Turkish and Greek ‘family’ on the Mediterranean shrug off tension
Just beyond the luxury yachts and before the beach club hotels, lies a small Turkish warship in Kas Marina. Docked here on some days and patrolling the seas on others, it is just one sign of an unusual summer on the country’s southern coast.
Across August and September, Turkey and its neighbours have been in an increasingly fractious confrontation over disputed waters in the Eastern Mediterranean, and the right to drill for vast energy resources in them.
And while Cyprus – and the waters around it – may be the longest-standing source of that dispute, it is Kas, a small town set between the mountains and the Mediterranean Sea, that has emerged as the focus of recent tensions. “The whole world is watching!” says one local.
For easily visible from Kas across the bay sits Kastellorizo, a tiny Greek island of just 500 people. At its closest point, it is just 2km (1 mile) away from the Turkish shore. Kastellorizo is 125km (78 miles) from the larger Greek island of Rhodes to the west, and nearly 600km (373 miles) away from the Greek mainland. The controversy this year has surrounded who owns the waters beyond it, deeper into the Mediterranean.
From mid-August, a Turkish seismic research vessel Oruc Reis – escorted by warships – spent a month mapping out possible drilling prospects in the disputed waters, a move condemned by Greece and the European Union. In response, Greek frigates were sent to shadow the Turkish flotilla, even leading to a minor collision between Turkish and Greek warships. German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas warned both sides were “playing with fire” where “every little spark can lead to catastrophe”.
The dispute has spread onto land as well. Last month, in a show of strength, three Turkish attack helicopters flew low over Kas, nearing Kastellorizo. At the same time, Turkey has accused Greece of deploying troops on the island, breaching its demilitarised status. Last Sunday, as Greek President Katerina Sakellaropoulou flew in to visit Kastellorizo, just a few kilometres away Turkish Defence Minister Hulusi Akar came to Kas.
Yet in Kas itself, few seem concerned. Erdal Hacivelioglu, a local electrician and amateur historian who supports Turkey’s claims in the Mediterranean, has been texting his friends on Kastellorizo throughout showdown, barely mentioning the geopolitics. Drinking cay (tea) in front of his store, he explains the long ties between the two towns.
Both were once simply neighbours in the same Ottoman empire. And while Kas was always more Turkish and Kastellorizo more Greek, the lines between the two were much less stark. Kas is full of beautiful Greek houses surrounded by bougainvillaea. Before the population exchanges of the 1920s – where 1.5 million Greek speakers in Anatolia were sent to Greece – it had a substantial Greek population too.