The decision by new Greek Defense Minister Panos Kammenos to fly by helicopter over the eastern Aegean Imia islets, the site of a military standoff with Turkey in 1996, prompted a reaction from Ankara Friday.
Two Turkish F-16s approached the uninhabited rocky formations, without however entering Greek air space, as Kammenos and military chiefs flew over Imia to drop wreaths in memory of three Hellenic Navy officers who died when their helicopter crashed during a reconnaissance mission in the area. Two Greek fighter jets circled over the area within the country’s air space until the helicopter headed for the island of Crete.
A statement by Greece’s Defense Ministry saying that the two Turkish jets were intercepted by the Greek aircraft was later contradicted by the Hellenic Air Force and the National Defense General Staff.
“The reason the defense minister went there was to show his patriotism and to honor those who died there,” said Maria Chrysoveloni, spokeswoman for SYRIZA’s nationalist coalition partner Independent Greeks.
During a memorial service earlier in the day, Kammenos said that “the Imia [incident] was not an unfortunate event,” vowing that investigations into the incident will continue. He did not clarify his comment.
Meanwhile Friday, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan urged caution from Greece’s new Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras. Asked about Tsipras’s campaign pledge to dig in on bailout terms, Erdogan said, “Populism must have its limits,” adding that failing to deliver on one’s pledges can cause problems.
Tsipras is to travel to close ally Cyprus on Monday for his first visit abroad since his election victory.