The hope for Greece and Turkey to eradicate their historical territorial disputes suffered a setback in recent weeks as the two NATO members ratchet up tensions in the Aegean Sea.
Some Greek civilians raised a Greek flag on a disputed rocky islet across from the Turkish resort of Didim, but it was removed by Turkish coast guards on Sunday.
Turkish Prime Minister Binali Yildirim urged the Greek government to avoid “provocative moves” in the disputed areas in the Aegean Sea.
“Our advice to Greece is to stay within the boundaries of good neighborly relations and to avoid provocations that would escalate tension,” he said.
“No one should think that we would give any concession over our sovereign rights. We are determined to give necessary responses against de facto interventions,” he said.
He compared the flag-raising incident to the one in 1996 when Turkey and Greece went nearly to war over the uninhabited islets, called Imia in Greek and Kardak in Turkish.
“Populism brings no benefits to Greece. As two NATO allies, we should focus on the positive agenda,” Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said on Monday, warning Athens that such moves in the Aegean Sea may cause “accidents”.
Greek government spokesman Dimitris Tzannakopoulos said his government had no knowledge of the incident and Yildirim’s statement was “provocative and reprehensible.”
In February, a Turkish vessel collided with a Greek coast guard boat off the disputed Kardak islets.
In January, the Turkish Coast Guard blocked Greek Defense Minister Panos Kammenos from approaching Kardak to lay a wreath there.
Ankara accuses Kammenos, a nationalist politician, of being the main source of recent problems.
In 1923, Turkey had renounced in favor of Italy all rights and titles over certain named islands and over “dependent islets” in Lausanne Treaty. Later on, Italy ceded to Greece the same islands and “adjacent islets”.
Turkey and Greece have been in negotiations, calling for holding “exploratory talks” to solve their territorial disagreement in Aegean Sea. But they have failed to reach a breakthrough.
However, the reason for the latest tensions isn’t limited to a few rocks. Two have been at odds over a host of issues from ethnically split Cyprus to sovereignty over airspace and overflights.
Last week, a Greek air force fighter pilot died after his jet crashed in the eastern Aegean Sea while on his way back after flying sorties in the disputed area.
The plane crashed after nearly daily mock dogfights with Turkish warplanes in airspace disputed with Turkey, Greek media reported.
The historical dispute between Athens and Ankara over the airspace and maritime territories have poisoned their relations for decades.
Oil-and-gas drilling rights off the divided island of Cyprus in the eastern Mediterranean also raised tensions between Ankara and Athens. Turkey deployed war ships in the region to block Greek drilling activities for natural gas, saying it disregards the rights of Turkish Cypriots.
Another factor leading to the recent dispute is the incident in which eight Turkish soldiers who fled to Greece right after the failed coup of 2016. Greek judiciary rejected Turkey’s request for extradition of them.
In March, two Greek soldiers were arrested after they crossed the border into Turkey. Greek army argued they strayed into Turkey because of thick snow and fog, but the prosecutors have charged them with espionage.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan recently visited Greece where both parties underlined the significance of holding dialogue and calming down the tensions.
“The two countries have not resolved the decades-old bilateral problems and but their disputes are just be deferred,” said Serhat Erkmen, a Middle East expert at the Ankara-based 21st Century Turkey Institute.
Therefore, the two countries will see a spike in tensions from time to time, due to domestic political reasons, he said.
The developments regarding natural resources in eastern Mediterranean will continue to be a major source of disputes, Erkmen noted.