human rights watch

söndag 21 februari 2016

Battle Over the Aegean: The Undeclared Greco-Turkish Air War

Battle Over the Aegean: The Undeclared Greco-Turkish Air War.

Turkish fighter jets and a Navy transport plane violated Greek airspace 
over island territories in the eastern Aegean Sea nearly two dozen 
times. Commenting on the latest violation, Russian military analyst 
Alexei Kupriyanov decided to take a look back at the recent history of 
the decades-long conflict between Athens and Ankara.The
reported airspace violations earlier this week took place between the 
islands of Chios and Samos in the eastern Aegean, and between Lemnos and
Lesbos, in the Sea's northeast. According to
Greece's General Staff, Turkish aircraft violated Greek airspace 22 
times in a period of 24 hours. Two of the Turkish planes were reported 
to be armed, and Greek military officials confirmed that two "virtual 
dogfights" took place between Turkish and Greek aircraft after Greek 
patrols intercepted the violators.
The incident was far from the first time that Turkish aircraft 
violated Greek airspace, with Greek media earlier calculating that 
in 2015 alone, Turkey had violated Greek airspace 1,375 times, with the 
transgressing aircraft armed and prepared for combat in 135 of those 
incidents.Turkey, it bears keeping in mind, has refused to sign the UN Convention 
on the Law of the Sea of 1982, which enshrines a 12 nautical mile (22 
km) standard of territorial waters surrounding island territories. In 
1995, Ankara threatened that an attempt by Athens to make good on the 12
nautical mile limit prescribed by the UN Treaty would constitute a 
cacus belli. Greece, for its part, condemned the Turkish ultimatum as a 
violation of the UN Charter.
Commenting on the history of the present conflict between the two 
countries, journalist and military analyst Alexei Kupriyanov recalled
that the current dispute in the Aegean is part of a struggle stretching
back centuries, from the Ottoman capture of Constantinople in 1453, 
to centuries of Ottoman Turkish occupation of Greece, to multiple wars 
in the 19th and 20th centuries, to Turkey's invasion and occupation 
of northern Cyprus in 1974.
"Political disputes," the journalist recalled, "have recently been 
exacerbated by economic disagreements. After oil was found on the Aegean
Sea's continental shelf, questions over the ownership of uninhabited 
islands took on extraordinary importance. Both Greece and Turkey issued 
permits to their companies to extract oil in disputed waters, sending 
research vessels to the area, and accusing one another of trying to gain
control over the lion's share of the oil-bearing shelf."
"And neither NATO, nor the International Court 
of Arbitration, nor the UN Security Council, have been able to persuade 
Athens and Ankara to reach a compromise." So far, the journalist notes, 
"the conflict has never reached a hot phase: during the most critical 
moments, NATO's leadership intervened." Nevertheless, over the 
past twenty years, the threat of war has hung over the Aegean like the 
Sword of Damocles.
Dogfights Over the Aegean

"Simulated air battles, or dogfights – have become the main way 
for the two countries to demonstrate their territorial claims," 
Kupriyanov recalled. "Greek Air Force F-16s and Mirages have intercepted
Turkish F-16s and engaged in dangerous maneuvers, trying to get on the 
tail of the enemy to expel him from the disputed area. At times pilots 
would keep each other in each other's sights for minutes at a time. The 
'contest' of nerves is made particularly acute by the fact that [often],
the planes on both sides are fully armed.""For the most part, the dogfights have taken place over the islands 
of Lesbos, Chios, Samos and the Dodecanese archipelago. Often, tourists 
who spend their holidays in the Greek resorts could simultaneously 
'enjoy' simulated air battles taking place over their heads.""For the most part, the dogfights have taken place over the islands 
of Lesbos, Chios, Samos and the Dodecanese archipelago. Often, tourists 
who spend their holidays in the Greek resorts could simultaneously 
'enjoy' simulated air battles taking place over their heads.""For a long time," Kupriyanov recalls, "the international community 
remained blissfully ignorant of the Greco-Turkish dispute: few were 
interested in the obscure maneuvers over the Aegean Sea and the 
recriminations of the two countries' general staffs. But everything 
changed in 1996, when the two NATO member countries found themselves 
on the brink of war."
"The crisis was caused by a navigational error by the captain of the 
Turkish cargo ship Figen Akat, which saw the ship run ashore on one 
of the two islands of Imia, drawn on Turkish maps under the name Kardak.
These are just two uninhabited pieces of land jutting out of the sea, 
the Greek sovereignty over which no one had previously disputed. After 
running ashore, the captain of the cargo ship refused Greek aid, 
claiming that he was in Turkish territorial waters, and turning 
to Turkish emergency services for help."
"After four days, Turkey officially declared that Kardak was its 
territory, which followed the exchange of angry diplomatic notes. The 
Greek press saw the unfolding of a patriotic campaign, [which prompted] 
the mayor of the neighboring island of Kalymnos, accompanied by three 
other Greek citizens, including a priest, to raise a Greek flag on the 
island on January 26, 1996."
"But it did not fly there long. The next day, Turkish journalists 
from the Hurriyet daily newspaper arrived, lowering the Greek flag and 
raising a Turkish one. The entire ceremony was broadcast on Turkish 
television, causing a surge of patriotism among Turks. A day later, a 
group of Greek commandos secretly landed on the island, again raising 
the country's flag."
"The leaders of both countries, Costas Simitis 
and Tansu Ciller, exchanged sharp words. Both sides quickly pulled 
warships up to the disputed islands. On January 30, after a Turkish 
frigate violated Greek territorial waters and aimed its weapons at a 
Greek gunboat, and a Turkish Navy helicopter flew at low altitude 
over the disputed islands, the Greek Navy left its harbors at Piraeus 
and began to deploy across the Aegean Sea.""Early on the morning of January 31, the Greek Navy frigate Navarino 
launched a reconnaissance helicopter with three pilots on board. Flying 
over western Imia, the pilots reported that they had seen armed men 
raising the Turkish flag (they turned out to be Turkish commandos who 
had landed on the island at night). After that, communication with the 
helicopter was lost."
"The nerves of sailors on both sides were on edge," Kupriyanov notes.
"Politicians in Ankara and Athens realized that they had come to the 
edge of the precipice, with both sides deciding not to make the incident
public: if the press were to find out, the situation could spiral 
out of control."
As a result, the United States was forced to intervene. "The White 
House had realized that pushed just a little more, the two NATO members 
providing cover for the alliance's southern flank would start a war 
against one another. The settlement plan was worked out with the 
participation of President Bill Clinton…In the end, the two countries 
agreed to withdraw troops and to restore the status quo. However, 
neither side has given up its claim to the disputed islands."
"To this day, many in Greece are convinced that their helicopter was 
shot down by Turkish special forces, and that the official version – 
that the chopper crashed due to a technical fault, was conceived 
in retrospect to calm the public. The helicopter's pilots are considered
national heroes by the Greek right."
"In January 2016, Panos Kammenos, Greece's new 
defense minister and the leader of the right-wing Independent Greeks 
party, visited the islands to honor the memory of the pilots. As he laid
flowers over their gravestone, a pair of Turkish jet fighters roared 
overhead, demonstrating that the dispute over the islands continues."Cover-ups in the Secret War Over the Aegean
The journalist suggests that the real or perceived cover-up regarding
casualties "has become a kind of a hallmark of the Greco-Turkish crisis
in the Aegean." 
"Perhaps the best example was the incident which took place 
on October 8, 1996, eight months after the conflict over Imia. A Turkish
F-16 taking off from an air base in the province of Balikesir and 
carrying out a training flight crashed near the island of Chios in Greek
airspace. One of the pilots, Colonel Osman Chilekli, managed to eject. 
He was picked up by a Greek rescue helicopter and handed over to the 
Turkish side. The co-pilot, Captain Nail Erdogan, was declared missing. 
His body was never found.""Almost immediately, Erdogan's relatives declared that the authorities 
are hiding the truth, and that the plane was shot down by the Greek Air 
Force. The government categorically denied this claim. However, 16 years
later, Colonel Chilekli, who had previously refused to speak to the 
media, said that his fighter was indeed shot down by a Greek missile. 
'This incident was a disgrace for our armed forces – this is why we kept
silent for so long', the pilot said. 'Erdogan's family was told the 
truth in private. But in this case, as in others, many mysteries 
remain', he added."
Following Chilekli's revelation, Turkish authorities finally broke 
the conspiracy of silence, with current defense minister Ismet Yilmaz 
confirming in 2012 that the Turkish F-16 had been hit by a Greek Mirage 
2000 by a R.550 Magic II air-to-air missile.
"In the 20 years since the incident, Greek and 
Turkish journalists established a variety of theories about Captain 
Erdogan's death…But there are still many uncertainties in the case. The 
Turks claim that the F-16 was not armed, and that consequently, its 
destruction was cold-blooded murder. The Greeks say that the aircraft 
was armed, that it was accompanied by another plane, that it got into a 
dogfight, and that the Greek pilot pressed the trigger accidentally."
Following the October 8, 1996 incident, Greek and Turkish aircraft 
often flew on patrols without missiles on board for many years. 
"However, as subsequent events would show, this would not help matters."
"On May 23, 2006, two Turkish F-16s and an F-4 reconnaissance aircraft 
entered neutral territory over islands in the southern Aegean at an 
altitude of 8,200 meters, without giving prior notice to Greek air 
traffic controllers. Two Greek F-16s were sent to intercept the Turks 
over the island of Karpathos. A traditional 'dogfight' ensued, ending 
in tragedy: the Greek and Turkish planes collided," resulting in the 
ejection of the Turkish pilot, and the death of Greek pilot Costas 
"It's not exactly clear what happened in the 
skies over Karpathos," the journalist recalled. "Greek nationalists 
claim that Iliakis rammed the Turkish plane on purpose, eliminating the 
aggressor at the cost of his own life. Leftist journalists assume it 
to have been an accident. In any case, after the incident the planes 
of the Greek and Turkish Air Force began to fly armed again."
"In the coming years, the undeclared war over the Aegean would see 
new victims. In 2007, a Turkish pilot would crash during a training 
flight. In 2010, two Greek pilots would die due to an error 
during maneuvers at extremely close range.""It is no surprise," Kupriyanov noted, "that after the Turks shot down a
Russian bomber [over Syria], in the course of his meeting with Russian 
Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, Greek Foreign Minister Nikos Kotzias 
expressed his condolences and solidarity with Moscow. Kotzias complained
about the persistent violations of Greek air space by Turkish jets. 
Until recently, Greek air traffic controllers recorded an average 
of 1,500 cases of airspace violation by Turkish aircraft [per year]."
"Such numbers shouldn't surprise anyone. For example, in July 2015, 
six Turkish planes entered Greece's airspace. Before four Greek fighters
could get on their tail, the Turks managed to break the air boundary 
at least 20 times. A similar incident occurred in December of 2015 and 
now, recently, in February 2016."
Unfortunately, the journalist warned, "the 
situation is becoming more and more reminiscent of that of 1995: Daily, 
Greek fighters are forced to take to the skies to intercept Turkish 
intruders, armed. And who knows whether and when another Greek pilot's 
trigger finger might slip."


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