YEREVAN—Officials in Ankara have lambasted Armenia for its vocal show of support to regional allies Greece and Cyprus over a brewing dispute in the Eastern Mediterranean on Monday. Over the weekend, Armenian Foreign Minister Zohrab Mnatsakanyan reportedly held phone conversations with his Cypriot and Greek counterparts over the recent developments in the Aegean and Eastern Mediterranean area.
Tensions between nominal NATO allies Greece and Turkey have been escalating over the summer, as Ankara vowed to press ahead with plans to search for oil and gas reserves in the eastern Mediterranean Sea in waters surrounding the small Greek island of Kastellorizo. Turkey also claims to be issuing new exploration licenses for the area despite objections from Athens over drilling rights.
Turkey’s deployment of the seismic research vessel Oruc Reis—escorted by warships—was condemned by Athens and Brussels last month. A defiant Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan responded to the challenge on Saturday stating, “We will not back down in the face of sanctions and threats.”
Last week the Turkish escort frigate Kemal Reis rammed the Hellenic Navy ship Limnos as it approached the convoy. However, a spokesperson for the Greek military dismissed the incident as an accident. The Greek ship, which apparently suffered little damage, later joined naval maneuvers in the region with incoming French warships.
The island of Kastellorizo, along with the majority of islands dotting the Aegean and eastern Mediterranean seas had been allocated to Greece at the 1920 Treaty of Sèvres—a decision which was later confirmed during the subsequent Treaty of Lausanne in 1923. However, Turkey has continued to dispute Greek and Cypriot sovereignty over these territorial waters and has condemned a recent agreement signed between Greece and Egypt designating an exclusive economic zone in the area.
Mnatsakanyan’s call that Ankara “de-escalate the situation, respect the International Law and cease all actions within the Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) of Greece and Cyprus” provoked the ire of Turkish Foreign Ministry spokesman Hami Aksoy. Aksoy was quoted by Turkish media on Monday as questioning the Armenian leadership’s understanding of “world geography and its place in this geography.” The spokesperson also referenced an ongoing diplomatic row over the legacy of the Treaty of Sèvres—signed a century ago this month—by calling Armenia’s commemoration of the event “provocative.”
Last week, the Turkish Foreign Ministry issued a statement to coincide with the Treaty of Sèvres’ centennial calling it “absurd that a government, which is unable to feed its own people, dare to bring up the Treaty of Sèvres which the Turkish nation overturned 100 years ago,” and accused the Armenian government of attempting to achieve “sneaky goals” at Turkey’s expense. It also paradoxically accused Armenia of being the obstacle to achieving peace in the region.
This statement, in turn, provoked a strong response from Yerevan, with Armenian Prime Minister declaring that the Treaty “has been and will remain a historical fact, which cannot be edited or wiped away.” The Treaty of Sèvres officially recognized the establishment of an Armenian state with sovereignty over traditionally-Armenian populated territories in the Caucasus and Eastern Anatolia—much of which was erased by the later Treaty of Lausanne. “Although the Treaty of Sevres was never implemented, it…reflects our long journey to restore our independent statehood. We are bound by duty to remember it, realize its importance and follow its message,” continued Pashinyan.
Armenia’s subsequent show of solidarity for Greece and Cyprus—both countries which share similar histories of oppression under Ottoman and subsequent Turkish occupations—in this conflict has led Ankara to dub the trio an “alliance of evil,” against which it vowed to protect the interests of the Turkish and north-Cypriot peoples. Since last year, Greece, Cyprus and Armenia have begun a new format of diplomatic cooperation aimed at promoting peace, stability and prosperity through enhanced trilateral political dialogue. Indeed the three countries had already collaborated back in June to thwart a bid by Turkey to gain the presidency of the UN General Assembly. However, Turkey’s candidate—Volkan Bozkır, a former Minister of European Affairs and senior diplomat who ran unopposed—was eventually elected to preside over the body.