This week’s revival, after two decades, of the Kardak rivalry between Turkey and Greece is less about those countries’ relationship and more about Turkey thumbing its nose at the European Union.
Author Cengiz Çandar Posted February 1, 2017
Turkish citizens younger than 20 or even 30 years of age don’t have a clue what Kardak is. But middle-aged and older Turks know that Kardak was the last serious crisis that almost brought Turkey and Greece to the brink of war. That was at the end of January 1996.
Kardak is the Turkish word for a pair of tiny islets in the Aegean Sea. In Greece, they are known as Imia. Except for a few goats, in 1996 no life had been detected on the islets, which lie between the Greek island Kalymnos and Turkey’s Bodrum Peninsula on one of the most beautiful parts of the Aegean. To Greece, the islets are Greek territory; for Turkey, they are in “gray zones” — meaning “undetermined sovereignty by Turkey” — and therefore Greece cannot claim them. The Turkish population believes Kardak is part of Turkish territory and thus has to be under Turkish sovereignty.
Having a total of only 10 acres of surface, the Kardak islets naturally have no strategic value at all.
Nonetheless, due to a variety of reasons — not necessarily rational ones — back then, Kardak became the venue of a dangerous confrontation between the two NATO allies. The standoff was defused and war was averted.
On the 21st anniversary of the Kardak standoff this week, tension over those two small islets was renewed. A Turkish navy missile boat, accompanied by two special forces speedboats, was seen around the islets Jan. 29. On board was Turkish Chief of Staff Gen. Hulusi Akar. Greek coast guard vessels deployed immediately and, according to the Greek Defense Ministry, the Turkish top commander left within seven minutes. The Turkish version did not mention that Akar was forced to withdraw, but rather implied that, following Greek harassment, he returned to Bodrum.