“I am very happy to be among you today in Agathonissi. I could not find a more significant place,” Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras said on Monday, addressing residents of Agathonissi, the furthermost northern extreme of the Dodecanese island group. The prime minister had arrived on the island to watch the parade for the March 25 national holiday celebrating Greece’s 1821 revolution to shake off Ottoman rule.
“On this day we feel pride for the courage and our ancestors’ unquenchable thirst to throw off the yoke of the conqueror, which laid the foundation stone for our national rebirth. We feel pride in the great ideals of the Revolution of 1821,” he said.
Referring to the transport subsidy measure for islanders, he noted that this was a patriotic duty and sent a message that “there is no part of Greece that we will not protect and defend, protect through our social policies first of all and defend through the armed forces.”
He also sent a message to Turkey, revealing that the helicopter taking him to Agathonissi had been harassed and forced to fly at a lower altitude by Turkish fighter jets until they could be intercepted and dispatched by Greek Air Force planes “as happens every time”.
“Greece today is a force that everyone must take into account. Not as an aggressive force but as a force of peace and cooperation in the Eastern Mediterranean and the Balkans. As a force that promotes dialogue and understanding between peoples and an energy hub….This is a message that I also want to send to our neighbours. Our neighbours who must understand that, in the Aegean, only cooperation, understanding and joint development has prospects – not differences, posturing, not fake bravado and not pointless attacks.”
Talking about the incident with his helicopter, the prime minister said the Turkish side “should know that these are foolish actions that are wholly pointless, they simply waste kerosene and petrol for no reason is the message that I want to send them.”
“Firstly, because we will always be there to defend our territorial integrity and, secondly, because the Greek prime minister will go to even the most remote island of our country, to the most remote and outlying corner, even if he has to swim there,” Tsipras added.
Concluding, the prime minister said his message to all sides was that Greece was open to dialogue and understanding but also prepared, if necessary, to “do what we know how to do and what our ancestors have taught us to defend our rights and sovereignty.”
Two Turkish F-4 aircraft attempted to approach the Sikorsky helicopter carrying Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras to Agathonissi but were identified and intercepted by Hellenic Air Force F-16s that scrambled from Kasteli, sources said on Monday.
The two F-4s entered the Athens Flight Information Region (FIR) without submitting flight plans and flew between Samos and Kos at an altitude of 6,000 feet, while they attempted to approach the military helicopter carrying the PM, which was flying at 2,000 feet as it was flying between Agathonissi and Arkii, according to the sources.
The Turkish planes came within four miles of the helicopter, which dropped to a lower altitude, while the fighters that took off from Kasteli identified and intercepted the F-4s in accordance with international rules, as is standard practice.
Agathonissi is an area protected by the Natura 2000 network as a valuable rare bird refuge.
According to the Turkish news agency Anadolu, citing Turkish defence ministry sources, the Turkish fighter planes were “not involved in any incident of harrassment in the Aegean and were on a routine mission.” According to the same Turkish sources, “at no time was there an effort” by Turkish planes to harrass the Greek prime minister.