Visit by Turkey's top brass to Kardak ‘highlights Aegean presence’
Hande Fırat - ANKARATurkey’s top soldier and entire military brass have visited Kardak, twin islets in the Aegean whose disputed sovereignty brought Ankara and Athens to the brink of a war in 1996, in a bid to deliver multiple messages to Greece.
Chief of General Staff Gen. Hulusi Akar, accompanied by the commanders of the land, naval and air forces of the Turkish Armed Forces (TSK), sailed to the islets of the Kardak region with two assault boats, sparking Greek reaction and Turkish main opposition quips that it was a “touristic visit.”
The visits comes after Greece’s top court rejected a Turkish demand to extradite eight soldiers accused of taking part in a July 2016 coup attempt, although the move was also designed to highlight the Turkish presence at the Aegean Sea.
According to military sources, Akar and the military brass planned the visit in 2015 in retaliation after Greek Defense Minister Panos Kamenos flew over the islets and dropped a wreath to commemorate Greek soldiers who were killed during the crisis in 1996. However, the visit had to be postponed because of the July 15, 2016, coup attempt and the launch of the Euphrates Shield Operation in northern Syria on Aug. 24, 2016, according to sources.
The four following reasons were cited for Akar’s visit:
Greek court’s on extradition: The main reason behind the visit was the Greek top court’s refusal of Turkey’s demand to extradite eight soldiers who escaped to Greece on July 16, 2016, after the coup was foiled. This coup attempt, which was allegedly conducted by the Fethullahist Terror Organization (FETÖ), was regarded by Akar and the military brass as an attempt to destroy the Turkish Armed Forces, leading them to expect that the eight would be extradited so that they could face Turkish justice.
Contention over Aegean islets: Another reason for the visit was to display Turkey’s disturbance over Greece’s recent attempts to claim de facto rights on a number of Aegean islets whose sovereignty is disputed. Turkey has accused Greece of attempting to open more than 10 islets to settlement in violation of international law.
Cyprus talks: Another aspect of the move is related to the ongoing Cyprus reunification talks between Turkish and Greek Cypriots. Both Greece and Greek Cyprus have demanded the withdrawal of all Turkish troops from the island as part of a deal to be reached between the two communities. Turkey, however, insists that it has to continue its military presence in the island, albeit at a very reduced number, to protect the Turkish Cypriots.
Dogfights over the Aegean: Despite progress in ties between the two countries, dogfights between Greek and Turkish warplanes over Aegean airspace have not ceased. Although not officially announced, Turkey says its warplanes are being intercepted by Greek jets around two or three times a week.
The visit to Kardak was carried out in light of these four aspects, sources said, underlining that the visit was conducted on Turkish territorial waters and could not be described as either a provocation or a touristic visit as suggested by the main opposition party.