dTurkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is increasingly becoming a prisoner of his rhetoric. It is not new that he threatens Greece to “come in the middle of the night”. What is new, however, is that he does not only speak for his home audience, but also on the big international stage.
Addressing Greece at the founding conference of the European Political Community in Prague on Thursday, he said: “Whatever country disturbs us, whatever country attacks us, our response will always be to say: we can undoubtedly come in the middle of the night. “
The last time he threatened in that tone was a month ago. He repeatedly accused Greece of violating obligations under international law by militarizing islands in the Aegean Sea. Turkey will therefore do “whatever is necessary when the time comes. We can suddenly come one night,” he said at the time.
Both sides unyielding
The latest round of high tensions between the Mediterranean’s eastern neighbors began in late August, when Turkey dropped a drillship, which, contrary to fears, was not looking for gas in disputed areas, but near the Turkish coast.
In the days that followed, however, Athens and Ankara accused each other of violating each other’s airspace. The incidents took place during Turkish celebrations commemorating the decisive battle of Ataturk in the Greek War of Independence, 100 years ago. Erdogan closed this two-week round of escalation by threatening Turkey to occupy the Aegean Islands overnight.”
Turkey accuses Greece of violating the Treaty of Lausanne of 1923 and the Treaty of Paris of 1947 by militarizing the Aegean islands, which Athens denies. The Treaty of Lausanne states that no “naval bases or fortifications” may be built on five islands in the northern Aegean Sea belonging to Greece. Photos appear in Turkish media showing Greek warships bringing tanks to the islands of Lesvos. Greece replies that the treaty does not prohibit the stationing of a “regular contingent” of troops.
The 1947 Treaty of Paris between Greece and Italy, by which Italy ceded the southern Dodecanese islands to Greece, is also interpreted differently. The agreement states that the islands must be demilitarized. Ankara relies on this. Athens objects that Turkey is not a contract partner.
Both parties are also intransigent as elections are to be held in both countries next year. In Turkey, the ruling AKP’s partner, the leader of the right-wing nationalist MHP, Devlet Bahceli, added fuel to the fire in July when he showed a map showing the disputed islands as Turkish territory. Meanwhile, the Greek military has begun building its defense capabilities with US and Israeli support.