The pronouncement of the Greek Supreme Court has infuriated Ankara and its minister for the Foreign Affairs, Mevlut Çavuşoğlu, who has even threatened to scrap the EU-Turkey Migrant deal. Besides, he affirmed that the judges took a “political decision”.
Three days later, the Turkish Chief of Staff, General Hulusi Akar visited by boat the disputed twin islets of Imia/Kardak (the first name is in Greek, the latter in Turkish). His visit triggered a strong reaction in Greece and both the Turkish and Greeks media interpreted the fact as a reaction against the court’s decision. The Greek government condemned the action of Akar and stated that it cannot change the judges’ decision since the Supreme Court is an independent institution.
Imia are two little islands, devoid of any strategic value and uninhabited, particularly close to the Turkish coast of Bodrum and to the Greek Island of Kalymnos. The Dodecanese and Imia were ceded to Italy in 1912, after a war with the Ottoman Empire. Following the Italian defeat in the Second World War, the Treaty of Paris of 1947 compelled Italy to give the Dodecanese “as well as the adjacent islets” to Greece. Turkey and Greece have a different opinion: the former claims they are “gray zones” or even Turkish territory whereas the latter affirms that the Treaty of Paris stated clearly they belong to Greece.
The claim over Imia/Kardak are part of the bigger dispute between Greece and Turkey about the Aegean Sea, which – along with the Cyprus issue - have impeded the development of cordial relations between the two countries in the last decades. In particular, between the end of 1995 and the beginning of 1996, a crisis exploded between the two states about the sovereignty of the two islets; only the American intervention avoided a possible conflict. In the following years, the relations between Greece and Turkey returned to a good level, although the questions concerning the Aegean Sea and Cyprus remained unsettled.
However, Akar’s visit happened exactly on the 21st anniversary of the crisis. At this point, can this new episode provoke a war? Interviewed by the The New York Times, Sinan Ulgen, a visiting scholar at the Carnegie Europe in Brussels, affirmed that there will not be any confrontation between the two countries, but he remarked the fact could have some consequences regarding other issues that involve the two neighbouring countries. Greece and Turkey, with Great Britain, are trying to solve the Cyprus crisis and reunify the two parts of the island. Their new round of negotiations in January did not succeed but they will meet again in March. Furthermore, Ankara arrested the flux of refugees to Greece thanks to the EU-Turkey Migrant deal.
Besides, the two countries have other bigger problems to confront. Greece is still struggling to heal its economic situation: in the last days the Greek debt crisis has made the headlines of the international newspapers. Although Greece and Turkey had come on the verge of war many times, it is difficult to think that the Greek government has influenced the Supreme Court’s refusal. Currently, Athens has no interests in spoiling its relations with Turkey.
Ankara too has many contentious issues, about a range of different topics. Turkey’s economy is not doing very well in the last months, the government survived an attempted coup but the spiral of terrorism has not finished yet. Moreover, the Turkish army is not able to conquer al Bab, a Syrian city held by IS and there is still the internal war with PKK (Kurdistan Workers’ Party).
As Cengiz Çandar has suggested on Al Monitor last week, Akar’s visit to Imia was a message to Europe to think carefully about not extraditing the Turkish soldiers who, according to Ankara, participated to the coup of 15 July. This message was sent because another case can happen in Germany, where three dozen officers sought asylum and the Turkish authorities suspect the Greek judges’ decision could be a precedent for Germany.]