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Turkish and Greek ‘family’ on the Mediterranean shrug off tension




Kas, Turkey – 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”.

Bougainvillaeas nod over the walls of Greek houses and restaurants in Kas [Sami Kent/Al Jazeera]

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.

A man fishes in Kas with Kastellorizo in the background [Sami Kent/Al Jazeera]

Senay Turhan, a retired teacher with and jet-black hair, lives in a white-washed home on one of those narrow Greek streets. She tells stories passed down by her family of her mother visiting her Greek friends on Kastellorizo “and just like neighbours, bringing gifts”.

After World War I, the island was handed to Italy and the gifts were even better. “They had the most beautiful fabrics and better fish,” Turhan says.

When Kastellorizo was finally ceded to Greece in 1947 – after being heavily bombed during World War II – its relations with Kas froze. Trips between the two became near impossible, and neither Turhan nor Erdal ever visited in their childhoods. “There was silence,” the historian Erdal says, “but then everything changed.”

As tourism spread across the Mediterranean, it eventually reached Kas as well, turning it from a small, isolated fishing village to one of the chicest holiday destinations in Turkey. As part of it, a ferry service between Kas and Kastellorizo started up in the 1990s. There was a ceremonial football match to relaunch their relations. Now, more than 25,000 passengers a year take the boat across the bay. “Every Friday, they come to market to shop,” Erdal says.

And among the younger generation, there has even been a wedding too. As Hurigul Bakirci Magiafi explains, she met her husband Tsikos while he was visiting Kas and – sharing no common language – “we spoke English … badly!” She speaks Greek fluently now. After marrying in 2012, they spend their winters in Kas and summers on the island. “We’re all very good friends,” she continues, “everyone in Kas and Kastellorizo knows each other.”

A warship stationed in the marina with a beach club in the forefront [Sami Kent/Al Jazeera]

Kas has been transformed since the 1990s: first by tourism and then by good relations with Kastellorizo that came with it. Both, though, have been threatened this year by the COVID-19 pandemic on the one hand, and the rising political tensions on the other.

As a coronavirus precaution, the ferry service has been suspended since March. Tourist numbers in Turkey in general from January to August are down 74 percent compared with the same period in 2019. In Kas, tour operators estimate their businesses in the last two months are running at between 60 and 90 percent of normal.

For them at least, many Turks have replaced foreign tourists, opting to spend much of the pandemic away from Turkey’s big cities. Kastellorizo has suffered much more. As one Greek tour manager says “at the moment we’ve got more reporters here than tourists”.

All here will be hoping there is no further escalation. Last Sunday, the Turkish seismic research vessel returned to port, leaving the disputed waters and easing the atmosphere a little. Turkey and Greece also resumed NATO-brokered talks in Brussels, focused – if not on the wider issue of maritime boundaries – on how to minimise the risk of further incidents between their navies.

Yet, only last week, the Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mistotakis announced plans to buy 18 new fighter jets, four navy helicopters, and four new frigates. The week before, for his part, Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan warned that his country’s regional rivals “will either understand the language of politics and diplomacy, or on the field through bitter experience”.

Senior EU diplomats have also raised the prospect of imposing sanctions on Turkey at a summit this Thursday, potentially inflaming the situation further.

Yet, few in Kas believe it will get to that. “It’s just politics. It’s just children’s games,” says Turhan, laughing.

“A helicopter comes. A warship comes. But why? What reason do we have to be enemies with them? We’re like family.”

The sun sets on Turkey’s Kas, right, and Greece’s Kastellorizo, left [Sami Kent/Al Jazeera]

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Armenian Aggression

Azerbaijan liberates Gubadli city, new villages from Armenian occupation




By Aisha Jabbarova

The Azerbaijani Army has liberated Gubadli city after 27 years of military occupation by Armenia.

President announced the news of liberation in his Twitter account on October 26.

“Victorious Armed Forces of Azerbaijan have liberated several villages of Zengilan, Jabrayil and Gubadli districts and the city of Gubadli. Long live Azerbaijan’s Armed Forces! Karabakh is Azerbaijan!” Aliyev tweeted.

President Aliyev announced the names of the liberated villages in an address to the nation on October 26.

The names of the liberated villages are Birinji Alibayli, Ikinji Alibayli, Raband, Yenikand (in Zangilan), Jabrayil district: Govshudlu, Sofulu, Dagh Mashanli, Kurdlar, Hovuslu, Chalabilar (in Jabrayil), Padar, Afandilar, Yusifbayli, Chaytumas, Khanlig, Sariyatag, Mollaburhan (in Gubadli).

The Azerbaijani Army has so far liberated from occupation Jabrayil, Fuzuli cities, Hadrut town, many villages in Khojavand and Jabrayil districts since military operations that started on September 27 after Armenian attacks on Azerbaijani Army positions and civilians.

Armenian armed forces launched a large-scale operation in the front-line zone on September 27 at 6 am, shelling the positions of the Azerbaijani army from large-calibre weapons, mortars, and artillery installations of various calibres. Armenia has been targeting Azerbaijan’s densely populated areas and infrastructure projects.

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Armenian Aggression

President Aliyev urges international community’s pressure on Armenia




By Vafa Ismayilova

President Ilham Aliyev has urged the international community and the OSCE Minsk Group co-chairs to speak up against the daily shelling of Azerbaijani territories by Armenian troops and the occupation of Azerbaijani troops.

The president also said that the only way to stop Azerbaijan from liberating its occupied lands is for Armenia to withdraw its troops from Azerbaijani territories.

The president made the remarks on 25 October at an operational meeting at the Central Command Post of the Azerbaijani Defence Ministry attended by the ministry leadership and commanders of the joint corps located in the frontline zone.

“Hundreds and thousands of shells are fired at our cities and villages in Tartar, Aghdam and other frontline regions every day, but the international community remains tight-lipped over this. And so do the mediators. All they are concerned about now is how to get Armenia out of this situation. There is a way to do this – Armenia must withdraw from our lands, it must get out of there. This is required by international law. But no pressure is being put on them. On the contrary, there are attempts to influence and put pressure on us. Of course, no-one can influence us, no-one can influence our resolve. I want our servicemen and citizens to know that there is a very serious struggle – both on the frontline and in the political arena. We shed blood on the battlefield, liberate our lands from occupiers at the cost of the lives of these heroes, while at the same time, we resist, show courage and defend our positions on the political stage,” the president said in his address to the operational meeting.

He also underlined: “Azerbaijan is not alone, our territorial integrity is recognized by the international community and we operate within the norms of international law – even though Armenia has repeatedly provoked Azerbaijan during this period, fired on the country’s military positions from Armenian territory, fired on settlements, fired two ballistic missiles at Ganja from the territory of Armenia, as a result of which innocent people were killed.”

Aliyev spoke about Azerbaijan’s victories in the political arena.

Aliyev stressed that a few days ago after a meeting at the UN Security Council, the OSCE Minsk Group co-chairs put forward a document to Azerbaijan that run counter to the country’s interests. He said that the attempt failed and no document was adopted.

“These days, we have seen again that Armenia does not intend to leave our lands of its own accord. We have seen again that during these 30 years, Armenia simply wanted to gain time, to imitate the negotiations and to perpetuate the status quo. Unfortunately, the international mediators were unable or did not want to put the necessary pressure on the occupying state. Otherwise, four UN Security Council resolutions would not remain on paper. I must also note that a few days ago, the co-chairs held a meeting of the UN Security Council. A document was put forward at the meeting that did not meet our interests and was intended to draw a line through the resolutions adopted in 1993. We strongly objected to this. This is another manifestation of injustice, another manifestation of double standards.

“The resolutions adopted in 1993 express a clear position on the territorial integrity of Azerbaijan. Resolutions adopted in 1993 demand complete, immediate and unconditional withdrawal of the Armenian armed forces from the occupied territories. The draft document initiated the other day did not contain these provisions. In short, this step is viewed as yet another provocation against Azerbaijan. We have raised our voice, and I am glad that some of the members of the Security Council objected to this even though they were pressured by major states. However, these countries are members of the Non-Aligned Movement, which is currently chaired by Azerbaijan. Of course, their support for Azerbaijan is highly appreciated and this shows that there is a high level of solidarity within the Non-Aligned Movement. In short, this political step failed and no document was adopted. I think this is another political victory for us. Just as we are winning on the battlefield, we are winning in the political arena. Just as we are driving the enemy away on the battlefield, we are also responding to the provocative steps of the enemy's supporters,” Aliyev said.

Furthermore, the president said that the countries that are so concerned about Armenia, patronize them and create conditions for the Armenians to occupy Azerbaijani lands for about 30 years should put pressure on Armenia. “The Armenian prime minister must declare that Armenia will withdraw from the occupied territories. We have not heard such statements. On the contrary, he talks of the self-determination of peoples and, in fact, has disrupted the process of negotiations,” Aliyev said.

Ceasefire cannot be unconditional

“A ceasefire was declared at the request of Armenia and at the suggestion of major powers twice and Armenia violated the ceasefire both times. The first time, less than a day later, they bombed Ganja. The second time they violated the ceasefire two minutes after it was announced. This being the case, Azerbaijan gave them and will continue to give them a decent rebuff, of course. We will continue to drive the enemy out of our lands, all the way…The ceasefire cannot be unconditional… For 28 years, they have been promising to us, asking us to wait, saying that they will put pressure on Armenia, that they will do this and that. It was all a lie. Everyone sees it now,” the president said.

Aliyev said that Armenia is being armed by other countries.

“The most modern weapons are being sent to Armenia every day. We have a list of these weapons. We have all the information about the flights, when, where and from which city they departed, when they arrived in Yerevan and what they carried. During the current fighting, about 300 Armenian tanks have been either destroyed or taken as military booty. Where does all this money come from? It is a poor country with no money and no opportunities. They got it for free. Six S-300 anti-aircraft missile systems have been destroyed. Their price is known. Where does this come from? TOR, OSA anti-aircraft missile systems, unmanned aerial vehicles, aircraft which have already been destroyed by Azerbaijan. Where did Tochka-U and SCUD come from? It is given to them for free. We cannot remain silent about it. Everyone should know this. We are fighting alone, on our own! I am saying all this, first of all, for the people of Azerbaijan to know the real situation. People should realize at what cost we are liberating our lands from occupiers,” he added.

Furthermore, Aliyev said that, military and political assistance given to Armenia over the past 27 to 28 years is the reason why Azerbaijani territories remain under occupation.

“Notice how Armenian soldiers are fleeing the battlefield. This footage is available. Only some of these images are published in the media but this is a very extensive video. Without these weapons, without this political support, could Armenia have occupied our lands? Of course not! As I said, we are driving them away and will continue to do that. No-one can stand in front of Azerbaijan. We are right, we are fighting on our own land, we are restoring our territorial integrity, we have not crossed into the territory of Armenia and have no such plans. If we had such an idea, we would have done it a long time ago. It does not take much effort to do so,” Aliyev said.

Armenia to be held accountable for its crimes

Aliyev pledged that Armenia as a state will be held accountable for crimes committed in Azerbaijan’s occupied lands.

“More than 100 settlements – cities and villages – have been liberated from the occupiers. The Azerbaijani flag has already been hoisted in our liberated cities and villages. Video footage of these cities and villages is available to the Azerbaijani public, so everyone can see the state to which the savage enemy has brought our cities and villages. There is not a single building left there. All buildings, houses, administrative buildings, social facilities, historical and religious sites have been destroyed by the hated enemy. The occupied lands and ruins are witness to Armenian vandalism. The Armenian state is responsible for these crimes and will be held accountable for them. I have ordered to conduct inspections in all liberated areas, to register all the destruction, to draw up acts, to register the destroyed property of our citizens. The Armenian state will definitely be held accountable for these war crimes. Once again, the whole world can see what kind of savages we are facing. Today, Azerbaijani soldiers and officers are teaching the enemy a lesson on the battlefield, are putting the enemy in its place, are driving the enemy out of our lands,” he said.

Aliyev said that over 60 civilians had been killed and about 300 had been injured in the Armenian cowardly shooting.

The president said at the meeting that the situation at the frontline was under his full control.

“The war has been going on for about a month. During this period, our country has achieved great successes on the battlefield. Good news comes from the frontline every day. During the day, I am regularly updated about the operations carried out in the war zone and give relevant instructions. Almost every hour I receive information about events in different regions. The Ministry of Defense and other agencies keep me informed. Operational meetings are held every day,” he said.

Aliyev said that after the war all successes and shortcomings will be analysed.

“We have succeeded on the battlefield. At the same time, these battles have shown that there are still drawbacks and shortcomings, and we are eliminating them promptly. At the same time, after these battles, after the end of the Second Karabakh War, all the successes and shortcomings of the war must be seriously analyzed. Although the Azerbaijani Army is one of the strongest armies in the world today, we must continue to use more modern methods in army building. These battles are a great experience for us. We have seen that some of the weapons in our military arsenal are not particularly necessary in modern warfare. On the contrary, we have entered a high-tech stage and, of course, technology and professionalism contribute a lot to the success of any army. I have said this before and I want to say again that it is the soldiers and officers who are liberating our lands from the occupiers,” he said.

The president urged more effective manner in conducting military operations.

“Our military operations must be conducted in a more effective manner and without wasting time. In some cases, there have been delays. In some cases, no justification can be provided for a delay. We are analyzing all this and will continue to do so. I repeat – the Azerbaijani Army shows great courage and professionalism. We lost our lands in the early 1990s over several years, but parts of Fuzuli, Hadrut, Jabrayil, Zangilan, Kalbajar and Gubadli districts have been liberated from the occupiers in less than a month. Again, good news comes from the frontline every day. It is true that some areas need serious adjustments but, on the whole, we are reaching our goal. Every day, a combat mission is set for the next day. I approve this combat mission and it is possible to say that almost all of it is fulfilled.”

“I am confident that Azerbaijan will restore its territorial integrity. We are fighting on our own land. Justice is on our side, international law is on our side, historical justice is on our side… I want to assure the people of Azerbaijan today that we will not turn back from the right path! No force can affect our resolve. We will drive the enemy away to the very end. We will restore our territorial integrity!” the president concluded.

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Armenian Aggression

Armenian Armed Forces bombard Azerbaijani units




By Trend

On October 26, at 08:05 am, the Armenian Armed Forces violated a new humanitarian ceasefire and from the Lachin side they bombard Azerbaijani army units located in the Safiyan village of the Lachin region, Trend reports citing Azerbaijani Defense Ministry.

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