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A virtual war between Greece and Turkey

Kardak . . . . Photo: DHA

Kardak . . . . Photo: DHA

You might have missed this . . . The Hurriyet Daily News & Economic Review reports:

Two tiny islets in the Aegean that brought Turkey and Greece to the brink of war 14 years ago have now become the battleground for a virtual war.

The cyber war erupted when a Greek flag was placed on the Kardak (Imia in Greek) islets in Google Earth’s software, which is a virtual globe, map and geographic information program.

The tension increased when a worker from Bodrum and his friends pinned a photo of a Turkish flag and Turkish commandos on zodiac boats on the islets, located roughly seven kilometers from Bodrum and 10 kilometers from the Greek island of Kalymnos.

While the Greek flag placed two months ago can still be seen on the Google Earth system, the photos placed by the Turks were removed after complaints.

The Kardak islets brought Turkey and Greece to the brink of armed conflict 14 years ago after a Turkish ship ran ashore in the area on Dec. 25, 1995. During the salvage operations for the ship, questions regarding the islets’ sovereignty emerged.

The event remained unknown to both the Greek and Turkish public until one month later when the Greek periodical Gramma ran a story about the incident on Jan. 20, 1996, one day after Costas Simitis was given the authority to form a new Greek government as prime minister.

The article elicited a severe reaction from the Greek press, motivating the mayor of Kalymnos and a priest to plant a Greek flag on the islets, which are uninhabited.

In response to the incident, some Turkish journalists flew to the islet with a helicopter, took down the Greek flag and raised a Turkish flag in its place. The entire episode was broadcast live on Turkish television.

Within 24 hours, however, the Greek navy changed the flag, resulting in a fierce exchange of statements by Turkish Prime Minister Tansu Çiller and Simitis.

Turkish and Greek naval forces were alerted and warships of both countries, both NATO members, sailed to the islets.

The conflict eventually subsided with the mediation of U.S. envoy Richard Holbrooke and NATO Secretary-General Javier Solana. Later, navy patrols from both countries withdrew from the region.

(HT: Evgeny Morozov)

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Anthony Clark Arend is Professor of Government and Foreign Service at Georgetown University and the Director of the Master of Science in Foreign Service in the Walsh School of Foreign Service.

Commentary and analysis at the intersection of international law and politics.