkish jets also violated Greek national airspace 47 times in the eastern Aegean.
Athens say Turkey’s activities in the Aegean violated the 1988 accord, which stipulates that both countries refrain from military activities and avoid conducting military exercises during peak tourism periods and main national and religious holidays.
Greek officials reportedly see the violations as a demonstration of Turkey’s generally aggressive stance and not simply campaign posturing by the government of Recep Tayyip Erdogan ahead of local elections in the neighboring country on Sunday.
According to reports, Tsipras was in a Chinook helicopter when two Turkish F-4 fighter jets approached, violating Greek airspace in the process. The Chinook flew lower to avoid the Turkish fighters, which were intercepted by Greek F-16 jets.
“Coming here, I was harassed by Turkish planes that forced the helicopter I was in to take evasive action, and for what purpose?” Tsipras said after landing on Agathonisi.
A Turkish security official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said there was “no question” of any harassment attempt by Turkish jets, adding that the planes were carrying out “routine duties.”
Monday’s incident near Agathonisi is also seen in Greece as another manifestation of Turkey’s long-promoted theory of “gray zones” in the Aegean whereby it disputes the sovereignty of several islets and islands in the eastern Aegean.