International treaties and agreements dating back to 1923 establish unequivocally that the Imia rocky islets constitute an integral part of Greek sovereign territory.
The fact that the tension caused by the recent Turkish claims to the Imia rocks did not erupt into immediate conflict does not in the least mean that the danger has receded. On the contrary, Turkey, through its former Prime Minister's explicit threat to use military force against Greece, continues to press claims that are unfounded both in international law and in the established practice of civilized relations among nations.
This recent crisis was particularly serious because Turkey's principal argument establishing her claim to these islets is that the International Treaties that set down the territorial status of the southeastern Aegean are not necessarily binding on Turkey. By questioning the sovereignty of the Imia rocks Turkey thus seeks to overthrow the territorial status of the entire region.
At the same time, Turkey has consistently refused to support the assertions she has suddenly put forward through peaceful and legal avenues, by bringing them to the International Court of Justice, as both Greece, a number of European Union countries, and the United States have repeatedly suggested.
As will be seen in greater detail in the following paragraphs, the Imia rocks have been under Greek sovereignty since the signing of the Paris Peace Treaty with Italy in 1947. For half a century Turkey did not raise any questions concerning the status of the islets and rocks. Unfortunately, the reason she does so now falls within the well-documented pattern of illegal Turkish intentions and actions over the past twenty years.
More specifically, in 1974, Turkey invaded and occupied Cyprus in defiance of international law and in the face of the indignation of the international community, as expressed in numerous resolutions of the Security Council and the General Assembly of the United Nations.
At the same time, she turned her sights to the rest of the Aegean, by setting up the so-called "Army of the Aegean," a overtly offensive military force equipped with the largest fleet of landing craft in the Mediterranean. Turkey also raised claims against Greek sovereign rights concerning the continental shelf, control of the air-space of the area, as well as Greece's right, as established in international law, to extend her territorial waters up to 12 n.m.
In June of last year, the Turkish Parliament passed an unprecedented resolution authorizing the Turkish government to use all means, including military ones, should Greece exercise her legitimate rights concerning the extension of her territorial waters.
Turkey also challenges Greece's national air-space, backing up her claims by frequent and at times massive violations of the air-space by her military aircraft.
Unfortunately, the threat of the use of military force seems to be an integral part of Turkish foreign policy. Just as in the case of the territorial waters, during the Imia incident Turkey brandished the threat of war in order to impose her objectives, declaring that any attempt to question self-proclaimed "Turkish sovereignty" would constitute a causus belli.
These actions, encouraged - at least initially - by the lack of any firm reaction on the part of the international community, have now been proven to be part of Turkey's design to question Greece's internationally established rights in the Aegean, and to usurp sovereignty of at least half of the Aegean, by officially rejecting the established legal status quo.
If Turkey's attempts to question the binding force of international agreements were valid, then the majority of the treaties regulating international frontiers after the First and Second World Wars would collapse.
On the 25th of December 1995, the Turkish Cargo boat "Figen Akat" ran aground on one of the Imia rocks, situated 2,5 miles from the Greek island of Kalolimnos. Although the accident occurred in Greek territorial waters, the captain of the "Figen Akat" refused assistance from the competent Greek authorities, claiming that he was within Turkish territorial waters. Despite assurances to the contrary, the captain sought assistance from the Turkish authorities
Finally, in agreement with the Turkish company that owned the ship, the "Figen Akat" was set free with the aid of a Greek tug boat, owned by the company Matsas Star, and towed to the Turkish port of Gulluk.
On the 29th of December, the Turkish Ministry of Foreign Affairs addressed a Verbal Note to the Embassy of Greece in Ankara, asserting for the first time that Imia constitutes a part of Turkish territory, as it was registered in the land registry of the Turkish province of Mugla. It should be noted that this was the first time that Turkey openly laid claims over actual Greek territory.
In response to Turkey's claims, on the 10th of January 1996, the Greek Embassy addressed a Verbal Note to the Turkish Ministry of Foreign Affairs. In that Note the Turkish claim to the islets was rejected. The Note underlined the fact that Turkey had reaffirmed Imia as belonging to Italy by virtue of a bilateral agreement signed between the two countries in 1932, and that the islets were subsequently ceded to Greece with the rest of the Dodecanese island chain by the Paris Peace Treaty of 1947.
Turkey then addressed a second Verbal Note to Greece on the 29th of January 1996, wherein the initial claim was repeated and extended with the request for negotiations concerning the status of all the islands, islets and rocks whose status, according to Turkey, is not well determined.
In response Greece addressed a Verbal Note to Turkey on February 16, 1996. In that Note Greece presented international legal documents and other facts establishing unequivocally the territorial status of all islands, islets and rocks in the Aegean. Greece emphasized that no country, including Turkey, had ever challenged that status in the past. The Note concluded that, as is only natural, Greece would not negotiate with Turkey matters pertaining to its territorial sovereignty as established by international law and treaties.
The tension over Imia began to escalate on the 27th of January, when Turkish journalists from the newspaper Hurriyet took down the Greek flag from the larger of the two Imia islets and raised the Turkish one. On the 28th of January a Greek navy detachment replaced the Greek flag.
Initially, there were no naval units in the area except one Greek unit and a Turkish torpedo boat. On January 30, however, Turkey sent several ships to the area, prompting Greece to send an equal number. A Turkish frigate violated Greek territorial waters targeting a Greek gunboat that was patrolling the area. A Turkish helicopter taking off from one of the Turkish frigates flew over the Imia rocks. At the same time, Turkish warplanes repeatedly violated Greek airspace.
The tension reached its peak in the early morning hours of January 31, when the Turkish army landed some men on the smaller of the Imia rocks. An American mediation effort had already been initiated by means of repeated telephone contacts between President Clinton and Prime Minister Simitis, Secretary of State Warren Christopher and Under Secretary Hobrooke with Foreign Minister Pangalos, and the Ministers of Defense Arsenis and Perry.
After a special session of the Government's National Security Council in the early hours of January 31, the Ministers of Defense and Foreign Affairs announced that an understanding had been reached by means of American mediation. Both sides would withdraw their forces from the area of Imia and the situation would return to its previous condition (the "status quo ante").
The Legal Status of Imia
The Imia islets lie at a distance of 1.9 nautical miles from the Greek island of Kalolimnos, 5.3 n.m. from the Greek island of Kalymnos, 3.65 n.m. from the Turkish coast and 2.3 n.m. from the Turkish island of Cavus (formerly Kato). Like the rest of the Dodecanese island chain, they were ceded to Italy by virtue of article 15 of the Lausanne Peace Treaty of 1923.
At least three international agreements establish unambiguously Greece's ownership of Imia.
The first is the 1923 Lausanne Peace Treaty, which limits Turkish sovereignty -- with the exception of Imbros, Tenedos and the Rabbit islands -- explicitly only over islands lying within a three-mile limit off the Turkish coast (Article 12). As noted above, however, Imia are 3.65 n.m. off the Turkish coast. Under Article 16 of the same Peace Treaty, Turkey "renounces all rights and title whatsoever over or respecting the territories situated outside the frontiers laid down in the present Treaty and the islands other than those over which her sovereignty is recognised by the said Treaty, the future of these territories and islands being settled or to be settled by the parties concerned."
The second is the January 4, 1932 Agreement between Italy and Turkey and its supplementary agreement of December 28, 1932. More specifically, the January 4 Agreement set down with precision the maritime frontier between the island of Castellorizo and the Turkish coast. The day this Agreement was signed, the two parties exchanged official letters by which they mutually asserted that there was no difference between them as to their respective territorial sovereignty, and called for a joint Italo-Turkish technical committee to be set up for the purpose of precisely delimiting the rest of the maritime boundary between the Dodecanese and the Turkish coast.
In accordance with this Agreement, the representatives of Italy and Turkey signed in Ankara, on December 28, 1932, a supplementary agreement by which the rest of the maritime frontier between the Dodecanese and the Turkish coast was precisely delimited. The agreement fixes 37 pairs of reference points between which the maritime boundary dividing Turkish and Italian territory (which, at the time, included the Aegean Dodecanese islands) was drawn.
Point 30 of this agreement states that the maritime frontier north of Kalymnos will pass at a median distance between the Imia rocks (on the Italian side) and Kato island (on the Turkish side). Thus, Italian sovereignty over Imia is confirmed by the explicit reference made to them in the text itself.
The third international agreement was the Paris Treaty of 1947, signed between Italy and the Allied Powers after the conclusion of World War II. In that treaty Italy ceded the Dodecanese islands and all adjacent islets to Greece. As is well known, under international law, the successor state automatically assumes all the rights and obligations that have been established by international treaty between the initial possessor state and every third party (in this case, between Italy and Turkey).
The Reaction of the European Parliament
The European Parliament, on February 15, 1996, adopted a resolution entitled "On the Provocative Actions and Contestation of Sovereign Rights by Turkey Against a Member State of the Union" by an overwhelming 342 to 21 majority. In that resolution the Parliament found that "the islet of Imia belongs to the Dodecanese group of islands" pursuant to the 1923, 1932 and 1947 treaties. The Parliament also condemned "the dangerous violation by Turkey of the sovereign rights of Greece," and called on Turkey to comply "with international treaties" and to abstain from non-peaceful actions or threats of such actions.
It should be noted that the Parliament, a few months earlier, had ratified the Customs Union agreement between Turkey and the EU. It should further be noted that the Common Position of the Council, set out at the EU-Turkey Association Council meeting of March 6, 1995, stated that it was "of paramount importance to encourage good neighborly relations between Turkey and its neighboring Member States of the EU." The Parliament, in its February 16, 1996 resolution, emphasized that "these privileged relations between the Union and Turkey should automatically preclude any military aggression."
The International Court of Justice
After the crisis, the U.S. administration suggested that Turkey's Imia claims be taken for peaceful resolution to the International Court of Justice.
Similarly, on February 26, 1996, the Italian Presidency of the European Union issued the summary of discussions that took place that day among the EU's fifteen Foreign Ministers on the issue of Imia. In that announcement the Presidency, among other things, emphasized that "territorial disputes must be resolved only through recourse to Law, that is to say, by the International Court of Justice."
Turkey immediately turned down both appeals. In contrast, from the beginning of the crisis Greece has stated that it would consider such an adjudication should Turkey, which is the party raising the territorial claims in the present instance, where to apply to the Court.
It should be noted that, unlike Greece, Turkey has not yet accepted the jurisdiction of the ICJ.
Turkey's Legal Assertions
The principal argument on which Turkey bases its claim is the assertion that the legal procedures of the agreement of December 1932 were not completed and that it was not registered with the Secretariat of the League of Nations.
However, the December Agreement was supplementary to that of January, which set the maritime frontier between Castellorizo and the Turkish coast and settled an issue concerning the sovereignty of some islets around Castellorizo, over which there was a difference of opinion between the two sides. The December agreement did not aim at settling any territorial difference between the two countries, as was stated both in the text of the agreement itself and in the letters exchanged on the 4th of January 1932, between the then Turkish Minister of Foreign Affairs and the then Italian Ambassador in Ankara, by which the two parties declared that there existed no difference as to the territorial sovereignty of each side. The December agreement merely sets with precision the remaining maritime frontier between the Dodecanese and the Turkish coast. For this reason it did not need separate registration with the Secretariat of the League of Nations. It is thus not surprising that the delimitation of the frontier set by this agreement was never in the past contested by Turkey or Italy, even after the Dodecanese was ceded to Greece.
Turkey has further asserted that Greece allegedly had doubts, at the time of the signing of the Paris Peace Treaty, concerning the validity of the 1932 agreements. This Turkish argument is unfounded both in law and in fact. As noted above, according to international law, the successor state succeeds to all rights and obligations established by international treaties between the original possessor state and any third party. Greece had no doubt as to the validity of the aforementioned agreements nor had Turkey or Italy, since they both immediately implemented the provisions of the Agreement and abided by them thereafter. There is clearly no need for any confirmation of the validity of any treaty regulating the status of the ceded territories.
This is further evidenced by other international agreements and maps of the immediate post World-War period, according to which this delimitation is officially recognized by Turkey as her frontier line with Greece. To mention just two, there is the map attached to the 1950 ICAO Regional Agreement adopted by the Council of the Organization, and also the official Turkish map included in the 1953 edition of the Turkish Ministry of Foreign Affairs on Navigation through the Straits.
Furthermore, not only Greece and Turkish maps, but also official maps of other countries such as the United States and Italy include the Imia rocks within Greek national territory.
Finally, the fact that both Greece and Turkey considered the agreements of 1932 as valid, is shown by the fact that Greece was the country that exercised sovereign rights over the Imia islets all this time without Turkey ever raising any protest. The Greek Geographic Service repeatedly visited the Imia islets and used a trigonometric marker on the larger rock which it had installed for its purposes, Greek fishermen fished regularly in the waters surrounding these islets, and Greek shepherds are the owners of the goats that graze on the islets. Finally environmental activities both by Greece and the European Union were carried out on the Imia rocks since 1984.
Most recently, through a written statement in mid-March 1996, Turkey asserted that, in the case of the Aegean, it abides only by those international agreements that it itself considers valid, and then only by those that both it and Greece have signed.
In other words, Turkey indirectly denied the binding power of the Italian-Turkish agreement of 1932 (which reaffirmed Italy's sovereignty over Imia, among other islands and islets) and of the Paris Peace Treaty of 1947 (in which Italy, in turn, ceded the Dodecanese islands and all adjacent islets to Greece). Thus, for the first time, Turkey questioned Greek sovereignty not just over Imia, but over all the Dodecanese islands.
Political Aspects of the Dispute
From the outset of the Imia crisis Greece has asked the Turkish government to affirm officially and unequivocally its adherence to three fundamental principles that guide relations among all civilized nations:
Unfortunately, in the past two months Turkey has consistently refused to make even these minimal and self-evident commitments. Its refusal persisted in the face of constant efforts by a number of Greece's European Union partners, as well as the United States, urging Turkey to do just that. On March 25, 1996, the Turkish government refused to commit itself to similar principles, which had previously been incorporated in the draft Common Position of the EU Foreign Ministers. As a consequence, the Council of Ministers had to postpone for the near future the scheduled EU-Turkey Association Council.
Recognizing the paucity of its legal arguments, Turkey has recently claimed that the matter (as well as other legal claims that Turkey unilaterally raises against Greek sovereignty) should be settled through negotiations. It goes without saying that all legitimate differences should be settled through dialogue. Greece has repeatedly invited Turkey to a sincere dialogue over the strengthening of the economic and cultural ties between the two countries. It has also invited Turkey to negotiations over the drafting of a compromise for the submittal of the two counties' differences over the Aegean continental shelf to the International Court of Justice.
Turkey has refused both of these proposals. Instead, in the case of Imia, it wishes to coerce Greece into bilateral negotiations over Greek sovereign rights, under the specter of the use of force. No civilized nation would willingly submit to such a process, let alone to the open disregard of international law, and neither will Greece. As seen above, the territorial status of the islets and rocks is absolutely clear, and Turkey herself -- understandably -- never challenged it in the past.
Unfortunately, Turkey's proposal appears to be nothing more than a thinly-veiled attempt to legitimize in the eyes of the international community an otherwise insupportable claim of sovereignty over territory that belongs to another sovereign nation. Indeed, when one compares Turkey's proposal for dialogue with the belligerent declarations made by former Turkish Prime Minister Tansu Ciller in the aftermath of the Imia crisis -- i.e., that 1,000 islands in the Aegean are Turkish (she later raised that figure to 3,000, which is roughly the total number of islands in the area) -- Turkey's real intentions become even more obvious. The former Turkish Prime Minister added that any attempt on the part of Greece to challenge her assessment would be a casus belli. This second threat of war comes at the heels of the Turkish Parliament's aforementioned resolution concerning the extension of Greece's territorial waters.
By challenging Greece's internationally recognized frontiers, and by using the threat of force to do so, Turkey violates the Charter of the United Nations and the principles of peaceful settlement of disputes and respect for international frontiers, which, as a signatory to the Charter of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, she has pledged to respect. In so doing, Turkey establishes itself as a real and direct threat to the peace and stability of the area and, in consequence, of Europe. If allowed to continue unchallenged, this will create an extremely dangerous precedent for all those countries that, for one reason or another, consider that the present borders of Europe are unjust.
Greece, perhaps more than any other nation, wishes to have as its neighbor a peaceful, stable, and prosperous Turkey. The absence of these factors can divert the imagination of some leaders to dangerous foreign policy adventures, as the Imia case illustrates. Greece wishes to develop friendly and peaceful relations with Turkey, and it will keep striving to achieve them in spite of any problems that may at times appear to block the way to friendship.
At the same time, neither Greece nor the international community can afford the destabilization of the Aegean region through the continuation or the encouragement of Turkey's illegal claims.
Greece, on her part, will continue to defend the principles of international law, respect for established borders, and the peaceful coexistence among nations both with respect to Turkey and with respect to all other countries in the region.