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Tensions between Greece and Turkey continue to rise

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Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan addresses a news conference at the Presidential Palace in Ankara, Turkey, April 18, 2018. Reuters

Tensions between Greece and Turkey rose after a court in Athens released the last four of eight military servicemen that Ankara wants extradited into protective custody. On Tuesday, Turkish fighter jets embarked on a barrage of flyovers in the Aegean, some of which even entered Greek territory.


Relations between Turkey and Greece are now at a low. Apart from the dogfights between fighter planes there are several issues that cause major friction between these two Nato members.

Reasons for friction

First of all, the Greek defense minister last month said certain small rocks in the Aegean belong to Greece, while in fact both countries lay claim on it.

There would be considerable improvement if the Greeks were willing to return some of the people that were involved in the military coup to Turkey
Frictions between Greece and Turkey 06/06/2018 - by Jan van der Made Listen

There is also the issue of Cyprus. The northern part of this island is occupied by the Turkish military.

And there’s the issue of the military that were involved in the coup, and who fled to Greece to ask for political asylum.

"The dilemma for the Greek authorities was that if these people were sent back to Turkey [ ... ] a fair trial is not guaranteed,” says Thanos Dokos, the director of the think tank Hellenic Foundation for European and Foreign Policy, in Athens.

“And that was at a time when the re-instatement of the death penalty was frequently discussed at many levels including [that of] President Erdogan.

“So it was impossible for the Greek justice system to send them back. It has nothing to do with their actual guilt or innocence, it was about the right to a fair trial [if] they were sent back to Turkey,” he says.

Managing tensions

So what can be done?

“There would be considerable improvement [in the situation] if the Greeks were willing to return some of the people that were involved in the military coup to Turkey,” says Iltar Turan, a professor with Bilgi University in Istanbul.

“Secondly, [referring to Greece’s claim to small islands in the Aegean Sea – JvdM] if they did not try to claim ownership of rocks, the ownership of which was left undetermined,” he says.

Meanwhile, incursions by Greek and Turkish planes in each other's territory happen on a daily basis.

It is only now, because of the other frictions, that they are starting to receive attention.But they are also part of a deeper conflict between the two countries.

Aegean airport

“There is a specific dispute between Greece and Turkey regarding the use of airspace in the Aegean,” says Dokos.

“Greece claims a 10-mile airspace, Turkey recognizes only 6 miles. And this has been causing friction between the two countries for some time.

“With those overflights, these frequent dog fights between the two sides [resulted] in a certain limited...loss of life over the years by both sides.

“Planes have gone down for various reasons as a result of those dogfights,” he says.

In the past, Nato has tried to step in, demanding Turkey to report any flights, but that came to nothing. Globally, even though all these incidents add up, analysts think the situation can be contained.

“In terms of these tensions, both sides are quite aware that they have problems, they may engage in these little games, but that neither party is interested carrying it to further stages,” says Turan.