Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan warned Greece on Tuesday against attempts for the armament of the Aegean islands.
“It is not possible for us to remain silent about the military activities carried out in violation of the agreements on the islands with disarmed status,” Erdogan told journalists according to the Turkish daily Hurriyet.
He recalled that Ankara applied to the United States to present its rejection of Greek activities on the islands.
“However, if Greece continues this, of course, we will make this warning at the highest level, whatever is necessary. Because, as you know, the issue of islands is always controversial,” he stated.
“They may compel us to raise these controversial issues. For this reason, my minister gave them a low-level warning so that they should not force us to open these issues for discussion,” he added.
Turkey has long called for the demilitarization of the Greeks islands in the eastern Aegean. In 2020, Ankara singled out sixteen Aegean islands, claiming that Greece is violating international agreements.
Greek Foreign Minister Nikos Dendias responded to Erdogan’s comments:
“I am saddened that Turkey has elected to maintain its stance. At a time when NATO must demonstrate its unity in defending the territorial integrity of Ukraine, Turkey has decided to threaten Greece and question its very presence and commitment to NATO and the UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights.”
Turkey disputes Greece’s sovereignty over its east Aegean islands
In letters sent to UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres last July and September, Turkey for the first time disputed Greece’s sovereignty over its east Aegean islands, “over which sovereignty was ceded to Greece on the specific and strict condition that they be kept demilitarized,” in the words of Turkey’s permanent representative, Feridun Sinirlioglu.
Amid Turkey’s dispute of Greece’s sovereignty over its islands in the eastern Aegean, Washington proceeded last week with a clear and direct rejection of Ankara’s unfounded claims.
“The sovereignty and territorial integrity of all countries must be respected and protected. The sovereignty of Greece over these islands is not in question,” said a US State Department spokesman.
Greece has always dismissed Turkey’s claims, responding that as long as there is a Turkish military threat to these islands they will not be demilitarized.
The Greek Foreign Ministry rejected the latest demilitarization demands, saying they “go beyond simple logic.”
Aegean islands awarded to Greece at the Treaty of Lausanne
Greece absorbed the islands of Limnos, Samothrace, Lesvos, Samos, Chios and Ikaria from the Ottoman Empire in the Balkan Wars of 1912-13. It was officially awarded sovereignty over them in the Treaty of Lausanne of 1923.
Another treaty drawn up in London in 1914 had made Greek possession of the islands conditional on their demilitarization. Turkey says that since the Lausanne Treaty makes reference to the 1914 treaty, it implies the same conditionality. Greece rejects that interpretation.
The Lausanne Treaty said Greece could not build naval bases or fortifications, or have large concentrations of troops, on the islands.
Greece has never built naval bases on the islands and has denied it has placed disproportionate forces there.