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Turkey’s PM disputes Greece’s sovereignty over 130 islets and rocks in the Aegean

Turkey’s appetite for expansion has not been satisfied with the massive airspace violations, the provocative visit of its top brass at Imia islet and the challenging statements. Now Prime Minister Binali Yildirim wants 130 islets and rocks i the Aegean Sea.

Speaking to reporters in Ankara, Yildirim said that there were 130 islets and rocks in the Aegean Sea  whose sovereignty is “not certain.”

The Turkish prime minister was referring to the recent visit of Greece’s Defense MInister Panos Kammenos to Imia islet to honor the three soldiers who lost their lives at the peak of the Imia/Kardak crisis end of January 2016.

Yildirim recalled the visit saying Kammenos posed for photographs and that such visits and pictures have “no meaning for us at all”.

He added “problems in the Aegean are not new. They have a long history. But we can’t build a constructive neighborhood relationship if we always put forward our differences. We should talk about our mutual future and mutual interests, not about problems,” he said, warning that Turkey has the “power to reply to any hostile attempt.”

The issue of Ankara claiming 130 islets and rocks in the Aegean Sea is not new. First time Turkey claimed sovereignty over 130 islets and rocks in the Aegean that were illegally occupied by Greece made by President Suleiman Demirel who claimed the sovereignty of these islets and rocks was questionable. Demirel had said that the issue should be handled with dialogue and had accused Greece of trying to occupy the islets.

According to the claim, the islands belonged to Turkey and were handed by Italy to Greece in 1947 where they should have been returned to Ankara.

The 130-ilset issue revived in April 2016 after an incident on the island of Oinnousses near Chios. A month earlier, Turkey asked the NATO to replace the Greek names with numbers. The incident and the replacement demand came when a NATO navel force was deployed between Greece and Turkey to monitor the flow of refugees and migrants after the EU Turkey Deal went into effect.

Turkey’s map of the Aegean

The Turkish claim was rejected by the NATO to which both countries are members. It was the first time Turkey disputed Greek sovereignty through an official document to the NATO.

Tension in the Aegean flared up after the Greek Supreme Court rejected Turkey’s request to extradite 8 Turkish soldiers who sought asylum in Greece after the failed coup in July 2016.

Binali Yıldırım told reporters that he sent a letter to his Greek counterpart Alexis Tsipras to convey Ankara’s disappointment at the court decision.

“The refusal to extradite coup plotters is a frustration for us. I have sent a letter to Mr. Tsipras about it. I have again expressed our expectation for the extradition of these people by reviewing this verdict within the boundaries of the law,” Yıldırım told reporters in Ankara on Feb. 2, adding that he sent the letter quite recently and had yet to receive any reply.

Yıldırım called on Athens to hand over the troops to Turkey “just as other neighbors have already done.”

He said Turkey and Greece as two neighbors should always try to get along well, as they cannot change their geography, stressing that Turkey has no intention to break its ties with its Aegean neighbor.

“We are replying to some exaggerated [moves] and provocations coming from the other side of the [Aegean] by smiling. They should not misread it,” Yıldırım added.

While Athens remains cool to Ankara’s provocations, Turkey’s political leadership engaged in a bombardment of words and threats against Greece in general and Defense Minister Panos Kammenos in particular.

Kammenos described the Turkish provocations as “cowboy tactics.”

PS If I understand Ankara correct, Greeks should ask Turkey’s permission to sail or fly in the Aegean otherwise they would be accused of violating their own borders.

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