Little island at the centre of gas dispute between Turkey and Greece

It’s just a dot on the map just off the Turkish coast. Kastellorizo is a tiny Greek island, which nevertheless plays the leading role in the geopolitical struggle between Turkey and Greece in the eastern Mediterranean. The stakes: natural resources.

The rocky island has an area of less than nine square kilometers. It has hardly any cars, a few shops and some restaurants with fresh fish. The only sound is that of crickets and the bells of the church where the old priest Papa-Giorgis is in charge.

Research into gas

South of the island a Turkish research ship – the Oruรง Reis – is doing seismic research on gas. It is accompanied by Turkish warships. The Turks are searching Greek waters, which is illegal according to the United Nations International Convention on the Law of the Sea.

In the eyes of the islanders this is a gross provocation of the Turks.

Concerns about warships

Loco mayor Stratos Amygdalos is addressed by everyone at the quay. He keeps an eye on developments. He frown when he gives his analysis. “We’re worried. Very worried. We’re seeing more and more Turkish warships south of our island.”

The islanders are not just worried. It is precisely Kastelorizo and especially the Greek waters south of the island that Turkey wants to appropriate. And not without reason. There’s probably quite a bit of gas in the area.

The islanders have always had a good relationship with the Turks on the other side. In the Turkish seaside resort of Kas they do their shopping. There have even been mixed marriages over the years. But this threatening action of President Erdogan really goes too far.

“Don’t touch the island because it’s Greek,” is the thought. The deputy mayor reacts fiercely. “What should we do? Sell our island, give it away as a present? I don’t think so. Our life is here and it has to stay that way.”

Troubling showdown

In the southern waters around the island, a trial of strength is taking place between Turkey and Greece, which is beginning to take on disturbing proportions. The Greeks are hoping for rapid action from the European Union. So far the Turkish President Erdogan does not seem really impressed by European warnings.

Dimitris Keridis, member of parliament of the government party New Democracy, warns Brussels. “Time is running out. It would be a big mistake to reduce this conflict to a Greek-Turkish problem.” The European Union should form a united front, he thinks. “Otherwise there will be no more EU.”

Papa Gorgis speaks fierce language of war for a priest. He has nothing against the Turks, but against President Erdogan. “If he wants weapons and war, let’s go to war. We cannot stand by and let ourselves be frightened. We have to shut him up and teach him a lesson.”

Greeks are hoping for EU intervention

The Greeks don’t say it in so many words, but they would like to see tougher action from Germany – current president of the EU. They think that the Germans want to keep Turkey too much of a friend.

There are different economic interests at stake. Germany does a lot of business with Turkey, has a large Turkish community and is also afraid of a new refugee problem.

On the island of Kastelorizo everyone remains remarkably calm. On the terraces people eat the net caught fish. A turtle swims along the quay, hoping for a nice snack. The islanders want one thing above all else: that the peace and quiet of the region return.

Priest Papa Gorgis prays for peace. He hopes that Turkish President Erdogan and his government will come to an understanding. “We pray that the bad guys will see the light,” he says laughing.