Airspace violations provoke Greece,says Bakogiannis
The violation of Greek airspace and the Turkish military’s flights over Greek islands are unnecessary provocations that are against international law, Greece’s foreign minister has said.
“Having Turkish aircraft fly at 300 meters over the rooftops of Greek islanders’ homes on Agathonisi will not change the status in the Aegean, nor will it prove that Turkish claims are valid,” Dora Bakoyannis told the Hürriyet Daily News & Economic Review in an exclusive interview Thursday. “It is harassment of the people on the ground and an unnecessary provocation of Greece.”
The neighboring countries have a long-standing territorial dispute over the Aegean. Two of their fighter jets collided mid-air above the sea in 2006, killing the Greek pilot, Iliakis.
“This practice is against international law,” Bakoyannis said, referring to the increased number of Turkish air force flyovers in the Aegean. “At the same time, it is dangerous, because it dramatically increases the probability of an accident similar to the one that cost the life of a young Greek pilot.”
Asked about Greek calls for the European Union to activate FRONTEX, a specialized and independent European body tasked with coordinating operational cooperation between member states in the field of border security and countering illegal migration, in Greek territorial waters to ensure the security of the disputed islands, Bakoyannis said it was a shining example of cooperation within the EU framework.
“Greece believes that global challenges demand global solutions. That is why we have consistently encouraged Turkey to join us in facing this common challenge. Early on, back in 2001, our two countries signed an important agreement on re-admission that has not been implemented thoroughly by Turkey,” she said.
“’My position is clear: I choose cooperation over confrontation. We are allies in NATO and hopefully future partners within the EU. Again and again, I repeat to my EU colleagues that Greece is the most sincere supporter of Turkish accession to the European Union. Over the past decade, successive Greek governments have extended the hand of friendship. We hope that the Turkish government will respond and that we will move from words to deeds.”
Bakoyannis said recourse to the Hague Tribunal to delimitate the continental shelf based on this platform would certainly be an option, as both Greece and the European Union have repeatedly declared. The foreign minister emphasized that “settling this issue would give a great boost to Turkey’s European perspective and would constitute a solid foundation upon which to build our future friendship and cooperation.”
Athens follows Halki seminary closely
Another source of dispute between Turkey and Greece is the re-opening of the Halki seminary on Heybeliada, one of the Princes’ Islands near Istanbul. The seminary has been closed since 1971.
“I have been following with great interest the public discussion taking place in Turkey with regard to the re-opening of the Halki seminary. Many of us in Europe and the United States believe that the Ecumenical Patriarchate is an asset to Turkey. It is an institution that has consistently supported Turkey’s European course, while the patriarch is one of Turkey’s best ambassadors to the world,” Bakoyannis said. “The re-opening of the Halki seminary would, I think, be interpreted all around the world as proof of Turkey’s commitment to its European path and its reform process.”
Commenting on the Turkish position of tying the reopening of the Halki seminary to Greek’s granting of rights to its Turkish minority in western Thrace, Bakoyannis said the idea of reciprocity runs contrary to any notion of human-rights protection in the modern world. She emphasized that, in the 21st century, human-rights protection cannot serve the purposes of political expediency.
‘Let’s have faith in two leaders’
During Turkish Cypriot leader Mehmet Ali Talat’s recent visit to Ankara, Turkish President Abdullah Gül said Turkey wants the negotiations on the disputed island to be completed by the end of the year, a timeline that has been rejected by Greek Cypriots.
“Greece strongly supports the process agreed upon by the two [Cypriot] leaders. It seems that there is still some way to go. That is why I would hesitate to impose artificial deadlines,” said Bakoyannis. “I have told my Turkish friends in private, and I will say it in public: Continuous statements from Turkish officials about establishing a ‘new partnership’ of two ‘founding states’ and proclamations of non-negotiable ‘red lines’ on security and guarantees do not help. Let’s have faith in the two leaders and give them a chance.”
The Cyprus dispute also complicates Turkey’s negotiations with the EU. Asked what would happen if Turkey keeps its ports closed to Greek Cyprus until November, when the European bloc will assess Turkey’s progress on the port issue, Bakoyannis said she believed “there is still sufficient time for Turkey to abide by its EU commitments, and I encourage it to do so.”
Bakoyannis set to visit Turkey
Bakoyannis was expected to visit Turkey, but canceled her plans, a move that was seen as a response to the recent tensions in the Aegean and Mediterranean. “We are still looking for the most appropriate time to arrange this visit, as both our schedules are very tight,” she said.
Some comments published in the Greek media have suggested that because the government has been struggling and early elections appear to be a possibility, it is taking a hard stance against Turkey in order to win votes. Asked if hardliner policies against Turkey bring better results in domestic politics, Bakoyannis said: “Such stereotypes have been proven wrong time and again.”
Illegal immigration also an issue
Illegal immigration is another source of tension between the two neighbors. Due to their geographical position, both Turkey and Greece are transit countries for immigrants hoping to reach more prosperous Western states. Bakoyannis said the European personnel operating in the Aegean within the framework of FRONTEX are there to assist in controlling the flow of illegal migration.
“You cannot catch traffickers with fighter jets. That’s why you won’t find any fighter aircraft in FRONTEX,” she said. “They are here to assist Greece and Turkey in our common fight against traffickers, against modern slave traders.”
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