Greece offers cooperation in search for remains of Turkish pilot

ISTANBUL (CIHAN)- Greece has stated that it is ready to assist in the search for the remains of Turkish pilot Col. Nail ErdoIan, who reportedly died after a Turkish F-16 fighter jet crashed near the Aegean island of Chios in 1996.

Greek Foreign Ministry spokesperson Konstandinos Kutras said on Tuesday that Athens had been informed about the searches conducted by Turkish crews in international waters off the island of Chios. Kutras added that Greece was ready to provide assistance to the search and salvage efforts for the lost jet if necessary.

The incident occurred during years of high tension between Turkey and Greece, which resulted in dogfights between the air forces of the two countries over the Aegean Sea.

Amid the tension, a Turkish F-16 fighter jet that took off from a military base in the northwestern province of BalIkesir for a training flight crashed somewhere near Chios Island in the Aegean Sea on Oct. 8, 1996. One of the two pilots, Lt. Col. Osman Çiçekli, survived the crash despite sustaining serious injuries, but Col. ErdoIan is believed to have died in the crash.

According to a statement released on Wednesday by the General Staff, the search operations have continued for the body of Turkish pilot ErdoIan and for the salvage of the Turkish F-16 fighter.

Meanwhile, ErdoIan’s daughter, Evrim ErdoIan, sent a letter to Turkish President Abdullah Gul this week along with a petition signed by 10.000 people that demand the pilot’s remains be found.

The pilot’s daughter launched a petition three months ago titled “Do something about our martyr.” In her letter to Gul, ErdoIan wrote: “Mr. President. Today is the anniversary of the death of my father. I am 23 years old and I have never prayed and cried at the graveside of my father. Because when I was a little girl, on behalf of his beloved country, he took off and never landed. Many said that he became a martyr after seven years. ‘Don’t wait for him, just pray for him,’ they said. But they haven’t given me a grave that I can embrace. Today is the anniversary of my father’s death and for 16 years, I have not been able to cry and pray.”

The NATO allies have been at odds for years over airspace boundaries and flight procedures over the Aegean Sea, which divides them. Turkish and Greek warplanes have engaged in dogfights over the Aegean many times in the past, but Greece has never activated its missile defense system against Turkish aircraft.

Ankara strongly rejects any Greek attempts to extend its territorial waters from the current six nautical miles to 12. Tensions peaked in the 1990s when Greece ratified the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS). As a measure to counter any Greek declaration that its territorial waters extend up to 12 nautical miles, the Turkish Parliament officially declared that any unilateral Greek attempt would be considered a “casus belli,” a reason to declare war.

Turkey argues that distances should be measured from the continental mainland, while Greece claims that all islands must be taken into account on an equal basis.

(CihanToday’s Zaman)