Greek-Turkish tensions remain after Aegean flare-up subsides
Athens — One of the worst crises in Greek-Turkish relations in a decade eased over the weekend after Athens accepted Ankara's explanation that its ships had not deliberately fired at a Greek destroyer in the Aegean last Thursday.
But the consequences of the crisis may take longer to subside, observers say.
The incident occurred when five Turkish warships on maneuvers fired antiaircraft guns in the general direction of a Greek naval vessel observing the exercise and of a small fleet of Greek fishing boats.
Greek Prime Minister Andreas Papandreou initially called the incident ''the most serious provocation since (the Turkish invasion of Cyprus in) 1974'' and a ''symptomatic act.'' Athens then recalled its ambassador from Ankara and put its armed forces on alert. These measures were subsequently revoked.
On Friday evening the Turkish government explained that its ships were engaged in an antiaircraft exercise and that only fragments of the shells fired into the air had fallen into the sea, thus posing no threat to the Greeks.
As a result of this clarification, Yiannis Kapsis, Greek deputy foreign minister, told reporters Friday that ''we have decided there was no intention on the part of the Turkish government to provoke such a dangerous episode.''
Few observers here are willing to accept completely that the incident was a misunderstanding and not a deliberate act. This view has been underlined by government statements since the crisis began to subside.
Most view the incident as the logical culmination of several days of rising tensions between the two countries and an attempt by Turkey to test Greek resolve. Early last week, Ankara warned Athens against upsetting the balance of forces on Cyprus after rumors began to circulate that Greece might dispatch an infantry division to the island to bolster Greek-Cypriot defenses.
Last Wednesday, the Turkish parliament passed a resolution warning Greece against ''adventures'' in the Aegean after another rumor surfaced that Greece was on the verge of extending its territorial waters to 12 miles, thus making the Aegean a virtual Greek lake.
Despite general relief that the crisis ended without other more dangerous incidents, many are troubled by what they consider Turkey's desire to increase tensions between the two countries. They believe Turkey wants to make progress toward a solution of the Cyprus problem impossible and at the same time further strain US-Greek relations.
''I would not say this makes progress on Cyprus impossible,'' said one diplomat, ''but tensions are so high right now, the two sides should find it very difficult politically to make the necessary moves.''
Such a predicament could have severe consequences at a time that many officials in Western capitals, the United Nations, and the parties directly involved have repeatedly called ''a crucial turning point.''
At the same time, Athens' intense, hair-trigger response to the incident and subsequent abrupt turnaround may damage its credibility and restrict its domestic room to maneuver. According to one diplomat here, ''this will certainly make everyone think twice before accepting Greek cries of distress.''
A pro-government observer who did not agree with charges that Athens mishandled the crisis nevertheless acknowledged that ''although the Turks backed down, I am not sure that is how people abroad will see it. Maybe they will think we cry wolf too easily.''
Other observers expressed surprise at the apparent apathy in Greece over the incident. There was no rush to withdraw money from banks and no huge anti-Turkish demonstrations as in previous confrontations.
These sources speculated that the government's aggressive, often alarmist rhetoric may be losing credibility with Greek voters. The result may pose serious consequences for the ruling PASOK Party's strength at a time when the country faces a crossroads in relations with Turkey. The incident may further complicate Washington's already delicate relations with Greece and its efforts to stabilize NATO's southern flank.
Even before last week's incident, Greek officials - including Papandreou - had charged that the Reagan administration's unbalanced aid policies toward Greece and Turkey encouraged Turkish intransigence and aggressiveness. Papandreou himself hinted during a Cabinet meeting last week, shortly before the incident, that he would consider a US failure to redress the aid balance, a violation of the military base accord signed last year. ''Greece does not threaten anyone,'' he said, ''but it is not possible to face such a situation without consequences.''