Since the time of the Minoans, the Aegean Sea has served as a cradle of Hellenic civilization. With more than 2000 islands scattered throughout the Aegean, and a population of over one million, the region and its islands are critical to Greece’s economy, national security, and cultural heritage.
1. The Aegean Sea is currently experiencing the most dangerous escalation of tensions in decades
Turkey is engaging in a barrage of daily violations of Greek airspace and maritime boundaries. Turkish violations of Greek sovereign airspace and armed flyovers over islands in the Aegean are at dangerous levels, posing a real threat to peace and stability in the region.
Between 2010–2016, Turkey violated Greek airspace approximately 10,000 times. 2017 saw a dramatic increase in the scale and frequency of Turkish violations, as Turkish jets violated Greek airspace over 3,000 times, including 141 violations in one day. There was an even bigger jump in violations at sea, which skyrocketed from 414 in 2016 to 1861 last year.
2. Turkey's actions are putting lives at risk
Greek fighter jets are forced to intercept Turkish planes, often leading to dangerous “dogfights” as Greek pilots push Turkish planes out of Greek airspace. These dogfights often take place over Greek inhabited islands and in close proximity to civilian airports with high traffic. Turkish provocations reached new and dangerous levels in 2018, with a Turkish vessel ramming a Greek Coast Guard ship off the coast of Imia in the Aegean Sea.
3. Greece is showing restraint, but Turkey must be held accountable
Turkey’s violations of Greek airspace and maritime boundaries are at unprecedented levels, and it is largely due to Greece’s responsible response that an incident has been avoided. Adding fuel to the fire, these violations are accompanied by contentious statements from prominent Turkish politicians who claim Imia and other Greek islands as “Turkish soil,” openly dispute the Treaty of Lausanne and the established borders between Greece and Turkey in the Aegean, and post maps on social media that portray the Greek islands and islets as Turkish. In fact, President Erdogan went so far as to openly suggest “revisions” to the Treaty of Lausanne during his last visit to Athens (December, 2017). Turkey’s reckless disregard for peace and its rejection of international law is a danger to the stability of the eastern Mediterranean, and must be condemned. Furthermore, all American arms sales to Turkey should be reviewed to ensure that American weapons are not used to threaten an American ally in Greece.
- Tiny Islands Make for Big Tensions Between Greece and Turkey, The New York Times, April 21, 2018.
- Van Hollen Secures Defense Appropriations Amendment to Halt the Transfer of F-35s to Turkey Until Secretary of Defense Certifies Turkey Will Not Acquire Russian S-400 Missile Defense System, Greek News Online, June 28, 2018
- Greece, Turkey and the Aegean, Kathimerini, June 11, 2018