Erdogan recites Muslim prayer at Hagia Sophia – Athens says Imia sovereignty beyond doubt after Ankara challenge
Athens.- (GreekNewsOnline, ANA-MPA, Kathimerini)
Athens issued a stern message to Ankara on Saturday, stressing that the Imia islets are Greek and there is no question about their sovereignty.
“The legal status of Imia is firmly established,” the Greek Foreign Ministry said, adding that “Greek sovereignty over Imia is a given and beyond doubt.”
“Turkey is mistaken if it thinks it can violate international law in the Aegean without consequences, as it does in other places in its environs,” the statement added.
“We would advise Turkey to measure its words.”
The statement from Athens followed one issued by the Turkish Foreign Ministry, criticizing Athens for adopting an environmental law regarding European Union Natura programs that it claimed Greece “has long been exploiting… with respect to the Aegean issues.”
“There is no doubt about the sovereignty of Turkey over the Kardak rocks,” the statement said, using the Turkish name for the Imia islets.
“Moreover, we will not accept any possible fait accompli to be presented by Greece towards the geographical formations in the Aegean Sea, legal status of which are disputed.”
“Lastly, we would like to reiterate that the Greek Law no. 4519 will not bear any legal effect regarding the disputes existing between Turkey and Greece in the Aegean Sea,” the statement from Ankara added.
Meanwhile, two Turkish F-16s and an ATR-72 aircraft of the Turkish Navy committed three infringements of the Athens FIR and 27 violations of Greek air space over the Aegean Sea on Friday, the Hellenic National Defence General Staff said. The ATR-72, which is rarely seen over the Aegean, was responsible for 25 of the air space violations.
In all instances, the Turkish aircraft were identified and intercepted by the Hellenic Air Force.
Athens has asked Ankara to clarify the reasons why two Greek soldiers detained after accidentally crossing the border earlier this month were still being held by Turkish authorities.
“The Turkish government [must] respond why, almost a month on, we have no knowledge of the charges [on which they are being held],” government spokesman Dimitris Tzanakopoulos told journalists Friday, adding that the “foot-dragging” of Turkish authorities was undermining good neighborly relations.
On Thursday, a Turkish misdemeanor court ruled that the Greek soldiers, who were detained after accidentally crossing the border in bad weather, cannot be released because they have no permanent residence in Turkey and could try to leave the country. The decision means that the pair will remain in jail until a trial date has been set by the judge.
Turkey’s president has recited an Islamic prayer in the Hagia Sophia, a historic Istanbul landmark that has become a symbol of interfaith and diplomatic tensions.
Speaking for an art festival opening Saturday, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan recited the Quran’s first verse, dedicating the prayer to the “souls of all who left us this work as inheritance, especially Istanbul’s conqueror.”
The Hagia Sophia was built during the 6th century Christian Byzantine Empire and served as the seat of the Greek Orthodox Church. It was converted into an imperial mosque with the Ottoman conquest of Istanbul in 1453.
Turkey’s secular founder made the structure a museum in 1935, but there have been discussions by Erdogan’s Islamic-leaning government about converting it back into a mosque.
Greece has protested the Turkish government’s religious use of the venue.
Greece and the United States should expect some “turbulence” over the next few months as Turkey gears up for the next presidential election in 2019, US Ambassador to Greece Geoffrey Pyatt told Vice Greece in an on-camera interview published on Friday.
Asked about the rising tension between the two countries Pyatt attributed it partly to the election period in Turkey but said he had confidence in the way the government is handling the issue.
“We have a high degree of confidence in the Greek leaders who have been working on these issues. I think we both – Greece and the US – are going to have to get through some turbulence over the next couple of months as President Erdogan gets himself reelected. I think that’s where it’s so importance to have confidence in the US-Greek relations,” he said.
“A lot of it I think its politics but I don’t want to dismiss it,” he added.
He also rejected Greek media reports stoking fears over a possible repeat of the 1996 incident at the islets of Imia in the Aegean, which brought the two countries close to war.
“I have a lot of people who have expressed to me this anxiety of some kind of an incident. There’s been some crazy stuff in the press. This stuff in [newspaper] ‘Parapolitika’ that was running about Imia 2 and the Americans planning…That’s completely manufactured, it’s not true,” he said.
Commenting about the two Greek soldiers who have been detained in Turkey after straying into its territory earlier this month, he reaffirmed his country’s commitment in bringing them back.
“What I can tell you is the United States are going to remain engaged and we believe these two soldiers need to come back to their families. We also believe it is in Turkey’s interest as it is in Greece’s interest is to see a stable, cooperative, normal relationship between the two countries,” he said.