People across the world are horrified and shocked by the incidences that took place yesterday where Turkish F-16 jets destroyed a Russian jet. The pretext was that the Russian jets had violated Turkish airspace.
Footage has emerged of a pilot parachuting safely well within Syrian territory, just to be shot down by Turkmen militias that are allied with Al-Nusra. The body was retrieved by these militias.
Shortly after, further footage emerged of a Russian rescue helicopter that was downed and destroyed by a Free Syrian Army battalion. A Russian marine had died from this attempted rescue operation.
NATO has come in defence of fellow member Turkey, justifying its decision because there was supposedly a breach of airspace. However, it has been revealed by the Khmeimim airbase radar that it was in fact Turkey who had violated Syrian airspace.
Although some readers might question why Turkey would violate Syrian airspace, this action is not out of the ordinary. In fact, for neighbouring countries of Turkey, this is a daily reality.
In 2014 alone, Greek military authorities have recorded 2,244 violations of Greek airspace by the Turkish air force. This is three and a half times more incursions than in 2013. This staggering figure amounts to an average of 6 violations a day.
It was reported by Armenia’s civil aviation department that Turkish military helicopters had entered their airspace repeatedly on October 6 and 7, 2015.
In Cyprus, Turkish air violations have become a near weekly occurrence amidst Ankara’s illegal occupation in the north of the island.
However, what Greece, Armenia and Cyprus share in common, is that they have never downed a violating Turkish aircraft or ship.
In the contrary, Turkey’s action of violating Syrian airspace and downing a Russian jet that was 1km within Syrian territory is not a new attack method.
Imia are a pair of uninhabited islets lying in between the Greek island chain of the Dodecanese and the Turkish mainland. It is known that there are vast oil reserves around Imia. Despite the islets falling under the Aegean demarcation dispute, or known as a grey zone, a Turkish merchant ship went within its waters in December 1995.
This triggered nationalistic sentiment in Turkey when Greece opposed this violation of water space. Ankara quickly claimed sovereignty over the islands. On 29 January 1996, Turkish TV reporters arrived at Imia and removed a Greek flag. They raised a Turkish one. The whole ‘ceremony’ was broadcasted on live Turkish Television. The next day, the Greek Navy replaced the flags again. In a game of tit-for-tat, Turkish SAT Commandos arrived at Imia and again replaced the Greek flag for a Turkish one on 31 January.
Four hours later, with Greek Special Forces alerted to the flag change and the presence of Turkish troops, a Greek helicopter took off for reconnaissance. During its mission, the helicopter was attacked by Turkish forces and three Greek officers died.
To alleviate further tensions, both states attempted to hide this tragedy that bares resemblance to the latest disaster perpetrated by Turkey. U.S. diplomatic intervention prevented war from breaking out between the two NATO members.
However, the deaths of Christodoulos Karathanasis, Panagiotis Vlahakos, and Ektoras Gialopsos in this incident are not the only casualties of Turkish territorial violations. In 2006, a Greek pilot died after a Turkish fighter jet collided with his jet in Greek airspace. The Turkish pilot ejected to safety.
Tensions caused by Turkish territorial violations have always been alleviated because they are NATO members. However, Russia is not a NATO member, and it is hard to predict how Russia will react to the deaths of Russian personnel.
Is it conceivable to take seriously Erdogan’s statement that “everyone should respect the right of Turkey to defend its borders” when one considers Turkey’s daily violations of Greece’s borders? It is no surprise that NATO have come in to defend Turkey despite it being known that Turkey have a policy of constantly violating the territorial integrity of its neighbouring countries.
More disgusting is the tabloid reactions to the death of the Russian pilot. The Telegraph fronted the story with “Putin might finally understand that if you play with fire, you end up getting burned.” This amateurish journalism does not explore Turkey’s agitation of its neighbours.
How Russia will respond to this Turkish aggression remain unknown. It seems like President Putin will be unravelling Turkey’s murky role in the Syrian War. In a discussion with King Abudullah II of Jordan yesterday, Putin exposed Turkey’s role in buying oil from ISIS and described Turkey as being “terrorists’ accomplices.”
It was claimed by Matthew Rycroft, British diplomat to the UN, in a Wikileaks document, that Russia had violated Turkish airspace for a mere 17 seconds. Even if it was true that Russia had violated Turkish airspace, it becomes questionable how Turkey could have given out 5 warnings as it claims to the Russian pilots in a mere 17 seconds.
When put in the context of 2,244 Turkish air space violations in Greece over a 1 year period, 17 seconds of supposed Russian air violation seems almost insignificant. No matter how NATO or Turkey attempt to justify this murder and aggression, it cannot, especially when considering Turkey’s hypocrisy.
P. Antonopoulos is currently a Candidate for an MA Degree, writing his dissertation on the Saudi-Iranian Geopolitical Rivalry in the Syrian War.
You can follow him on twitter: https://twitter.com/oulosP