The new conspiracy theory put forward and supported by the nationalist and ultra-nationalist media in Turkey is that the supposed military take-over of 18 Turkish islands in the Aegean by Greece, in the years between 2004 and 2014 is part of a wider plan to “revive the Byzantine Empire”. Herald of this new conspiracy theory, as well as of the previous ones, is colonel (ret.) Umit Yialim, who also served as General Secretary of the Turkish Ministry of Defense.
The 16 islands which finally became 18
Umit Yialim started spreading rumors and arguing that Greece had taken over several “Turkish islands” just after 2010. In May 2011 and while in Syntagma Square, the anti-MOU demonstrations of the “Agkanaktismenoi” movement were taking place, he tried to land, using a 10 meter boat named “Poseidon”, under a Greek flag, to land on the islands of Agathonisi and Farmakonisi.
As the daily newspaper «Haber Turk» reported, Yialim and his entourage went through passport control and stayed at Agathonisi for a short period of time since they did not have the required visas. Later on, the Greek authorities did not allow them neither to land or even approach Farmakonisi. When he returned to Turkey, the retired officer claimed and lodged formal complaint that even though he and his entourage carried valid passports – they were not allowed to land on Farmakonisi – which according to his claims appears on international maps to be part of Turkey. He asked the Turkish government to put an immediate stop at this unlawful occupation. Yialim stated that “Unfortunately, I, as a citizen of the Turkish Republic had to use a passport to enter our own territories” and argued against and blamed the governing Islamist party of Justice and Development (ΑΚΡ) of Recep Tayyip Erdoğan that: “This is were the policy of “zero problems” with our neighboring countries that AKP is pursuing has brought us to”. We have to note that, at the time, Yialim was claiming that our country had taken over 16 Turkish islands. He added kemal another two islands to his claims, at a later date…
Up until September 2016, Yialim and all those supporting his claims were at the very edge of the Turkish political spectrum. Of course, they had the opportunity to present their views in the Turkish press and television, and Yialim started to move around several TV channels like a TV star panelist in various smaller channels. Yialim’s struggle seemed to come to an end and to find proper justification at the end of September 2016, when Mr.Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu, the leader of the center-left Kemalist opposition party, the Republican Populist Partys (CHP), seeking to put forward a nationalist policy against the powerful Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, openly accused him – during his speech at this Party’s Central Committee meeting – that he allowed Greece to take over Turkish islands. As he openly and emphatically stated, “He should take a look and deal with the 16 islands that were surrendered to the Greeks during his tenure and on which now, the Greek flag has been raised”.
The Turkish newspapers supporting Kemalist views came out on the 1st of October carrying headlines about the occupation of 17 islands. They had managed to include another island before going to the printing presses. Two months later, Mr. Kılıçdaroğlu, while giving a speech to his parliamentary group came to a final number: “The Greek flag has been hoisted on 18 islands. These islands belong to us. We can hear the roster calling out on these islands. And there is the Greek flag. These islands are under occupation. (…) We lost 18 islands, right under our nose. And I, now ask Mr. Binali Yıldırım “Will you claim and take back these 18 islands or not? Are you a nationalist or not?”.
This was the period during which Mr. Erdoğan wanting to further undermine the Kemalist establishment had indirectly but clearly questioned the validity of the Treaty of Lausanne, which serves as one of the cornerstones of the modern Turkish state, by arguing that from the shores of Asia Minor he could hear voices on the Greek islands, blaming the Kemalists that they founded the Turkish Republic by relinquishing territories to Greece. The Kemalists replied in kind and adopted the claims made by Yialim. According to theme, the 16, 17 or 18 islands belong to Turkey and are in fact “Turkish” because no clear mention of them is made in the Treaty of Lausanne – therefore – they claim that these belong to Turkey and they blamed the Turkish President that he gave them away to Greece.
The needs and wants of the Islamist
The Turkish government tried to avoid the subject and any public discussion until the end of April when the Minister for EU Affairs Mr. Ömer Çelik,during an interview at the Α Haber TV network commented on Mr. Panos Kammenos visit during Easter at Agathonisi and said: “He does not have the required stature of a statesman, of a politician. He does not practice serious policy. There are ways for us to react to this but he is a person that we do not take seriously. Our answer will be given at the appropriate time. Agathonisi (E sek adasi) belongs to Turkey. It is designated as Turkish land. What he did, is a move that we do not take seriously”.
Mr. Çelik’s statement resulted in a rather tense reaction and statement by the Hellenic Ministry of Foreign Affairs: “We emphatically condone Turkey’s ongoing revisionist policy that makes provocative statements questioning internationally recognized borders as these have been historically shaped and set by international law in the past century. We denounce to the international community and to the member states of the United Nations the continuing revisionist and dangerous behavior of Turkey. It makes a shocking impression that this time the questioning of international law is formulated and stated by the minister responsible for Turkey’s accession to the European Union”.
The issue of the “islands in the Aegean” was again brought forward by the submission of question in Parliament by the CHP MP for Antalya (Attaleia), Niazi Nefi Kara: “Is it right that the island of Pserimos, which is part of and belongs to the region of Moygla to be under Greek occupation? The fact that an island which is in Turkish territorial waters, is open to tourists, by the Greek government is based on which Treaty? What are the steps and measures that the government is willing to undertake against this occupation and tourist policy? Has any verbal diplomatic note ever been given to Greece about this issue?”.
Choosing to make a statement and to reply within the August holidays, Mr. Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu made the infamous claim that there are no predetermined borders in the Aegean Sea, indirectly adopting the claims about the existence of 18 or more Turkish islands under Greek occupation. He stated that “Among the issues that need to be addressed is the ownership of certain islands and rocky islands in the Aegean Sea and the fact that they have not been defined and ratified by an international treaty between Turkey and the Greek nor are the sea borders associated with it (the ownership and sovereignty of the islands),” He went on to add that the main international documents regarding the ownership of the islands in the Aegean Sea are the Treaty of Lausanne of 1923 and the Treaty of Paris of 1947, noting that these Treaties contain detailed provisions on the sovereignty of the islands and the provisions for their demilitarization.
“Our country”, Mr. Çavuşoğlu went on to argue “has made its positions clear for all matters pertaining the Aegean Sea, among which is this specific one, and our positions for the resolution of these issues through various announcements and communiqués issued by our Ministry from 1996 until this very dat (…)and we will not accept the creation of any de facto situations regarding disputed geographical areas by Greece, and in any attempt these (note: attempts) will not bring about any result or resolution from a legal point of view”.
Among the islands claimed by Turkey is Gaudos, which is located at the southwest of Crete, which the Greek Minister of Foreign Affairs, Mr. Nikos Kotzias, has a habit to show to his counterparts all around the world when asked about the Turkish claims, only to receive the answer: “Yes, you are totally right. They are crazy”, once they have examined and closely reviewed the map on hand.
The 18 islands that Turkey is now claiming are: Northern Aegean Sea: Fournoi, Thymaina, Oinousses Eastern Aegean Sea: Panagia, Central Aegean Sea: Kalogeroi, Sea of Crete: Dionysades, Koufonisi, Gaidouronisi, Gaudos Dodecanese: Arkioi, Agathonisi, Kinaros, Farmakonisi, Kalolimnos, Platy, Gyali, Levitha, Syrna.
“NO” to the Ottoman Empire
To Umit Yialim’s great disappointment and displeasure, the gradual attribution of his theory by the Islamists deprives him and his Kemalist like-minded from the opportunity to voice their arguments and form a solid opposition to the government. So, a new need emerged for them to bring forward a new conspiracy theory which the government could not use nor adopt. And which one was that? That Mr. Erdoğan does not in reality wish to revived the Ottoman Empire but that he wishes to revive the Byzantine Empire!
By betting on the worst and most deep rooted Turkish fears and to the rumors that the Turkish President originates from Pontus and is in fact of such origin, Yialim revealed in August in the “Sοzcu” newspaper that the “new state” that a few days earlier the Islamist member of parliament, Aihan Ogan had implied is “Byzantium”. In order to support his scenario better, he implied that both Israel and the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople were involved: “Under the plan for the rebirth of Byzantium, 18 Turkish islands and a Turkish rocky island were handed over to the Greek army and churches were built on these islands”. The plan to create a new state on Turkish territories, according to Yialim, comes from and is derived from plans made by the International Affairs Council of the United State: “This plan includes the dissolution of the Turkish Republic, the re-establishment of the Byzantine Empire and the creation of a large Israeli state through its territorial expansion”.
Yialim argued to the bewildered Turkish audience that “after the fall of Constantinople by Mehmed II – The Conqueror in 1453, the Byzantine Empire was dissolved and came to an end. All that was left from Byzantium was the Rum Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople. The current Greek administration sees itself as representing the Byzantine Empire. It is trying to expand its territories and to re-establish the Byzantine Empire and is holding mass in churches. Under the protection of the ΑΚΡ government, six foreign nationals – six foreign priests – that do not hold the Turkish nationality have been appointed as bishops at the Patriarchate. (…) Two of the bishops have been appointed to Nikaia and Proussa, where there is no Greek community. Bishop Elpidophoros Lampriniadis has printed out pamphlets – in both Greek and English – of Proussa during the time of the Byzantine Empire. These appointments and actions have been made in preparation of the settlement of Greeks, which will be transferred from Greece to Nikaia and Proussa. At the asme time, byzantine churches have started to be repaired using Turkish taxpayers money”. Yialim went even further to argue that: “On the Patriarchate’s website, that the islands that have been occupied are under the direct supervision and control of the Ecumenical Patriarchate. That means that the Patriarchate in Fanari is also “involved” in the occupatio. (…) Next in line are Istanbul (Constantinople) and Izmir (Smyrni). (…) It is quite evident that there is an apparent structure, that like the Vatican, the separation of Thrace from its historical land mass via the construction of the new “Istanbul Canal” will lead to the creation of a new state. The new state, the name of which Mr. Aihan Ogan could not pronounce is Byzantium. (…) It is our national duty to prevent and stop the creation of a byzantine state on Turkish territories”..
Message for the foundation of the new state
A few days after the 15th of August holidays, Yialim made further provocative statements, in an interview in “Aydinhk” newspaper. He saw byzantine flags being hoisted and flying over the islands and this was all the proof he needed. “ Erdoğan and the AKP government are ignoring the Byzantine flags that fly over Turkish islands and the foundation of a new Byzantine state. In the video footage of the visit of the President of the Hellenic Republic, Mr. Pavlopoulos, on the 7th of March 2017 on the island of Pserimos of the prefecture of Mougla, we can clearly see on the church’s roof, the Byzantine flag. This clearly sends out a rather clear and strong message from the top Greek leader, Mr. Pavlopoulos for them to found and establish a Byzantine state on Turkish territory. This is quite evident.” according to the retired Turkish colonel. He went to argue that the Byzantine flag was flying over Farmakonisi and Kalolimnos, on the 5th and 6th of August during the visit of the Chief of the Greek General Staff (GGS), Mr. Alkiviadis Stefanis, accusing the Turkish authorities that none intervened during this visit, while Stefanis was “clearly supporting and promoting the creation of a Byzantine state on Turkish territory”.
It is true that a theory for the creation of a so-called Vatican of the Aegean exists and has existed for the last fifteen years, at least in some circles in Athens with strong links on the other side of the Atlantic.
Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has himself accused the supporters and followers of the self-exiled in the USA, Imam Fethullah Gülen as well as Kurdish separatists that are serving western plans for the partitionment ofTurkey. Yialim though takes this one step further by claiming that it is Recep Tayyip Erdoğan that is bringing this about and that he is the one implementing these plans. The byzantine conspiracy seems that will unfold in a number of exciting sequels in the Kemalist press, provided that Erdoğan will allow it to unfold. Because, let us not be naive about this, nothing in the Turkish press or media is “published” unless it has been previously vetted and authorized by the President’s office.