ANKARA, Turkey — (AP) — Turkey summoned Greece’s ambassador on Monday to protest the alleged deployment of dozens of American-made armored vehicles to Greek islands that Ankara says should remain demilitarized in accordance with international treaties.
President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, meanwhile, warned that Turkey would not hesitate to defend its rights and interests against Greece.
Turkish media published aerial footage on Sunday which it said showed Greece’s deployment of armored vehicles on the Aegean islands of Samos and Lesbos, heightening tensions between the two NATO countries which have a history of rivalry. Turkish officials say the deployment violates the islands’ non-military status under international law.
Turkish officials summoned Greek Ambassador Christodoulos Lazaris to the Turkish Foreign Ministry on Monday, state-run Anadolu news agency reported. He said Turkey had also lodged a protest with Washington, but did not provide details.
Erdogan accused Greece of engaging in provocative acts against Turkey.
“We will not fail to defend the rights and interests of our country against Greece using all means at our disposal, if necessary,” Erdogan said after a cabinet meeting.
Turkey and Greece have decades-old disputes over a range of issues, including territorial claims in the Aegean Sea and disputes over airspace there. Disputes have brought them to the brink of war three times in the past half-century.
Tensions erupted in 2020 over exploratory drilling rights in areas of the Mediterranean Sea – where Greece and Cyprus claim exclusive economic zones – leading to a naval standoff.
More recently, Turkey accused Greece of violating international agreements by militarizing the Aegean islands. He also accused Greek surface-to-air missiles of locking onto Turkish F-16 fighter jets carrying out a reconnaissance mission in international airspace – a charge Greece has denied.
Athens says it must defend the islands – many of which lie near the Turkish coast – against a potential Turkish attack.
A Greek government official told The Associated Press that Greece “fully respects” its international obligations, adding that the Greek ambassador told his interlocutors that “Greece is not the country that threatens its neighbor with war or which gathers a large landing force on its coast as Turkey has done.
The official added that Turkey “continues to violate Greece’s sovereignty with its continued violations of its airspace and overflights of Greek territory.” The official, who was not authorized to speak publicly to the media, made the remarks on condition of anonymity.
According to Turkish media, security officials said 23 of the armored vehicles were sent to Lesbos and 18 others to Samos.
Meanwhile, Greek authorities have said a six-year-old migration agreement between Turkey and the European Union remains in place despite a growing dispute between the two neighbors over the treatment of refugees.
Notis Mitarachi, the minister for migration affairs, said Greece would continue to abide by the 2016 deal that allows it to return most migrants traveling illegally from neighboring Turkey.
“It is clear that for those coming from Syria, Afghanistan, Somalia, Pakistan and Bangladesh, Turkey is a safe country,” Mitarachi said. “Unfortunately, smugglers continue to ‘sell tickets’ to people from these countries.”
Speaking before the United Nations General Assembly, Erdogan last week accused Greece of committing “crimes against humanity” by carrying out potentially deadly deportations of migrants traveling from the Turkish mainland to neighboring Greek islands.
Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis called the claims “absurd”, accusing Turkey of “weaponizing” migration to exert political pressure on Greece and other European countries.
Derek Gatopoulos reported from Athens, Greece.
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