Grey theories in Aegean

The 1996 Imia crisis is still haunting Greek Foreign Policy.

Thirteen years later, the events which led Greece and Turkey a step closer to war are still current, as long as Ankara continues to raise doubts over Athens’ sovereignty in Aegean Sea.

By the occasion of Michalis Ignatiou and Athanasios Ellis’ book Imia: the classified documents of the Americans, which was published recently, we can examine an aspect of the then incident: the legal situation in eastern Aegean that unambiguously justifies the Greek position.

There are more than one arguments regarding the motives which led to the January 1996 crisis.

Its however clear that Turkey created the crisis over Imia rocky islands seeking specific benefits. Trying to take Turks’ mind off the internal problems, the then Ciller government wanted to change the “status quo” in the area, questioning in practice Greece’s dominance in eastern Aegean.

That continues to be the major issue in Greek-Turkish relations and, despite Turkey’s obligations towards its E.U. course, nobody could assure that a new Imia crisis will not happen sometime in the future.

In 1996, Ankara failed to drag Simitis’ government in bilateral negotiations regarding the status of Imia (which was a major aim) but succeeded to put on the map the theory of “grey zones”.

Taking advantage from the fact that there is not a Greek-Turkish official agreement which delimitate the sea borders in the Dodecanese, Turkey’s leadership set up a theory: that the islands which aren’t nominally included in the signed international treaties do not belong to Greece, but come under a questionable legal status.

This argument consists the basis of the unfounded “grey zones” policy.

However, it intentionally ignores International law.

Firstly, the 1923 Treaty of Laussane limited Turkey’s sovereignty – except from Imvros, Tenedos and Lagouses – exclusively over the islands being within three-mile limit off its coast. More specifically, according to article 16 of the above Treaty, Turkey “renounces all rights and title whatsoever” over the islands which do not belong to its territory.

Secondly, in January 1932, the Italian-Turkish Treaty precisely delimitated the maritime frontier between Castelorizo island and the eastern Turkish coast.

A supplementary agreement (protocol), which was signed on December of the same year, makes a clear reference to the rocky island of Imia as part of Italy.

The Dodecanese islands, as well as the adjecent islets, were ceded by Italy to Greece in the 1947 Paris Treaty – therefore, since then Imia consist property of Greece as long as under International law the successor country assumes all rights and obligations that have been established by previous international treaties (1923, 1932).

The 1996 Imia incident proved that Greece has three major choices in order to resolve the
“grey zones” gordian knot created by Turkey.

The first one is to accept Ankara’s desire for direct bilateral dialogue, which in fact consists an “anatolian bazaar”.

It would be in the best interests of Turkey to get Greece into a give-and-take negotiation over eastern Aegean, including sovereignty over islets and sharing of territorial waters.

However, its clear that Greece can keep the right to expand its territorial waters to 12 miles (from today’s 6 miles) and cannot put in bazaar’s negotiations the actual validity of International Treaties.

The second one is to get in a fruitless military competition with Turkey and to respond to bravado provocative threats of the other side.

In 1996 this choice was unwisely proposed by those who see Foreign Policy through the prism of costless ultra-nationalism and populist rhetoric.

But, apart from the negative economic reverberation (5-6 percent of Greece’s annual budget goes to weaponry), this pathway leads again to bilateral negotiations and puts in danger the present status quo of Aegean.

If Costas Simitis had decided to respond militarily to Turkey’s provocation, in January 1996, the cost for the country would be double and perhaps irreversible.

Therefore, a third choice remains.

The appeal to the Hague International Court of Justice which, in accordance with the standing International law, will settle three disputes: the territorial waters (since 1994, the “common law” of the Sea gives the right to Greece to expand its borders to 12 miles), the continental shelf issue and the matter of eastern Aegean islands’ demilitarization.

Such a decision by the International Court of Justice would be obligating for Ankara, especially when Turkey is under Brussels’ observation regarding its E.U. course. What is sure is that we don’t want another Imia incident and its about time to drag the opportunity and put an end to the “grey stories” of Turkish nationalism.