On September 10, Greek forces attacked The Anatolian, a Turkish cargo ship, just 11 miles off the coast of Bozcaada, further straining relations between the two countries. According to the National Interest, the Greek ship assessed the Turkish cargo as “moving suspiciously,” which served as justification for their attack. No crew members were injured during the surprise assault, yet evidence presented in a viral video recorded by one of the crew members shows bullet holes in the ship’s cabin windows along with the crew’s terrified reactions. Turkish vessels were dispatched to the area, but before they could arrive to defend the cargo, the Greek ship had fled the scene.
During a military demonstration following the attack, Turkish president, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, made open threats toward Greece about territorial disputes. Erdogan, along with many Turkish officials, has recently accused Greece of occupying previously demilitarized islands, according to Bloomberg. They accused Greece of militarizing the islands in close proximity to Turkish coasts, threatening their national security.
On September 12, Greek officials wrote letters to the UN pleading with them to condemn the statements of the Turkish president, exclaiming that continued behavior involving such threats creates the potential for more violent situations. According to Reuters, Greece’s Foreign Minister, Nikos Dendias, acknowledged that the behavior of Turkey, a NATO member, risked a situation similar to the one currently unfolding with the war in Ukraine. Despite aggressive rhetoric from Erdogan, the Greek government has been diplomatic in response to the threats made toward their country. According to Politico, Greece’s Prime Minister, Kyriakos Mitsotakis, found the Turkish president’s comments unacceptable and problematic, additionally fueling the tensions between the two countries. Mitsotakis concluded his thoughts on the threats by stating he is “always open to meeting Erdoğan,” says Politico.
Because of the recent Greek attack, UN officials are concerned about the potential for another open conflict in Europe in light of the already destabilizing conflict in Ukraine. Greco-Turkish relations have soured over the past few decades because of maritime border disputes, but tensions have been especially high in recent years due to accusations of air space violations from both sides. According to The Washington Post, Turkish officials say that Greek forces have been targeting their fleets and jets during NATO exercises over the Mediterranean, while the Greeks say that they are ensuring tight security and defense for high concentration tourist spots close to Turkey’s coast.
Much of the aggression between the two countries points toward ongoing disputes over claims in the Eastern Mediterranean, as well as much of the Aegean Sea, while Greece rejects accusations that there is ongoing militarization of the islands that border the Turkish coast. According to Al Jazeera, Hasan Gogus, former Turkish ambassador to Greece and Austria says that Turkey and Greece have several disputes regarding the Aegean Sea that go beyond the continental shelf dispute including demilitarization of the islands, width of territorial waters, and airspace length. Despite their proximity to Turkey, disputes over islands such as Kos and the base of the Aegean Sea are critical for Greece due to the large population of Greeks that live there, as well as the strategic military and geopolitical locations of the islands.
Turkey claimed the waters and land within the Aegean Sea near the country’s western shoreline prior to World War One. However, on July 24, 1923, the Treaty of Lausanne was signed by Turkey, Britain, France, Greece, and many others. According to The Lausanne Project, the treaty outlined the modern-day borders of Turkey, and the straits between the Aegean and Black Sea were declared open to all trade. The treaty additionally set the rules of Greece’s claim to Kos, as well as the other islands that border western Turkey, including provisions that the islands must remain demilitarized. If the islands were to become militarized again at any point, the terms of the treaty would be broken.