Background Note on Aegean Disputes

Türkiye’s General Approach

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.

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.

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 service responsibility as if it confers sovereignty (request of flight plans from state aircraft and allegations of "violations of" Athens FIR) can be counted among the issues which are the real underlying causes of the Turco-Greek conflict in the Aegean.

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.

On August 10, 1976, Greece addressed a communication to the President of the Security Council requesting an urgent meeting of the Council on the ground that "following recent repeated flagrant violations by Türkiye of the sovereign rights of Greece in the continental shelf in the Aegean, a dangerous situation has been created threatening international peace and security." On the same day, by unilateral application, Greece instituted proceedings in the ICJ against Türkiye in "a dispute concerning the delimitation of the continental shelf appertaining to Greece and Türkiye in the Aegean Sea, and concerning the respective legal rights of those States to explore and exploit the CS of the Aegean." Also on the same day Greece filed a request for interim measures of protection.

On August 25, 1976 Security Council, in its resolution 395(1976), called upon the parties "to resume direct negotiations over their differences" and appealed them "to do everything within their power to ensure that these (negotiations) result in mutually acceptable solutions." The Council, furthermore "invited Türkiye and Greece in this respect to continue to take into account the contribution that appropriate judicial means, in particular the ICJ, are qualified to make to the settlement of any remaining legal differences which they may identify in connection with their present dispute."

On September 11, 1976, the International Court of Justice rejected the Greek request for interim measures of protection. The Court also decided that areas beyond territorial waters, were in fact "areas in dispute".

Later, in 1978, the Court decided that it did not have jurisdiction to entertain the Greek application on the substance of the question.

In conformity with the Security Council decision, and in view of the Court's rejection of the Greek contention and claims, Türkiye and Greece signed an agreement in Bern on 11 November 1976. Under this Agreement, the parties decided to hold negotiations with a view to reaching an agreement on the delimitation of the continental shelf.

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.

1976 Bern Agreement is still valid and its terms continue to be binding for both countries.

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."

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 issues between Türkiye and Greece in the Aegean Sea is the demilitarized status of the Eastern Aegean Islands. The Eastern Aegean Islands are demilitarized by several international agreements which impose legal obligations binding upon Greece. The legal instruments setting up a demilitarized status for the Eastern Aegean Islands can be summarized from an historical perspective as follows :

a) 1913 Treaty of London : The future of the Eastern Aegean Islands have been left to the decision of Six Powers in Article 5 of the Treaty of London.

b) 1914 Decision of Six Powers: The islands of Lemnos, Samothrace, Lesvos, Chios, Samos, and Ikaria and others under Greek occupation as of 1914 were ceded to Greece by the 1914 Decision of Six Powers (Great Britain, France, Russia, Germany, Italy and Austria-Hungary) on the condition that they should be kept demilitarized.

c) 1923 Lausanne Peace Treaty: In Article 12 of the Lausanne Peace Treaty the 1914 Decision of Six Powers was confirmed.

Article 13 of the Laussane Treaty stipulated the modalities of the demilitarization for the islands of Lesvos, Chios, Samos, and Ikaria. It imposed certain restrictions related to the presence of military forces and establishment of fortifications which Greece undertook as a contractual obligation to observe stemming from this Treaty.

The Convention of the Turkish Straits annexed to the Laussanne Treaty further defined the demilitarized status of the islands of Lemnos and Samothrace. It stipulated a stricter regime for these islands, due to their vital importance to the security of Türkiye by virtue of their close proximity to the Turkish Straits.

d) 1936 Montreux Convention: The Montreux Convention did not bring any change to the demilitarized status of these Islands. With the Protocol annexed to the said Convention, the demilitarized status of the Turkish Straits has been lifted to ensure the security of Türkiye. In the Montreux Convention there is no clause regarding the militarization of the islands of Lemnos and Samothrace.

e) 1947 Paris Peace Treaty: The demilitarized status of Eastern Aegean Islands was once again confirmed in 1947 long after the Lausanne Treaty. The "Dodecanese Islands" namely Stampalia, Rhodes, Calki, Scarpanto, Casos, Piscopis, Nisiros, Calimnos, Leros, Patmos, Lipsos, Symi, Cos and Castellorizo were ceded to Greece on the explicit condition that they must remain demilitarized (Annex 6).

The demilitarization of the Eastern Aegean Islands was due to the overriding importance of these islands for Türkiye's security. In fact, there is a direct linkage between the possession of sovereignty over those islands and their demilitarized status. Greece, in this respect, cannot unilaterally reverse this status under any pretext.

The above mentioned international treaties which are in force and thus binding upon Greece strictly forbid the militarization of Eastern Aegean Islands and bring legal obligations and responsibilities to Greece.

However, despite the protests of Türkiye, Greece has been violating the status of the Eastern Aegean Islands by militarizing them since the 1960's in contravention of her contractual obligations. These illegal acts of Greece have increased considerably over the last years and became a vital dispute between the two countries. It is worthwhile to recall that Türkiye's several appeals to Greece to respect the demilitarized status of these Islands have been disregarded so far.

From a mere point of view to respect international law, it should be underlined that Greece also introduced a reservation to the compulsory jurisdiction of International Court of Justice on the matters deriving from military measures concerning her "national security interests" when she accepted the Court’s jurisdiction in 1993. In so doing, Greece aims to prevent a dispute concerning the militarization of the islands to be referred to the International Court of Justice.

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."