Minister of National Defence Hulusi Akar Spoke at 'The Symposium on Problems in Turkish-Greek Relations and the Islands Sea'13.09.2021
H.E. The President of the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus,
Distinguished Scholars of Our Academic World,
I greet you all with affection and respect.
I hope that this symposium, which will be held with the participation of distinguished scholars who are experts in their field, will make significant contributions to the solution of the problems in Turkish-Greek relations, and will contribute to the improvement of our relations.
I would like to thank all the academics, participants and everyone who contributed to organizing this symposium, first and foremost Prof. Dr. Nükhet Hotar, the Rector of Dokuz Eylül University.
At the beginning of my speech, I would also like to celebrate İzmir’s day of liberation from enemy occupation, the 9th of September, after which our university is named.
Our noble nation, whose core character is independence, instead of living in humiliation, commenced its National Struggle with the motto "Freedom or death!" on May 19, 1919 under the leadership of Ghazi Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, after realizing that the future that was envisaged for it was captivity; and achieved victory on August 30, 1922. This victory was crowned with the liberation of our beautiful İzmir from enemy occupation on September 9, 1922.
This great victory served as a declaration to the entire world that our noble nation will protect its sacred homeland - which it holds dearer than life - at all costs, and that Anatolia will forever remain the Turkish homeland, following the battle of Manzikert that opened the gates of Anatolia never to be closed again.
On this occasion, I commemorate with mercy, gratitude and respect all of our statesmen, commanders, martyrs, and heroic veterans, from Sultan Alparslan to Ghazi Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, who have enabled us to reach these heights and see these days on this land that has been our homeland for a thousand years, before passing onto eternity.
The sacrifices made and heroism displayed by our ancestors to protect our homeland, along with our national and spiritual values, provide our greatest inspiration.
Protecting this sacred heritage, which we have inherited from them, and passing it on to future generations is a historical responsibility that rests on our shoulders.
With this understanding, for the security of our country and our 84 million citizens, we continue to undertake the most comprehensive and intense struggle in the history of our Republic by fighting against all kinds of risks, threats and dangers, especially from terrorist organizations such as FETO, the PKK/YPG and DAESH in the north of Iraq and Syria, in our Blue Homeland and in our skies.
Simultaneously with and in addition to those activities, and within the scope of NATO, UN, EU and OSCE missions as well as bilateral relations, we make significant contributions to regional and world peace in Azerbaijan, Libya, Qatar, Somalia, Kosovo, Bosnia-Herzegovina and many other geographies in a way that befits our history, culture and ancestors.
Recently, we have completed one of those missions in Afghanistan.
The Mehmetçik have won the hearts of the local people by successfully performing their duties in Afghanistan in a way that befits their ancestors and their glorious past, just as they have done so in all other geographies, before returning to their country safe and sound, proud of having served world peace.
The Turkish Armed Forces will continue to contribute to regional and world peace.
As you are closely following, the world is undergoing rapid transformation and change.
The 21st century security environment is being reshaped by political, military, social, economic and technological developments.
We live in a period where new problem areas, such as terrorism, proxy wars, irregular migration, epidemics, global warming and cyber threats have become more visible than conventional threats.
While this process of change seriously threatens global security and stability, it also causes tension and ruptures in international relations.
Because of our geopolitical location, most of these crises are closely related to the security of our country, and are at the top of our agenda as problems requiring urgent solutions.
Meanwhile, we see that certain strategies are being implemented that carry serious risks to our rights and interests in the Aegean, Eastern Mediterranean and Cyprus.
Under the leadership of our President, our country, whose area of influence and interest is expanding with every passing day, closely follows all these developments; and takes the necessary measures by implementing its own initiatives.
In this regard;
We continue our fight, with determination and decisiveness both at home and beyond our borders, against terrorism that has scourged our country for forty years.
Shortly after the treacherous coup attempt of 15 July, and to ensure the security of our borders and our citizens, we successfully conducted operations Euphrates Shield (2016), Olive Branch (2018) and Peace Spring (2019) against terrorist organizations such as the PKK, PYD/YPG and DAESH in the north of Syria, thus preventing the creation of a terror corridor to the south of our country.
Likewise, we prevented a new wave of migration and a consequent human tragedy from occurring by carrying out Operation Spring Shield (2020).
Had the terror corridor not been prevented, our country could have faced much more different threats and dangers. In fact, if Turkey had not acted proactively and had not taken the necessary measures, Europe and beyond would have faced great difficulties due to the likely wave of migration that would have resulted.
Currently, Turkey provides security and human living conditions for a total of 9 million Syrians: 4 million in our country and 5 million in the north of Syria.
We are now following a strategy of destroying terrorism at its source. In this context, our fight against terrorist organizations in the north of Syria and Iraq continues with increasing ferocity and pace, whilst respecting the sovereignty and territorial integrity of our neighbors.
I would like to emphasize, once again, that we will continue our fight against terrorism with perseverence and decisiveness until we have neutralized every last terrorist. We are determined to bring an end to terrorism and save our people from this menace. Let no one doubt this. Especially the so-called ringleaders of the terrorists...
We are fighting not only for our own security but also for the peace, tranquility and security of friendly and brotherly countries.
In this context, we are in Libya, with which we have 500 years of fraternal ties, upon the invitation of the UN-recognized legitimate government; our bilateral agreements with the Libyan government; and the approval of the Turkish Grand National Assembly. We are providing military training, assistance and advice in Libya.
This point should be well understood: we are not a foreign power in Libya. Today, if there is a development in the direction of stability in Libya, and if the political process there has commenced, this has been possible with the contributions of Turkey.
The only positive response to the request for support from the Head of the legitimate Government of Libya was given by our President.
Our aim is to contribute to the formation of a Libya that is living in peace and stability, and to ensure that its territorial integrity and political unity is achieved, in accordance with the understanding that “Libya belongs to the Libyans”.
In this context, our support to the rightful cause of our Libyan brothers and sisters will continue.
Likewise, we attach great importance to the stability of the Caucasus region and make a great efforts to ensure peace and stability in this region as well.
Our dear brother Azerbaijan liberated Karabakh and its sovereign lands, which were under Armenia’s occupation for 30 years, with the Single Homeland Operation that lasted 44 days.
Turkey, which stood by Azerbaijan during this process, will continue to support its brothers and sisters using all its means, with the understanding of “One nation, two states”.
While we continue our fight against terrorism and support the rightful cause of our Libyan and Azerbaijani brothers and sisters, at the same time, we unfortunately are also experiencing certain problems with our neighbor and NATO ally, Greece.
During the symposium, I am sure that our esteemed scholars will present their views on the problem areas in detail through their presentations.
I would like to make a general assessment regarding these issues. If we are to group them, we are experiencing problems with Greece on the following topics:
- Continental shelf,
- Breadth of territorial waters,
- FIR (Flight Information Region) line,
- The Search and Rescue area,
- Violation of the demilitarized status and Islands,
- Islands, Islets and Rocks Whose Sovereignty was Not Transferred to Greece by Treaties,
- Claims that ignore the rights and interests of our country and those of the TRNC in the Eastern Mediterranean,
- Provocative armament and other provocative activities,
- Violations of the rights of Turks in Western Thrace, and
- The Greek support to terrorist organizations.
Disputes arising from irregular migration and FRONTEX have also been added to the list of problems.
We are exerting great efforts to solve all our problems within the framework of good neighborly relations, and in accordance with international law, logic and reason.
Unfortunately, however, our Greek counterparts insistently continue to engage in all kinds of aggressive action and rhetoric that mostly escalate tensions, as if to nullify our positive efforts.
Dear Participants, (Continental Shelf)
The problems pertaining to the Continental Shelf, territorial waters, airspace and FIR line issues are both separate and interconnected problems.
Greece is making unjustified claims over almost the entire Aegean Sea, arguing that the boundary of the Continental Shelf runs between the islands in the Eastern Aegean and the Turkish mainland.
In contrast, we believe that while determining the boundaries of continental shelf in the Aegean, the Aegean should be taken into account as a whole, and boundaries should be drawn with an agreement that is based on the principles of international law and equity.
Furthermore, Greece wants to unilaterally extend its territorial waters to 12 miles.
If Greece were to extend its territorial waters to 12 miles, only a fifth of the Aegean would remain as high seas, and about two-thirds of it would become Greek territorial waters.
In other words, 12 miles would mean that almost the entire Aegean Sea would come under Greek domination, and the Aegean Sea would become a Greek lake.
Under those circumstances, it will become almost impossible for our Navy to reach the Mediterranean via international waters, and Turkey will suffer significant harm in terms of shipping, security and resources in the Aegean. Additionally, third countries will have to seek permission from Greece while passing through the Aegean. It will never be possible for Turkey to accept this.
Another problem that has caused significant tensions between Turkey and Greece is the airspace issue over the Aegean Sea, and problems that relate to the FIR line.
The breadth of the airspace cannot exceed the breadth of territorial waters. However, Greece claims to have 10 miles of airspace, although its territorial waters are only 6 miles wide.
This means that, based on this claim, a helicopter taking off from one of our ships in international waters could be making an airspace violation simply by liftoff.
Greece is the only country that puts forward such a strange, illogical and illegal claim. There is no such practice in the world, neither today nor in history!
While we do not accept this claim that disregards the rules of international law along with the principles of reason and logic, Greece is seeking to further expand its airspace with dreams of extending its territorial waters to 12 miles. It should be seen and known that these are just empty dreams.
(FIR Line and Search and Rescue Area)
In connection with this issue, Greece also depicts the Flight Information Area [FIR] line, which is a technical responsibility, as its sovereign area.
In violation of the 1944 ICAO Chicago Convention, Greece is asking military aircraft that enter the Athens FIR to submit flight plans, and alleges that it is an airspace violation when they do not submit such plans.
In addition, Greece wants to carry out search and rescue missions in Turkish territory by claiming that the FIR line is also the "Search and Rescue Area" boundary.
There is no such practice in international law, anywhere in the world!
Arming of the Islands under Demilitarized Status (GASA)
As for the arming in violation of international agreements; of the Islands under Demilitarized Status in the Aegean,
Greece violates the status of at least 16 of the 23 Islands under Demilitarized Status by placing military units / weapons, and tries to erode international agreements, first and foremost the Treaty of Lausanne, at every opportunity.
Moreover, by including these islands in its various exercises, it tries to use NATO and third countries for its own claims.
In addition, Greece continues its provocative stance by declaring unnecessary NAVTEX/NOTMAR/NOTAM With these activities, Greece violates the "Moratorium Period” (15 June-15 September) specified in the 1988 Turkish-Greek Athens Memorandum of Understanding, and the 1976 Bern Agreement. Despite Turkey's diplomatic demarches, it continues this lawless attitude.
Another problem in the Aegean relates to the issues we face in connection with the Islands, Islets and Rocks Whose Sovereignty Has Not Been Transferred to Greece by Treaties.
Greece claims sovereignty over these, and even puts them up for sale.
Greece also exploits fort his purpose international initiatives such as EU environmental and energy programs, archeology and land survey studies. It is not possible to accept such unilateral acts.
Bearing historical, geographical and scientific concrete facts in mind, all these efforts clearly demonstrate the expansionist approach of Greece, which has nearly tripled its original size in seven stages since its official establishment in 1832, in an area of 47,517 km2 in and around the Peloponnesian Peninsula.
In the Eastern Mediterranean, Greece and the Greek Cypriot Administration are trying to impose their expansionist claims; and want to constrain Turkey to the Gulf of Antalya, despite Turkey having the longest coastline of the Mediterranean with a length of approximately 1900 km.
Greece is asking for maritime jurisdiction over 40,000 km2 maritime jurisdiction for the 10 km2 island of Meis (Kastellorizo), which lies 1,950 m from Turkey and 600 km from Greece’s mainland.
Looking at the history of maritime jurisdiction areas in the Eastern Mediterranean, we can see that the claimed basis of the illegal actions of the Greek Cypriot Administration is the so-called exclusive economic zone, declared in the name of the "Republic of Cyprus", in complete disregard of the rights of the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus and Turkey.
It is necessary for everyone to clearly understand and act in accordance with the fact that the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus is a stakeholder in and an equal owner of the natural riches around the island of Cyprus.
In violation of international law, Greece wants to prevent Turkey from benefiting from resources such as natural gas and fishing, by making bilateral delimitation agreements with other riparian states and through de facto practices; as well as presenting Turkey with ‘fait accomplis’ vis-à-vis the international community.
In response to this, in the Eastern Mediterranean and Cyprus we insist that the protection of equal sovereign rights in the maritime jurisdictions in the Eastern Mediterranean and Cyprus, and the equitable distribution of resources should be determined by agreement.
Accordingly, we have made notifications to the UN regarding our own jurisdiction areas.
In this context, our activities in the areas licensed by the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus and those in our maritime jurisdiction areas will continue.
Dear Participants, (Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus)
Turkey carried out the Cyprus Peace Operation 47 years ago, in order to prevent the massacre, after the coup, of the Turkish Cypriots who had been subjected to countless pains and injustices over the years.
With this operation, peace and tranquility came to the island; the massacre of our kinsmen and of innocent people was prevented; the persecution of the Turks on the island was stopped; and the shedding of blood and tears came to an end. It is clear that the peace and tranquility that has lasted on the island to this day is the result of this operation. The Turkish Armed Forces are still the guarantor of peace and stability on the island.
Trying to make the military presence on the island, of Turkey, which is a guarantor state, seem different from what it actually is will not yield any benefit to the Greek and Greek Cypriot sides.
The essential problem is the Greek-Greek Cypriot duo’s maintenance of their uncompromising attitude of fifty years on the rights of the Turkish Cypriots, disregarding the rights and interests of the Turkish Cypriots, and not accepting their equal existence.
The instruction to tear out the page about Ghazi Mustafa Kemal Atatürk from the Oxford English textbook taught in Greek Cypriot schools is a recent example of this distorted and hostile mentality. This incident clearly shows who and what we are dealing with. We vehemently reject it, vehemently condemn it. Unbelievabla indeed!
Turkey and the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus, on the other hand, at every opportunity have shown that they are in favor of peace and stability. Also, Turkey and the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus have done their part in the name of peace and tranquility, and they continue to do so.
Turkey and the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus demonstrated the latest example of their well meaningapproach towards a solution in the informal talks held in Geneva from 27 to 29 April. However, no progress could be made during these negotiations due to the uncompromising, stubborn and selfish attitude of the Greek Cypriot Administration.
I would like to underline one point here. The EU violated its own principles and made the Greek Cypriot Administration its member despite an existing border dispute, thus supporting the deadlock instead of serving peace. This situation remains unexplained, and the questions as to how this could happen remain unanswered to this day!
On the issue of Cyprus, we want third parties to be objective; to evaluate the problems within the framework of international law, reason and logic; and for the EU and international actors to put aside strategic blindness and see the realities on the ground.
It is clear that no results can be achieved from the repeated discussion of tried and unsuccessful proposals for a solution.
We believe that two independent states, based on sovereign equality, living side by side and in cooperation, is now the only solution in Cyprus. In other words, two independent, sovereign, equal states.
I would like to emphasize, once again, that the Cyprus issue is our national issue. Today, in line with the Treaties of Guarantee and Alliance, we stand by our Cypriot brothers and sisters with all our means, as we did in the past. We will never tolerate the usurpation of their rights through a fait accompli. Our decisiveness and determination must be well understood.
As a result, any project in the Eastern Mediterranean that does not include Turkey and the Turkish Cypriots has no chance of survival.
We are determined, decisive and able to protect our rights, concerns and interests in the Aegean, the Eastern Mediterranean and Cyprus.
Dear Participants, (Provocative Armament and Activities)
As we have repeatedly stated, Turkey is not a threat to anyone. On the contrary, Turkey is a reliable, strong and effective ally. Our only goal is to ensure the security of our homeland, and our nation.
While dealing with the problems around us, we are never "irredentist", that is, never "expansive, intrusive" in our approach.
Despite its own actions that contravene international law, Greece makes accusatory statements toward Turkey. Some Greek politicians in particular, by dressing in sheep's clothing and showing up in a different place every day, try to create false agendas through claims that fall far from reality.
By creating a perception of an artificial threat, Greece has become engrossed with an arms race. Greek politicians, through inadequacies and fanciful approaches, are consuming the resources of the Greek people who are already experiencing economic difficulties, and dragging down the level of welfare even further.
Their own academics, some retired diplomats and military commanders also state that this approach of Greece is a futile effort.
(Turks of Western Thrace)
Despite being an EU member, Greece continues its oppressive practices against the “Turkish” minority living in Western Thrace, Rhodes and İstanköy (Kos), in disregard of EU values, human rights and international agreements.
As part of these policies, Greece continues to abolish, by various means, the fundamental rights granted to the Turks of Western Thrace through international agreements (1913 Athens, 1923 Lausanne Peace Treaty).
The cessation of the activities of 12 minority schools, of which 8 are in Rodop and 4 are in İskeçe, is the latest and one of the most striking examples of these policies of oppression and intimidation.
As a result of these practices by the Greek authorities, the number of Turkish minority primary schools in Western Thrace has decreased from 231 to 103 in the last 25 years.
Greece continues its restrictive and oppressive practices on issues such as the education of Turks, the establishment of associations, election of their own religious leaders, foundations, freedom of expression and press, and the denial of the “Turkish” identity in particular.
Likewise, Greece began to violate the right of Western Thrace Turks to elect their own muftis as of 1985, by appointing its own mufti in contravention of the Athens Agreement of 1913 and Law No. 2345 of 1920.
Despite being sentenced by the European Court of Human Rights twice in 1999 and 2006 for this unlawful practice, Greece maintains this stance in violation of the agreements.
These actions of Greece, which include shutting down the associations founded by the Turks of Western Thrace simply because they contain the word "Turk" in their name, were also convicted and registered by the rulings of the European Court of Human Rights. However, Greece still refrains from implementing the rulings of the European Court of Human Rights.
Saying that "there are no Turks", shutting down schools and associations belonging to Turks and preventing the opening of mosques are in denial of all democratic and contemporary values as well as historical facts.
The EU and third parties persistently ignore these.
Turkey will continue to follow up on the rights of all our kinsmen and those that are oppressed, wherever they may be in the world.
I would like to take this opportunity to pay my respects to Dr. Sadık Ahmet, one of the heroic figures of the struggle for existence of the Turks of Western Thrace.
(Support for Terrorist Organizations)
Another problem area with Greece is our neighbor’s support for terrorist organizations.
It is known to everyone that Greece, which for years has been training PKK and DHKP-C terrorists on its soil, in Camp Lavrion, while providing them with shelter, is now also hosting FETÖ.
It is hypocritical for Greece, a NATO ally and our neighbor, to complain about the spread of terrorism and religious fanaticism whilst providing patronage to these organizations.
Turkey, however, has taken a principled, consistent stance on terrorism, which is also a major threat to global security; and has paid the highest price amongst NATO allies.
The Turkish Armed Forces, which have carried out successful operations against terrorist organizations nesting in Syria, at the expense of martyrs is the only army to have fought hand-to-hand against DAESH, neutralizing nearly 4,000 DAESH terrorists in the north of Syria.
In fact, NATO Secretary General Stoltenberg has stated that Turkey was the NATO ally that suffered the most from terrorism, and that Turkey has significantly contributed to the security of the Alliance and that of Europe in the fight against terrorism.
Dear Participants, (Refugee Problem / FRONTEX)
As you have also followed closely, especially in the last 15-20 years, due to regional conflicts and military interventions in the Middle East, Asia and Africa, irregular migration and refugee influxes towards our country and Europe are occurring in increasing volumes every yearl.
Most of this irregular influx of migrants and refugees that affects the whole world takes place via the Mediterranean and Aegean basins.
According to UN data, Turkey hosts the largest number of refugees in the world. Naturally, Turkey bears a heavy migration burden.
In contrast, Greece provides patronage to terrorists on the one hand, and on the other, implements practices in contravention of international law, the common values and universal principles purportedly advocated by the EU, and inhumane practices on the issue of refugees. It continues to mercilessly push back migrants, including women and children in the Aegean Sea.
For example on August 7, Greece took migrants to the uninhabited Başak island, south of Kaş, using a military boat, and left them to perish. This activity was monitored second by second by a UAV.
It has also been established by independent international organizations through eye witnesses accounts and evidence that the Greek authorities illegally pushed immigrants and refugees back to Turkey by carrying out torture and ill-treatment.
However, Greece does not hesitate in having the images of their immigrant push-backs deleted and in destroying evidence, in an attempt to hide its lawlessness.
Greece is instrumentalizing an EU organ, FRONTEX (EU Border Management Agency), for its lawlessness and practices that violate human dignity, using it as a tool for its own interests and openly trying to exploit it.
What is FRONTEX? FRONTEX is an EU organ that was created in 2004 to ensure the protection and security of EU member states’ borders with their neighbors.
It should be seen that behind Greece's invitation to FRONTEX, is an effort to make the EU a part of the very comprehensive and multidimensional issue of Aegean disputes.
FRONTEX's Emergency Border Response Teams’ intervention, with heavy military equipment, and push-backs of immigrants and asylum seeking groups that are trying to cross the border has also led to reaction from non-governmental organizations in Europe.
All our Western friends and allies need to think about this: What would be the consequences if Turkey had not hosted any refugees, and behaved inhumanely like Greece and Greece-guided FRONTEX, leading to 9 million immigrants ending up on the EU’s borders?
The refugee problem is not only Turkey's problem, but also a common problem of all countries, including the EU. Greece's attitude towards refugees also complicates NATO's work.
The violation of fundamental rights, inhumane and degrading conditions of detention, violation of the right to asylum, detention by the Greek coast guard and forced push-backs towards Turkey by Greece are unacceptable.
The practices that cause innocent people to perish in the cold waters of the Aegean are crimes against humanity.
Dear Participants, (Conclusion)
As a result; despite all the well-intentioned approaches of Turkey, Greece unfortunately continues its lawless, aggressive and escalatory rhetoric and actions. It is in a rush to cover up all its lies, mistakes and shortcomings by making baseless accusations against Turkey, and by seeking refuge in EU membership.
The most appropriate and realistic solution for Greek officials would be to avoid an arms race at the expense of their people’s welfare; avoid an escalation of tensions; and refrain from uncompromising attitudes, turning instead to sincere cooperation with us.
If Greek politicians lend an ear to their own people and manage to see us as a real neighbor and an ally, rather than a threat and a country with which to compete, both countries and our region will benefit from this.
Turkey wishes to develop sincere and strong relations with Greece; and prefers to solve existing problems on the basis of bilateral relations that are built on trust.
Our expectation from third parties is to see Turkey's just, lawful, reasonable and logical approaches; assess Greece’s practices and claims in light of logic, science and objective criteria; and not look at the situation solely from the perspective of EU solidarity.
It should be seen and known that the similarities between the Turkish and Greek people, who have common cultural ties and share the same geography, are much greater than our differences.
We sincerely believe that the problems that exist between us can be resolved in accordance with international law, by peaceful means, within good neighborly relations, and through dialogue. And we are exerting great efforts towards this end.
However, it is still useful to remember one thing.
Today, September the 9th, is the anniversary of the end of the Greek adventure.
On this occasion, it should not be forgotten how heavy the price was of the adventure undertaken a century ago; and new adventures that will result in disappointment should not be pursued.
Our most sincere wish is for the Turkish and Greek people to live in peace, security, stability and prosperity while benefiting from the riches of the region.
I hope that the symposium will be fruitful for peace, stability and for everyone, and I thank Dokuz Eylül University for its contribution to its organization, as well as the distinguished academics and everyone else who made it possible.
Once again, I greet you with affection and respect.
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