Have we seen this Turkish-Greek movie before?
Almost an hour before Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu announced that Turkey had suspended the bilateral re-admission agreement with Greece for the control of illegal migration, I was asked in an international meeting about that agreement. My answer was that the agreement was working, and that thanks to it the level of irregular migration from Turkey to European Union countries had dropped considerably despite growing problems between the two sides.
But when looked at from the Turkish side of the Aegean, a remark by Greek Defense Minister Panos Kammenos on June 6 seems to have been the straw that broke the camel’s back. In reply to a statement from Turkish government spokesman Bekir Bozdağ that Turkey would eventually “track down and bring back” eight fugitive coup attempt suspect soldiers who were set free by Greece, Kammenos said he would bring the issue up during a NATO meeting. The soldiers had fled to Greece in a Turkish army helicopter in the early hours of July 16, 2016 after it had become clear that the military coup attempt launched on the night of July 15 was failing.
Greece has declined to extradite the soldiers to Turkey, saying they would not receive a fair trial under the state of emergency declared after the coup attempt. This is despite Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras’ words to President Tayyip Erdoğan last year in Athens that Greece would not tolerate coup plotters.
In addition to Greece, there are some 400 people, mostly Turkish officers and their families who used to work in NATO or Turkish diplomatic missions in Europe, who have requested asylum from Germany since the coup attempt. Turkey accuses the network of U.S.-based Islamist preacher Fethullah Gülen of masterminding the plot through his illegal network in government agencies.
There are also two Greek soldiers jailed in Turkey after crossing the joint border and indicted on espionage charges.
Kammenos has repeatedly brought up the issue of the uninhabited Kardak/Imia islets in the Aegean Sea, very close to Turkish mainland, which brought the two NATO members to the brink of a war in early 1996. That conflict was only avoided after the U.S. intervened.
The readmission agreement was possible with efforts started by the German Chancellor Angela Merkel in 2016 after a human tragedy in the Aegean Sea, when the dead body of a three-year-old Syrian boy, Aylan Kurdi, washed ashore on the coast of the Turkish resort Bodrum as the boat smuggling his family to Greece sunk in 2015. Migration from the Middle East to EU countries had dropped quickly due to measures implemented with the cooperation between Turkey and Greece.
Turkey had accused Greece of enmity before, back in 1999. After Abdullah Öcalan, the founding leader of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), was expelled from Syria in October 1998 upon pressure from Turkey, Öcalan sought refuge from countries including Russia, Italy and Greece.
Following months-long of being on the run, Öcalan was arrested by a team of Turkey’s National Intelligence Organization (MİT), thanks to the help of the CIA as he was forced out of the Greek Embassy in Kenya in Feb. 15, 1999. He is now in jail in Turkey serving his life imprisonment.