Greece’s extension of the fence along the country’s northeastern border with Turkey will proceed as planned and will be completed, Foreign Minister Nikos Dendias told Kathimerini in an interview a few days after an exchange of demarches with Ankara over activities in an area of the southern part of the Evros River.
“Borders are a given. They do not change and they cannot change,” Dendias stressed, adding that some of his comments have been taken out of context and deliberately distorted.
There has been a lot of noise recently over the situation in southern Evros. What are the Turkish authorities asking for that prompted the demarches from Greece?
As is already known, we have started working on an extension of the fence at Evros. Turkey reacted to this work. We received a demarche in which Turkey asked us to share the exact coordinates of the construction area, but also to coordinate with it over the fence’s construction. The Turkish request was denied in a demarche of our own, as what we do within our sovereign territory is our prerogative and responsibility and we have absolutely no obligation to account for it to anyone. Then, after observing some Turkish activity in the area, we proceeded, as was our duty, to a new demarche. What happened next was an unconscionable dissemination of misinformation, concerning, for example, the “occupation” of 1.6 hectares of Greek territory. Greece’s opposition parties, unfortunately, became caught up in this, quite mistakenly.
Is it true that the delineation of the border at that particular location is debatable? The announcement from the Turkish Ministry of Foreign Affairs claims that there “exist no mutually agreed geographical coordinates of this particular section of the border compatible to 1926 agreement.”
The two countries’ borders at Evros are designated by the Treaty of Lausanne of 1923 and the relevant 1926 protocol. The borders are a given. They do not change and they cannot change. What needs to be clarified is that the points from which measurements are made are changing, due to changes in the geomorphological characteristics of the Evros riverbed. This is an issue that has been ongoing for decades, because the geomorphology changes frequently in an area like Evros. It does not, however, affect the country’s borders in any way. There is no disputing the borders. Allow me therefore to say, by way of comment, that any reference to such a version of events, and especially from those who have built a career out of invoking the homeland, only serves the interests of third parties.
What exactly is Turkey asking for, if it’s asking, that is?
I have no right as foreign minister to publicly comment on the hypothetical demands of another country. Nevertheless, Evros is clearly an area where the international community bore witness to a failed attempt by Ankara to exercise significant pressure on our country and to blackmail the European Union. As we all know, this was not accomplished, thanks to the rapid and coordinated response of the state mechanism, the armed forces and the security services. And if another attempt is made, it too shall fail. The government has proved that it can defend our borders – Europe’s borders.
Does Turkey have a presence in this particular spot on the borderline right now?
As far as I’m aware, there is no movement in the area. The defense minister has issued very clear announcements on the situation.
Do you regret your comment last week about “a few dozen meters”?
In that interview last Wednesday with Hellenic Radio’s (ERA) First Program I referred to shifts in the riverbed by a few dozen meters. Under no circumstances did I accept any kind of change to the border or – worse – any concession of sovereign territory. What I have to say to those accusing me of ambiguity, is that the journalist who interviewed me confirmed, in a post on Friday, both what I said and what I meant. Attempts have been made, however, to take what I said out of context and to distort it, by the far-right party of [Kyriakos] Velopoulos, in combination with the fake news published by [British tabloid] The Sun. The parties of the opposition, of all different stripes, unfortunately fell in behind the far-right. This actually happened two or even more days after the interview, during which time no one had said anything about ambiguity. It is sad that just a few weeks after the sympathy shown by the Greek political world over the events at Evros – which, I should note, I applauded – there are those who are ready to adopt the fake news of a far-right party in order to serve their petty party interests.
Wouldn’t there have been less of a hue and cry if the government had made the issue public earlier? Why wasn’t it made public earlier?
We have never tried to hush up the issue. I think that is evident from the very clear answer I gave to the relevant question during the ERA interview. It is an issue that is ongoing, that re-emerges every so often depending on the geomorphological situation in the area and that has been resolved in the framework of bilateral ad hoc discussions when necessary. This is the reason why the handling of the issue has been kept out of the limelight. The people who distorted what I said had obvious motives.
Will the construction of the fence proceed?
The extension of the fence will proceed as planned and will be completed.
Have you come under criticism from within your party in recent days?
As minister of foreign affairs, it is my duty to care about one thing and one thing only: how to serve the national interest in the best possible way. This is, after all, the mandate assigned to me by Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis, and it’s the only thing I care about.
We understand that your ministry has already started working on different responses to the rapid developments in the Eastern Mediterranean, particularly after the recent events in Libya. Can you tell us a little about Greece’s next diplomatic moves in this area?
Thanks to the efforts of Greek diplomacy, Greece set out and managed to secure a role as an influential voice in the developments in Libya. It has accomplished a presence in an area where it was once conspicuous by its absence. This is evident both from a plethora of bilateral communications, as from initiatives like the recent five-state conference with France, Cyprus, Egypt and the United Arab Emirates. Nevertheless, the situation in Libya remains extremely fluid, capable of changing completely from one moment to the next. Our country is watching these developments closely and exerting its influence in the defense of our national interests where needed, always within the context of international law. I am planning a series of visits to the area soon, in order to discuss developments with those who are directly involved. We will continue to have long-distance contacts where necessary, as was the case last week with the president of the Libyan Parliament. You can rest assured that Greek diplomacy will continue in the service of the national interest with the same vigor, where and when needed.