Hawk vs ostrich

Turkey’s provocations near the tiny Aegean islands of Agathonisi and Farmakonisi are part of Ankara’s long-term expansionist plans, but they are not unrelated to the current situation. Ankara has never failed to try and take advantage of Greece’s domestic crises. It did so in 1955, 1963-4, 1967, 1973-4 and 1996. After the Imia crisis, Turkey went on to claim the rocky islets by citing their geographical location. Ankara questions Greece’s sovereignty on the basis of its «gray zones» theory. Back in 1996, Ankara included Agathonisi and Farmakonisi (along with Pserimos and Fournoi) in the same category as Imia. A few days later, then premier Tansu Ciller claimed some 1,000 islets belonged to Turkey. In theory, Turkey disputes Greek sovereignty over all islets not specified in existing treaties, but for tactical reasons it has avoided doing so with regard to all of them. In 1996 Ankara staged a crisis to render Imia a gray area, and in many respects it succeeded. Under the threat of an Aegean flareup, it has prevented Athens from exercising its sovereignty there. Ankara set a precedent which it then used to dispute the status of other, inhabited islets. Ankara is constantly expanding and pushing its claims by showing off its military clout. The goal is to create precedents that will cast doubt on Greece’s rights and cultivate the impression that the «issue» relates to disputed areas. The Aegean is not just a sea that lies between two coastal countries. About half of its size is Greek national space. The rest comprises international waters that connect the Greek islands to the mainland. As a result, this sea is not of the same importance for the two countries. Any measures (which incidentally run counter to international law) that seek to balance the rights of the two states simply work in Turkey’s favor. After all, the problem is not some secondary issue but Turkey’s expansionism. And far from having come up with an effective answer to the problem, Athens still has its head stuck firmly in the sand.

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