Greece hunts for culprits behind daubing of flag with red paint on flashpoint island

Nick Squires
·3-min read
The Greek island of Kastellorizo lies about a mile off the Turkish coast - AFP
The Greek island of Kastellorizo lies about a mile off the Turkish coast - AFP

Greek police are searching for whoever was responsible for daubing red paint on a giant Greek flag on Kastellorizo, the tiny Aegean island that is at the centre of the crisis between Athens and Ankara.

The paint – the colour of the Turkish flag – was splashed all over the blue and white flag, which is etched into a hillside on the island, facing the Turkish coast.

A drone that was launched around the same time as the attack took aerial photos of the desecrated flag and there were reports that it played the Turkish national anthem through a loudspeaker.

Athens has demanded that Turkey also investigate the incident, saying it was an insult to Greek national honour.

“The police and the army are investigating and we are waiting for them to tell us what they have found out,” Michael Amygdalos, the deputy mayor of Kastellorizo, told The Telegraph on Monday.

There were earlier reports that the paint had been dropped by the drone, but that was incorrect, he said.

Kastellorizo is Greece's farther-flung territory - AFP
Kastellorizo is Greece's farther-flung territory - AFP

“We believe it was a person who did it, not the drone. This comes at a very difficult time, after all the recent tension with Turkey. We want to maintain friendship with Turkey.”

The vandalism of the giant flag may have been in retaliation for Greeks burning the Turkish flag in the northern city of Thessaloniki in late July, he said.

A group of nationalists burnt the flag outside the Turkish consulate to protest the decision of Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Turkey’s president, to convert Hagia Sophia, the former Byzantine church in Istanbul, back into a mosque.

Access to Kastellorizo has been severely restricted since the coronavirus pandemic broke out early this year, with the regular ferry service from the island to the nearby Turkish town of Kas suspended. The main access to the island is by ferry from Rhodes, or by plane from Athens.

There were no Turkish people currently on the island, the deputy mayor said.

Turkey's Oruc Reis seismic survey ship - AFP
Turkey's Oruc Reis seismic survey ship - AFP

"We expect Turkish authorities to immediately condemn and investigate the incident, so that the culprits are brought before justice," the Greek foreign ministry said.

"Such unacceptable actions only seek to torpedo prospects for easing tensions between the two countries."

The daubing of the flag comes after a summer of high tension between Greece and Turkey as a result of Ankara’s decision to send a survey ship into waters claimed by Greece to prospect for oil and gas.

The Oruc Reis ship was escorted by Turkish warships, prompting Greece to also deploy warships to the area and raising fears of a military confrontation, particularly after a Greek warship collided with a Turkish frigate.

The vessel has since been withdrawn from the region and the two countries have said they will resume exploratory talks about maritime rights and hydrocarbon exploration. The last round of talks broke off in 2016.

Greece called for maritime disputes to be resolved peacefully on Monday, during the start of a two-day visit by Mike Pompeo, the US Secretary of State.

"The United States and Greece reaffirmed their belief that maritime delimitation issues should be resolved peacefully in accordance with international law," a joint statement said.

Mr Pompeo has said the United States is "deeply concerned" about Turkish actions in the east Mediterranean.