The only legitimate dispute that needs to be settled between Greece and Turkey in the Aegean is the delimitation of the Aegean continental shelf. On this topic, Greece has repeatedly invited Turkey to the negotiation table in order for the two sides to agree to a compromis for the referral of the dispute to the International Court of Justice. Turkey has repeatedly turned down Greece's invitation.

Beyond this, all other matters at times termed "Aegean disputes" by Turkey consist exclusively of arbitrary claims against Greek sovereignty put forth by Turkey in defiance of international law and agreements.

This Turkish practice has created great tension in the relations between Greece and Turkey. It has prevented the establishment of a long-lasting friendship between the two countries, which has always been -- and remains -- Greece's hope and goal. Peace, stability, and respect for international law are the only ways to ensure the necessary prosperity of Greece and Turkey and of their peoples, who have lived as neighbors and will continue to do so for centuries to come.

A. Delimitation of the Continental Shelf

This problem came to the forefront for the first time in November 1, 1973. On that date, the Turkish government published in the official Turkish Government Gazette a map that arbitrarily designated areas of the Aegean -- including Greek areas -- for which the government of Ankara had issued a license permitting research activities on the part of the Turkish Petroleum Company.

The subsequent tension reached its peak in 1974 and again in 1976, when the Turkish Oceanographic research vessels "Candarli" and "Hora" sailed into the Aegean for the purpose of carrying out research activities on the seabed just outside the territorial waters of the Greek islands.

With respect to the delimitation of the Continental Shelf, three basic differences exist between Greece and Turkey. These concern: (a) the nature of the problem; (b) the right of islands to their own Continental Shelf; and (c) the applicable provisions of International Law to the case.

a. The nature of the problem
Turkey asserts that the difference to be settled concerns the partition of the entire Aegean Continental Shelf, and claims that Turkey should acquire areas of Continental Shelf west of the Greek islands up to the middle of the Aegean. Viewed in this light, the question loses its legal character and becomes purely political, as it would have to be settled without reference to International Law and practice, which do not support Turkey's aspirations.

Greece, on the contrary, emphasizes that the matter to be settled consists exclusively of the legal delimitation of the Continental Shelf between the two countries, i.e., from the Thracian border to the islands of the Northern and Eastern Aegean and the Dodecanese. In other words, Greece believes that the question is a legal one, to be resolved in accordance with International Law and the provisions of the Charter of the United Nations for the resolution of international legal disputes.

b. The right of islands to their own continental shelf.
Turkey does not recognize that islands are entitled to a continental shelf of their own. Instead, it wishes to carve a line of partition down the middle of the Aegean, as if there were no islands at all in the area.

Greece holds that the islands have full rights to the continental shelf under International Law. Greece cites, among other things, to the Geneva Convention of 1958, the Convention on the Law of the Sea 1982, and the 1969 decision of the International Court of Justice concerning the delimitation of the continental shelf of the North Sea.

All three documents establish that islands possess their own continental shelf, both pursuant to international treaties and under customary international law.

Turkey's assertion that all the islands of the Aegean are somehow "special cases" enjoying fewer rights than others is therefore unfounded in International Law. Indeed, the fact that the Greek islands of the Aegean number nearly 3.000 and constitute a continuous chain from the Greek mainland to the Turkish coast renders irrational any attempt to ignore their existence in this respect.

c. The legal principles to be applied to the resolution of the question.
Turkey invokes the principle of "equity." However, Turkey does not interpret this principle in accordance with International Law. Instead, she gives her own arbitrary interpretation to the notion of "equity," using criteria of a political nature that appear to be selected in order to further non-legal expansionist designs in the Aegean.

Greece affirms that, for the delimitation of the Continental Shelf, the applicable principle under International Law is that of the median line. This principle is foreseen by article 6 of the Geneva Convention of 1958, and is widely recognized as the basic principle of International Law in such cases.

There is little doubt that, if Turkey aimed solely at the delimitation of the Continental Shelf, and not at the entrapment of the Greek islands of the Eastern Aegean within an area of Turkish jurisdiction, then the matter would already have been peacefully settled. Specifically, Turkey could have presented herself before the International Court of Justice in 1976, when Greece laid the matter before it. However, due to the refusal of Turkey to accept the jurisdiction of the Court, the Court declared lack of jurisdiction to decide the matter.

Concerning subsequent developments, the following points should be borne in mind:
In 1976, after a peak in the tension in the Aegean, Greece and Turkey engaged in negotiations at Berne, which resulted in a sort of "modus vivendi" between the two sides. A protocol was signed in Berne on 11 November 1976, fixing a code of conduct to govern future negotiations concerning the delimitation of the Continental Shelf in the Aegean.

No tangible result was reached, however, and the matter remained unresolved until March 1987, when a new crisis led to the brink of hostilities.

This new crisis was provoked by Turkey, when she sent the oceanographic research vessel "Sismik-I," escorted by Turkish warships, into the Aegean in order to engage in research activities on the seabed just outside the territorial waters of the Greek islands.

Subsequently, in letters exchanged between the Prime Ministers of Greece and Turkey, Greece reiterated her position concerning the delimitation of the Continental Shelf, the cornerstone of which is that the matter should be settled through recourse to the International Court of Justice. This position remains unaltered to this day, as does Turkey's refusal to submit her claims to the judgment of the Court.

B. Aegean Territorial Waters

Apart from the issue of the delimitation of the Continental Shelf, Turkey has chosen to create tension on a number of other issues in the Aegean, principal among which is the breadth of Greek territorial waters. Turkey puts forth no legal arguments in this matter. Indeed, the only argument used by Turkey to support her claims in this regard is the explicit and repeated use of the threat of war against Greece.

a. Greek territorial waters were fixed by law in 1936 at 6 nautical miles from the Greek coast line.
Even earlier, however, in 1931, the breadth of Greek national airspace was fixed at a breadth of 10 n.m.

The United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, which recently entered into force, explicitly recognizes that every coastal state has the right of territorial waters to an outer limit of 12 n.m., including for its islands. Immediately thereafter, former Turkish Prime Minister Ciller repeated in the most official manner the threat that any attempt by Greece to apply the Law of the Sea Convention with respect to Greek territorial waters would constitute a casus belli.

It should be noted that the right to territorial waters of 12 n.m. has been exercised by the vast majority of coastal states throughout the world, including Turkey herself. In 1964, Turkey extended her territorial waters in the Black Sea and the Mediterranean. Nevertheless, in response to the Greek Parliament's ratification of the LoS Convention on 31 May 1995, the Turkish National Assembly, on 8 June 1995, unanimously adopted a resolution that gave the Turkish government all powers, including military ones, for the "protection" of Turkish vital "interests," in the event that Greece ever exercised her internationally established rights.

This threat of war on the part of Turkey violates article 2 paragraph 4 of the United Nations Charter, which forbids all member - states to use force or the threat of the use of force in international relations.

Remarkably, Turkey's blatantly illegal act was endorsed by the Turkish Permanent Representative to the United Nations in a June 13, 1995 letter addressed to the U.N. Secretary General. That letter adopted and even attempted to justify the Resolution of the Turkish National Assembly. It thus made clear that the Turkish government's official policy is in full alignment with the contents of this illegal resolution.

In this matter the Greek position is clear-cut, supported by international law, and not subject to Turkish threats. International Law gives Greece the right to extend her territorial waters up to 12 n.m. Greece has stated that it intends to exercise this right whenever she deems fit to do so.

b. Concerning Greek national airspace, it should be noted that, until 1975 -- that is to say, for 44 years -- Turkey never once challenged the breadth of 10 n.m. On the contrary, she recognized and respected it in practice.

Since 1975 however, Turkey ceased to do so, and Turkish warplanes have regularly violated Greek national airspace on an ever increasing basis. It should be noted that, during the last three years in particular, the number of violations has sky-rocketed, not only between 6 and 10 n.m. from the Greek coast but frequently below 6 n.m., and often even over Greek island territory.

When Greece protests against these violations, Turkey typically replies that she does not consider that her aircraft flying between 6 and 10 n.m. from the Greek coasts violate Greek airspace. Greek aircraft are forced to intercept all Turkish warplanes that violate Greek national airspace.

As a consequence, Turkey's violations bring with them the daily threat of instability in the region.
It is not coincidental that Turkey "discovered" her claims with respect to Greek national air- space in 1975, the year she first began to push her claims to the Aegean continental shelf in earnest. Clearly, Turkey wishes to limit Greek sovereign rights in the whole of the Aegean, in contravention of international law.

C. The Athens Flight Information Region (FIR Athens)

On December 7, 1944, the Civil Aviation Convention was signed in Chicago. It foresaw the creation of an International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO). Each member-state would be assigned an area of responsibility for the control of all air-traffic.
The Athens Flight Information Region ("FIR") was agreed to at the Regional Air-Traffic Conferences of 1950, 1952, and 1958.

Turkey participated in all these conferences and had fully accepted the boundaries of Greece's FIR. The Athens FIR covers Greek national air-space in its entirety, as well as certain areas of international air-space. In accordance with the ICAO regulations and with international practice, all aircraft, civil and military alike, must submit proper notification before crossing the FIR.

Nevertheless, in August 1974, Turkey arbitrarily issued NOTAM 714 (Notice to Air-men) by which she unilaterally extended her area of responsibility up to the middle of the Aegean, within the Athens FIR. Greece then had to declare that part of the Aegean a dangerous area (NOTAM 1157). The ICAO addressed an appeal to both countries to put an end to the situation, without success at the time.

Finally, in 1980, Ankara withdrew NOTAM 714, when she realized that it was prejudicial to her interests and especially to her tourist industry.

Nevertheless, Turkey continues to violate the Athens FIR with her military aircraft under the pretext that the Chicago Convention does not concern military aircraft.

The Greek position is that the regulations and decisions of the ICAO must be fully respected. Furthermore, reasons of safety of international air-traffic demand that Turkish warplanes submit flight plans when entering the Athens FIR.

Once again, it is perhaps no coincidence that the difficulties created by Turkey concerning the Flight Information Region began in 1974, after the Cyprus invasion, when Turkey turned her full attention to the Aegean. The Turkish claims are unfounded and serve only to further Turkish designs of control over the Aegean.

D. Search and Rescue within the Athens FIR

The Greek area of responsibility for search and rescue (SAR) operations in case of air- traffic accidents coincides with the Athens FIR. It was fixed decades ago according to the relevant Annex of the Chicago Convention for Civil Aviation of 1944.

In the case of maritime accidents, the area of jurisdiction is fixed by the Hamburg Convention on Maritime Search and Rescue of 1979. Greece has ratified this convention, specifying that she would conduct maritime search and rescue operations in the whole of the Athens FIR. This reflects the geographical and political realities of the area and allows for the most efficient rendering of services for the safeguarding of human life in case of maritime accidents.

Turkey, on her part, published in the Turkish Government Gazette on January 7, 1989, the Turkish Code for Search and Rescue Operations. That Code arbitrarily fixed the Turkish SAR area of responsibility for air and maritime accidents in such a way as to include a large part of the Black Sea, half of the Aegean, and a part of the Eastern Mediterranean, which included the occupied part of Cyprus.

Once again, Turkey's goal to undermine the established status quo in the Aegean is more than evident.

Despite Turkey's efforts, on 7 March 1989, the International Civil Aviation Organization assured Greece that the responsibilities of Greece and Turkey concerning air and sea search and rescue operations remain unchanged, as they had been fixed and agreed upon for decades.

E. Turkey's Claims Concerning the Demilitarization of the Islands of the Eastern Aegean

Turkey is the only country that demands that the Greek islands of the Eastern Aegean be demilitarized without exception. This is in spite of the fact that Turkey never became part of the Paris Peace Treaty of 1947, which also concerned the status of the Dodecanese islands, as she had chosen to keep a stance of "neutrality" during World War II and not to fight on the side of the allied powers.

Contrary to Turkey's assertions, the militarization of the islands of the Eastern Aegean falls into three distinct categories:

  1. The right to install military forces on the islands of Limnos and Samothrake has been established by the Treaty of Montreux of 1936, and has repeatedly been recognized by Turkey (see, e.g., statement made by former Turkish Foreign Minister Rusdi Aras to the Turkish National Assembly on July 31, 1936; letter of former Turkish Ambassador in Athens to the Greek government dated May 6, 1936).
  2. Concerning Lesvos, Chios, Samos, and Ikaria, the Treaty of Lausanne imposed partial demilitarization of these islands and not total demilitarization, as Turkey claims. On the contrary, the presence of some military forces is foreseen, and Greece does indeed maintain a military presence on these islands in light of the need to protect her eastern frontier.
  3. For the same reasons, Greece maintains in the Dodecanese a certain number of National Guard units which have been registered within the framework of the Treaty for Conventional Forces in Europe.
Apart from the above, Article 51 of the United Nations Charter foresees that every country has the inalienable right of legitimate defense of her territory. Unfortunately, the exercise of this right is particularly applicable and necessary in the case of Greece, given: The right of legitimate defense, one of the fundamental rights of the international legal order, possesses the character jus cogens. Article 103 of the U. N. Charter states that the right of legitimate defense contained in article 51 overrides any conventional obligation to the contrary.

Turkey cannot threaten Greece with war over Greek sovereign rights and then demand that Greece unilaterally disarm itself.

F. Turkish Regulations Concerning Maritime Traffic Through the Straits

Since July 1, 1994, Turkey has begun to enforce a national code of regulations that attempts to regulate maritime traffic through the Straits.

However, transit through the Straits is governed by the Montreux Convention of 1936, and it cannot be substituted by the internal legislation of any one country. The Turkish Code contravenes the Montreux Convention, International Law, and the Recommendations of the International Maritime Organization made in May 1994, which Turkey ignored, although she had undertaken the obligation to harmonize her internal legislation with them.

Turkey claims that the increase in maritime traffic through the Straits has heightened the dangers to the environment in the area, allegedly forcing her to take measures for its protection.

If this is really the case, however, Turkey should bring the matter for discussion at the International Maritime Organization and should request that the International Community take the appropriate steps. In any case, Turkey is not entitled to attempt to overthrow the Montreux Convention unilaterally. The Legal Committee of the International Maritime Organization stated as much in its meeting in October 1994.

Turkey, however, instead of modifying the code of regulations, merely published a set of directives concerning the implementation of the said Code.

During its last meeting, the Maritime Safety Committee (MSC 65) of the International Maritime Organization adopted the following conclusions put forward by its president:

The 19th Plenary Session of the IMO (November 1995) adopted the regulations and recommendations for maritime traffic through the Straits that were agreed at previous MSCs. It confirmed that these regulations and recommendations aim at the protection of maritime traffic and the environment in the area of the Straits, and that the Turkish Code of Regulations must be in full compliance with them.

As a result of an initiative on the part of the Russian delegation, the Committee on Maritime Safety was assigned to follow the matter of the Turkish Code of Regulations. Turkey differentiated her position on the matter.


The issues discussed above are all inter-linked. Turkey's principle aim appears to be to partition the Continental Shelf in order to exploit the natural resources of the Aegean seabed, as well as to enclose the islands of the Eastern Aegean in an area of Turkish jurisdiction that will facilitate her claims in the area.

Given this underlying goal, Turkey has "discovered" problems concerning the breadth of Greek national airspace, the width of Greek territorial waters, the Athens Flight Information Region, and many others. All these "problems," when tied together as part of an allegedly "inseparable" package of Turkish demands, make clear Turkey's design to usurp control of the resources of the Aegean and the sovereignty of the Greek islands.

In this context, Greece cannot ignore the chilling recent statement of former Turkish Prime Minister Tansu Ciller in the aftermath of the latest crisis over the Imia rocks, that she disputes Greek sovereignty over 3.000 islands in the Aegean (which is to say, over more islands than the whole Aegean actually contains).

By challenging the internationally established status quo in the area, Turkey becomes a major factor of political, military, and economic instability in the entire region.

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