Chanting anti-Turkish and anti-American slogans, more than 5,000 supporters of Greece’s neo-Nazi Golden Dawn party marched past the U.S. Embassy in Athens on Feb. 2 to to commemorate a 1996 island dispute that caused a crisis between Greece and Turkey.
Many of the marchers held burning torches and hundreds of motorcyclists brought up the rear in what was a peaceful demonstration, the Associated Press reported.
The 1996 incident involved Imia, two uninhabited islets off the Turkish coast whose ownership is disputed by Turkey and Greece. Nationalists from both countries planted flags on the islets, and a military confrontation between the two nations was only averted after U.S. intervention.
Three Greek navy officers died when their helicopter crashed during a reconnaissance mission in the area, some said to Turkish fire, but the incident was covered up by both countries to prevent escalation of the crisis. Withdrawal of the Greek flag was seen by nationalists as a shameful capitulation.
A likely clash, or even war, was averted when U.S. envoy Richard Holbrooke, working by telephone, conferred with Turkish and Greek officials who refused to speak directly to each other. A deal was reached to return to the “status quo ante”—i.e., differing views on sovereignty and no military forces on the islets. Greek and Turkish officials provided assurances to the United States that their military forces on and arrayed around the islets would be removed, with the U.S. agreeing to monitor the withdrawal. The fundamental territorial issue has remained unresolved since that time.