Age-old hostility between Greece and Turkey has been revived by a new grievance. The reason?
Age-old hostility between Greece and Turkey has been revived by a new grievance. The reason is the vital need for oil and the right to prospect for it in the Aegaean Sea.
The Turkish armed forces were at one stage reported to have been put on an alert and Greece has embarked on a well-publicized build-up of modern armaments.
In January, an American group -- working on an exploration concession from the Greek government -- made a very big oil strike in the northern Aegaean. Greece is claiming that it has sovereign rights over almost all the Sea on the grounds that the thousands of Aegaean Islands are Greek and each should be able to prospect on its Continental Shelf. The Turks, however, argue that this is a special case and they should have rights over half the Aegaean. They are in a hurry to force a decision on this because the Greeks have applied for the territorial limits of each island to be extended from six to twelve miles: if this application was accopted, it would virtually turn the Aegaean into a closed sea. A Turkish survey ship has entered the disputed area but later withdrew.
The bitterness between Greece and Turkey stretches back to the last century when the Turks conquered Greece and the Greeks fought long and fiercely for their liberation. The memory of this is kept vividly alive by anniversary parades of military strength in Athens.
Over the last ten years the main bone of contention has been the island of Cyprus where the Greek and Turkish populations fought a brief civil war in 1963 and have since lived in separate communities. The Cyprus situation has spilled over to the mainland and has brought Greece and Turkey to the brink of full-scale war in 1964 and 1969. There has been outside pressure on them to show restraint since they are both members of the 15-nation North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO).
This background of conflict has made the quarrel over oil erupt all the more bitterly. In April, there were anti-Greek demonstrations in Istanbul. When a heavily-escorted Turkish survey ship entered the disputed area, the Greeks threatened drastic action. Since then the Turks have conducted full-scale naval manoeuvres in the northern Aegaean while the Greeks have been practising with their missile boats. They have also ordered 50 new jet fighter aircraft from France.
Both governments claim that these military activities are nothing more than the carrying out of pre-arranged programmes. There is normal diplomatic activity between the two countries and last weak in Athens the Turkish embassy did not even have a policeman outside it. But talks in Cyprus have recently been broken off partly as a result of the dispute and on 19 june a Greek pro-government newspaper said the armed forces 'would react decisively' to any attempt by Turkey to violate Greece's sovereign rights in the Aegaean.