Background Note on Aegean Dispute

The Aegean Status Quo

Türkiye and Greece being the two littoral states have legitimate rights and interests in the Aegean Sea. These involve their security, economy and other traditional rights recognized by international law.

Turkish-Greek differences over the Aegean are related to the Aegean status quo established by the 1923 Lausanne Peace Treaty. The Lausanne Treaty established a political balance between Greece and Türkiye by harmonizing the vital interests of both countries including those in the Aegean.

Türkiye fully respects the provisions of Lausanne and in return expects Greece to act in the same manner. It is true that in 1923, the continental shelf concept was not foreseen. Nevertheless, the inherent balance of the Lausanne Treaty in the Aegean is a guideline in all respects, including the continental shelf. The basic thinking of the Lausanne Treaty is, to grant to coastal States limited areas of maritime jurisdiction and leave the remaining parts of the Aegean to the common benefit of Türkiye and Greece. It is clear that if one of the littoral States unilaterally extends its jurisdiction in the Aegean and deprives the other coastal State from exercising its existing rights, it is no longer possible to speak of the Lausanne balance in the Aegean.

Consequently,the bilateral Turco-Greek relationship in the Aegean has to be based on the following principles:

The Aegean is a common sea between Türkiye and Greece.
The freedoms of the high seas and the air space above it, which at present both coastal States as well as third countries enjoy, should not be impaired.
Any acquisition of new maritime areas should be based on mutual consent and should be fair and equitable.
The fundamental source of tension between Türkiye and Greece is the Greek perception to regard the entire Aegean as a Greek sea in total disregard of Türkiye's rights and interests as one of the coastal states.

Turkish policy is based on respect for the status quo whereas Greece appears determined to alter it in its favor.

The threat of extending Greek territorial waters beyond their present width of 6 miles ( Greece extended her territorial waters from 3 miles to 6 miles in 1936,Türkiye followed suit in 1964),the remilitarization of the Eastern Aegean Islands placed under demilitarized status by virtue of the very agreements ceding them to Greece, a 10 mile "national air space" over territorial waters of 6, abuse of the FIR responsibility as if it confers sovereignty (request of flight plans from state aircraft and allegations of "violations of" Athens FIR) can be counted among these efforts which are the real underlying causes of the Turco-Greek conflict.

The Continental Shelf

The Aegean continental shelf constitutes a dispute between Türkiye and Greece in the absence of a delimitation agreement affected between the two countries.

The Continental Shelf dispute is but one essential element among the outstanding differences. It has a bearing on the overall equilibrium of rights and interests in the Aegean. The dispute concerns the areas of continental shelf to be attributed to Türkiye and Greece beyond the 6 mile territorial sea in the Aegean.

Türkiye stands ready to engage in a dialogue with Greece with a view to finding an equitable settlement of the issue that will be to the best interest of the two countries.

The issue of the Continental Shelf has in the past led to tensions between Türkiye and Greece. Greece has made recourse to the UN Security Council and the International Court of Justice with the below results:

The UN Security Council in its Resolution 395, adopted in 25 August 1976, called upon Türkiye and Greece to do everything in their power to reduce tensions in the Aegean and asked them to resume direct negotiations over their differences and appealed to them to ensure that these negotiations result in mutually acceptable solutions.

The International Court of Justice in its ruling on 11 September 1976, determined the Aegean continental shelf beyond the territorial waters of the two littoral states as "areas in dispute" with respect to which both Türkiye and Greece claim rights of exploration and exploitation.

Furthermore, the International Court of Justice, in a decision taken in 1982, stated that "delimitation is to be effected by agreement in accordance with equitable principles and taking into account all relevant circumstances."

Subsequent to the International Court of Justice ruling and the Security Council Resolution, Türkiye and Greece signed the 1976 Bern Agreement.

Under the terms of this Agreement, the two governments have, inter alia, assumed the obligation to refrain from any initiative or act concerning the Aegean continental shelf. This specific obligation was observed by both countries over several years and thus it was possible to avert the dispute concerning the Aegean continental shelf from escalating into tensions and confrontations.

However Greece, who terminated the negotiating process with Türkiye in 1981, started seismic and related activities and planned drilling operations in the disputed areas of the Aegean continental shelf in 1981.These activities which were open violations of the Bern Agreement have formed the main cause of the March 1987 crisis between Türkiye and Greece. This crisis over drilling beyond territorial waters, was in fact the culmination of unilateral actions perpetrated by Greece as regards the Aegean. The crisis was averted and the "Davos Process", leading to meetings between Foreign Ministers and Prime Ministers was initiated. The process however yielded no tangible results on the major issues, due mainly to Greek insistence that the Agenda of the negotiations could contain no reference to the Aegean issues.

The Territorial Waters

Another vital element of the delicate balance of rights and interests in the Aegean sea is the breadth of the territorial waters.

Under the present 6 mile limit,Greek territorial sea comprises approximately 43.5 percent of the Aegan sea. For Türkiye the same percentage is 7.5 percent. The remaining 49 percent is high seas.

It is evident that the extension by Greece of her territorial waters beyond the present 6 miles in the Aegean, would have most inequitable implications and would, therefore, constitute an abuse of right.

If the breadth of Greek territorial waters is extended to 12 miles due to the existence of the islands, Greece would acquire approximatively 71.5 percent of the Aegean sea, while Türkiye's share would increase to only 8.8 percent. The Aegean high seas would diminish to 19.7 percent.

The impact of such a Greek extension of its territorial waters would be to deprive Türkiye, one of the two coastal states of the Aegean, from her basic right of access to high seas from her territorial waters,the economic benefits derived from the Aegean,scientific research,etc.

Any increase beyond 6 miles is totally unacceptable to Türkiye.

The Air Space

Another issue is the problem of Aegean air space.

Half of the Aegean airspace is international airspace. The two littoral states, Greece and Türkiye, have freely used this area under the provisions and procedures of international law.

International airspace over the high seas is not under the sovereignty of any nation. According to international law, the breadth of national airspace has to correspond to the breadth of territorial sea. This is clearly reflected in Articles 1 and 2 the Chicago Convention of 1944 on civil aviation.

The core of the conflict on the Aegean airspace is the persistent abuse of "Flight Information Region" responsibility by Greece as if this responsibility entails sovereign rights.

The FIR arrangement on the Aegean Airspace devised in 1952 within the framework of ICAO (International Civil Aviation Organization), is a technical responsibility. Greece, however, is using it to further its claims of de facto sovereignty over the Aegean airspace by demanding flight plans from Turkish state aircraft and allegations of "infringements of the Athens FIR".

Besides the abuse of its FIR responsibility, Greece claims a 10 nautical mile national airspace over territorial waters of 6 nautical miles. This arbitrary claim is a Greek attempt to reduce the international airspace of the Aegean by 50 percent.

The Demilitarized Status of the Eastern Aegean Islands

One of the basic elements of the political balance established by the 1923 Lausanne Peace Treaty in the Aegean is the status of the Eastern Aegean islands.

Due to the security requirements of Türkiye, the demilitarized status of the Eastern Aegean islands has been an essential element of the Aegean status quo ever since they were placed under Greek sovereignty.

The Athens Decision of l9l4 by the Six Powers stipulated a demilitarized status for the islands then being turned over to Greece.
Articles l2 and Article l3 of the l923 Lausanne Peace Treaty and Article 4 of its annexed Convention confirmed this status. The Convention specifically provided that the islands of Lemnos and Samothrace, situated at the entrance of the Çanakkale Straits (Dardanelles), be demilitarized on an even stricter basis, thus emphasizing their vital importance for the security of the Straits.
The l936 Montreux Convention, which established the regime of the Turkish Straits, did not bring any change to the status of the islands.
The l947 Treaty of Paris turned over the islands, commonly referred to as the "Dodecanese", to Greece. This Treaty also sought to reconcile Greek sovereignty over these islands with the security of Türkiye by stipulating in Article l4 that "these islands shall be and shall remain demilitarized".
However, Greece has been violating the demilitarized status of the islands in contravention of her contractual obligations since the 1960's and has admitted a military presence on some of these Islands since the 1970's.

Türkiye formally raised the issue of the illegal military activities on the islands as early as mid- 60's and protested these violations of Greek obligation to keep the islands demilitarized.

Contrary to the status of Eastern Aegean islands, the Turkish territories including the Aegean Region is not under such a demilitarized status.

The Aegean army is basically a training army. This army has been established in Türkiye on legal ground and has a defencive character.

On the other hand, the recent deployment of EXOCET guided missile batteries which are offensive weapons on islands under demilitarized status is a further example of blatant violation of existing international agreements.

The Conflicting Claims over the Small Islets and Rocks in the Aegean and the Kardak Crisis

There are numerous small islets and rocks in the Aegean ownership of which is not determined by international treaties. Most of those features can not sustain human habitation and have no economic life of their own. Greece has attempted to change their status by opening some of those geographical features to artificial settlement. To this end, Greece has enacted laws and regulations that have no bearing from the point of international law. Türkiye regards this new Greek policy as another attempt to establish "fait accomplis" with a view to close-off the Aegean Sea as a Greek lake.

The recent crisis over the Kardak rocks has erupted by coincidence in such an atmosphere when Greece was making anouncements for recruitement of potential settlers from all over the world to some of these small islets and rocks. It is obvious that such a recruitment and settlement effort is in total disregard of the environmental concerns and the fragility of the ecosystems of the small islands and rocks in the Aegean. In addition, it is yet another proof of Greece's thirst for territorial expansion beyond areas ceded to her by the Lausanne Peace Treaty of 1923 and the Paris Peace Treaty of 1947.

The Kardak rocks lie just 3.8 nautical miles off the Turkish coast. The title deed of the rocks are registered on the Karakaya village of Bodrum prefecturate, Muğla province. For years Turkish fishermen have engaged in fishing activities on and around these rocks without any hinderance and Turkish vessels have navigated freely through the waters surrounding them. The series of events started by pure coincidence with the running aground of a Turkish bulk carrier named "Figen Akat" near these rocks on 25 December 1995.

In the following weeks there was no crisis. It all changed on 20 January 1996, nearly a month later, when the incident was leaked into the Greek periodical "GRAMMA" which is known to be close to the Greek Government. This leak took place only the day after Mr.Simitis was named to form the new Greek Government. A media campaign was launched by the Greek press with nationalistic overtones.

Then the Mayor of Kalimnos, a Greek island 5.5 nautical miles away from the Kardak rocks took upon himself to come to the rocks on 26 January and raise the Greek flag. Incidentally, the Greek flag had never been hoisted on the Kardak rocks before. In spite of this provocative action, the official Turkish reaction was very moderate. However, some Turkish journalists, no doubt concerned primarily with the circulation of their paper, hoisted the Turkish flag over Kardak the next day. This flag hoisting competition by individuals could have been considered innocent, had not the Greek side taken a decision to send troops to the Kardak rocks. This was an act of aggression or armed hostility against Turkish sovereignty. In the assessment of the crisis, one should never lose sight of this illegal Greek deployment on the Kardak rocks.

The Legal Framework Concerning the Kardak Issue

The Greek side tries to base her sovereignty over the Kardak rocks and over some other similar islets and rocks on

4 January 1932 and 28 December 1932 Turkish-Italian documents
Her succession of the Italian titles in the Aegean through the 1947 Paris Peace Treaty.
It is interesting to note that there is no mention of any "Imia Islet" in these documents. The 4 January 1932 Agreement does not concern the Kardak Rocks. A reference was made to the Kardak Rocks in the 28 December 1932 Document. However, legal procedures with regard to the latter were not completed. Neither was it registered with the League of Nations.

Article 18 of the Covenant of the League of Nations reads as follows; "Every Treaty or International Engagement entered into hereinafter by any Member of the League shall be forthwith registered with the Secretariat and shall as soon as possible be published by it. No such Treaty or International Engagement shall be binding until so registered." Therefore, no legally binding document exists in this respect.

That Italy has approached the Turkish Government in 1937 raising the issue of ratification of the 28 December 1932 document is an additional indication against its validity. This Italian demarche was never responded to and no such action was ever taken.

The Greek proposal submitted during the negotiations of the 1947 Paris Peace Treaty to make a reference to the 1932 two documents was not accepted, and no such reference was included in the text of the Treaty.

The fact that Greece has approached the Turkish Government in 1950 and yet again in 1953 proposing talks with a view to exchanging letters between the two Governments ascertaining the validity of the above-mentioned two documents between Türkiye and Greece shows that Greece also had doubts as to their validity.

The only document that may be referred to regarding the sovereignty of Dodecanese islands, as already been pointed out, is the 1947 Paris Peace Treaty. This Treaty in its Article 14 enumerates those islands to be transfered to Greek sovereignty one by one. Kardak, is not mentioned among these. The Kardak formations are not "islets" but two rocks. They lie 5.5 miles away from the nearest Dodecanese island. Therefore they do not fit into the definition of "adjacent islets" as stipulated by the Article 14 of the said Treaty.

In addition this Article also envisages a demilitarized statues for the Dodecanese Islands. Greece has been blatantly violating this demilitarized status since the mid 1960's. The treaty has established a direct link between sovereignty of Dodecanese islans that are so close to the Turkish mainland and their demilitarized status, taking into consideration the security requirements of Türkiye. A similar arrangement has been also stipulated by the 1923 Lausanne Peace Treaty concerning the North Eastern Aegean islands. Their demilitarized status is also being violated by Greece. This issue is one of the main disputes between Greece and Türkiye. For ease of reference the text of the Article 14 of the 1947 Paris Peace Treaty is quoted hereafter.

"1-Italy hereby cedes to Greece in full sovereignty the Dodacanese Islands indicated hereafter, namley Stampalia (Astropalia), Rhodes (Rhodos), Calki (Kharki), Scarpanto, Casos (Casso), Piscopis (Tilos), Misiros (Niyros), Calimnos (Kalymnos), Leros, Patmos, Lipsos (Lipso), Simi (Symi), Cos (Kos) and Castellorizo, as well as the adjacent islets.

2-These islands shall be and shall remain demilitarized."

An Initiative for Peace

An eventual settlement on the Aegean issues will only be viable and lasting if it is built on the fundemental rights and legitimate interests of both countries. The way forward for such an outcome is discussions on differences to be carried out on the basis of mutual respect and with a willingness to reach a compromise. Therefore, Türkiye's basic line has been that the meaningful and result oriented negotiations to be held between Türkiye and Greece should be the only way for a settlement of the Aegean issues. After the recent crises which had proved once again the escalatory nature of the Turkish-Greek relations in the Aegean, Türkiye has adopted a more flexible approach for a solution.

Within this context, on 24 March 1996, the Turkish Government launched an all-encompassing new initiative concerning Turkish-Greek relations. This new initiative has four basic and distinct dimentions:

It does not exclude any mechanism for a peaceful solution for the existing problems in the Aegean. It foresees a comprehensive and peaceful resolution process.
It proposes a political framework to this end. This can be achieved in the form of a Political Document or Declaration to be finalized by the two countries or through an Agreement of Friendship and Cooperation.
It also puts forward a security framework to be realized by swift agreement between the two countries on a comprehensive set of Confidence Building Measures related to military activities.
Finally, this initiative lays the ground for a code of conduct to be abided by the two sides, so that both Türkiye and Greece avoid unilateral steps and actions that could increase tension, once the process of peaceful settlement is under way.
Türkiye harbours no intention towards altering the status quo in the Aegean through unilateral steps and de facto actions. She does however expect Greece to undertake the same commitment.

The new intiative as put forward by the Turkish Prime Minister, reflects a long terms approach vis-à-vis Turkish-Greek relations.

Türkiye has always given priority to dialogue to be carried out by the two countries for a possible peaceful solution to the existing problems. However, with this new initiative Türkiye, while pointing out to the fact that dialogue is essential between the two countries, states that she does not rule out from the outset any other peaceful method based on mutual acceptance.

Türkiye has no prejudices in this respect. She is prepared to discuss with goodwill appropriate third party methods of settlement. The form, conditions and legal requirements of such methods can be taken up in detail in the course of talks.

We sincerely hope that Greece will stand up to her responsibilities and not lose this historic opportunity. Even though the first reactions on the part of the Greek media is negative, we hope common sense will prevail in Athens and the Greek leaders will not shrink away from their responsibilities.