Greece is trying to create the impression that it is the victim and Turkey is the assailant in regional tensions, Defense Minister Hulusi Akar said on Monday.
“We are in no means in an offensive position, we defend our rights there,” Akar said during a videoconference with high-level Turkish military officials.
Saying that Turkey’s activities in the Aegean and Eastern Mediterranean continue in a sensible manner, Akar said: “Greece is engaging in provocative, tensions-heightening, offensive language and moves. Greek authorities make statements as if Turkey is making a move against Greece.”
Greece has often been embroiled in tensions with neighboring Turkey over a range of issues, from competing claims over hydrocarbon resources in the Aegean Sea to the demilitarization of islands. Moreover, Greece's burgeoning arms program is designed to counter the protection of Turkish interests in the Eastern Mediterranean.
Greece and Turkey resumed high-level diplomatic talks in January for the first time in nearly five years to try and ease tension over long-standing boundary disputes in the Aegean Sea and Eastern Mediterranean. However the countries remain sharply at odds, and Greece has launched a multibillion-dollar military modernization program with large naval and air force orders from France and the United States.
Turkey, which has the longest continental coastline in the Eastern Mediterranean, has rejected the maritime boundary claims of Greece and the Greek Cypriot administration, stressing that these excessive claims violate the sovereign rights of both Turkey and the Turkish Cypriots.
However, Ankara has repeatedly stressed that it is in favor of resolving all outstanding problems in the region, including maritime disputes, through international law, good neighborly relations, dialogue and negotiations.
“They speak about human rights but Greek coast guards trying to pierce the boats of defenseless people in the middle of the sea, shooting at them is a crime against humanity and unscrupulousness,” he added, underlining that it is hypocritical to blame Turkey in such a situation.
Turkey has repeatedly condemned Greece's illegal practice of pushing back asylum-seekers, saying it violates humanitarian values and international law by endangering the lives of vulnerable migrants, including women and children.
Turkey's five Aegean provinces – Çanakkale, Balıkeşir, Izmir, Muğla and Aydın – are prime spots for refugees leaving Turkey for the European Union, with Greek islands lying within sight of the Turkish coast.
In recent years, hundreds of thousands have made short but perilous journeys across the Aegean in a bid to reach northern and western Europe in search of a better life.
Hundreds of people have died at sea as a number of boats carrying refugees sank or capsized. The Turkish Coast Guard Command has rescued thousands of others.
Turkey and Greece have been key transit points for migrants aiming to cross into Europe, fleeing war and persecution to start new lives. Turkey has accused Greece of large-scale pushbacks, summary deportations and denying migrants access to asylum procedures, in violation of international law. It also accuses the European Union of turning a blind eye to this blatant abuse of human rights.
Pushbacks are considered contrary to international refugee protection agreements, which dictate that people should not be expelled or returned to a country where their life and safety might be in danger due to their race, religion, nationality or membership in a social or political group.