Athens has tried to escalate tensions in the Aegean and eastern Mediterranean with neighbour Türkiye in recent months using both military and non-military means.

Türkiye has complained of repeated provocative actions and rhetoric by Greece in the region in recent months, saying such moves frustrate its good faith efforts for peace.
Türkiye has complained of repeated provocative actions and rhetoric by Greece in the region in recent months, saying such moves frustrate its good faith efforts for peace. (Veli Gurgah / File / AA)

Tensions are once again high between Türkiye and Greece, which have been embroiled in a tit-for-tat debate over a host of issues for years. 

The last thing they needed was for the United States to take a policy step that can make matters worse. 

In a recent decision, Washington lifted an arms embargo on the Greek Cypriot administration. Ankara, which is guarantor for the security of hundreds of thousands of civilians who live on the Turkish-speaking side of the divided island, has condemned the development.

President of the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus, Ersin Tatar said in a statement that the move would lead to an escalation in the region and intensify tensions between Ankara and Athens.

While the two countries are NATO allies, tensions have flared in recent months due to what Ankara says are Athens’ “provocative” acts against its neighbour. 

Here are key areas of tension between Türkiye and Greece.

1. Violation of Türkiye’s airspace and territorial waters

Greece violated Türkiye’s airspace and territorial waters 1,123 times in the first eight months of 2022, a trend that has continued from the previous year, according to Turkish National Defence Ministry sources. 

In August, Turkish jets flying over the Aegean and eastern Mediterranean seas were “radar locked” by a Greek S-300 air defence system on the island of Crete in late August, just one out of 14 separate incidents between August 15 and September 4 this year. Ankara has repeatedly brought the matter before NATO.

Turkish officials have refused to accept the explanation offered by Athens for putting its jets in the way of danger. 

2. Giving refuge to terrorist organisations

Police in Istanbul recently captured a terror suspect trained in Greece.

Türkiye's Defence Minister Hulusi Akar, earlier in June, spoke about how members of the PKK terrorist organisation and FETO are active in Laurium town near Athens.

The Lavrion (Laurium) refugee camp has turned into a recruitment centre and base for PKK terrorists, according to reports and footage obtained from the area.

In its more than 35-year terror campaign against Türkiye, the PKK — listed as a terrorist organisation by Türkiye, the US, and the EU — has been responsible for the deaths of over 40,000 people, including women an children. How seriously Ankara takes the threat of PKK is something Turkish leaders have raised on international forums multiple times. 

The Fetullah Terrorist Organisation (FETO) and its US-based leader Fetullah Gulen orchestrated the defeated coup of July 15, 2016, which left 251 people dead and 2,734 injured. 

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3. Denying Türkiye’s right to look for oil and gas 

Türkiye sent its fourth drill ship, Abdulhamid Han, for hydrocarbon exploration in the eastern Mediterranean in August as part of its larger gas exploration strategy, which started in 2018.

Greece and the EU have accused Ankara of ‘illegal’ drilling off the coast of Cyprus in 2019, a claim that Türkiye dismissed. The crux of the argument lies in the dispute over the divided island.

The two countries have differing claims over the eastern Mediterranean as well.  

Greece argues that its islands in the Aegean sea can generate their own Exclusive Economic Zones (EEZ) which would allow Athens to explore 200 nautical miles of sea water. 

But Türkiye argues that islands can not generate their own EEZs and that Greece’s EEZ starts from the mainland, rather than from the sprawl of hundreds small islands.

Türkiye has the largest coastline among all the countries located on the rim of eastern Mediterranean. Yet, its efforts to search for offshore petroleum reserves draws flak from European leaders. 

READ MORE: Turkey-Greece tensions: eastern Mediterranean claims in maps

4. The continued militarisation of islands 

Türkiye has time and again voiced concern over Athens’ continued militarisation of the eastern Aegean islands. There are over a dozen Greek islands near Türkiye, many of which are so close, they can be seen from the coast by naked eye. 

Ankara has stated that the sovereignty over the islands would be questionable should Athens maintain its violations.

(TRTWorld)

The islands of Samothraki, Lemnos, Lesvos, Samos, Chios, Psara, and Ikaria are supposed to be demilitarised but Greece violates mutual agreements by deploying brigades and divisions, as well as cannons and rifles.

5. Undermining Turkish Muslim minority in Western Thrace

The newly elected Muslim cleric (mufti) of the Turkish minority in the Xanthi region of Western Thrace in Greece recently underlined the continued discriminatory practices against the Turkish minority in the region.

Stating that the aim of the Greek authorities is to place Christians in minority foundations and religious institutions, Mustafa Trampa explained that "the latest law states that Christians or people from different religions can also be employed in Muslim mufti offices and foundations' boards of trustees."

Ankara has long decried Greek violations of the rights of its Muslims and the 150,000-strong Turkish minority, from closing mosques and shutting schools to not letting Muslim Turks elect their religious leaders.

The measures violate the 1923 Treaty of Lausanne as well as ECHR verdicts, making Greece a state that flouts the law, say Turkish officials.

In August, a deputy speaker of Greece’s parliament advocated “the necessity of spying on” the country’s Turkish Muslim deputies, local media reported.

On Friday, Türkiye called on authorities in Greece to investigate a death threat against a Greek lawmaker who is also a member of the country's Muslim Turkish minority.

READ MORE: Turkish drone records fresh Greek pushback of migrants in Aegean Sea

Source: TRTWorld and agencies