AHMP Letter to the New York Times, February 5, 1996

Letters to the Editor
The New York Times
229 West 43rd Street
New York, NY 10036-3959


Stephen Engelberg's January 31st article, "U.S. Is Trying to Help Cool Aegean Anger", presents your readers with a superficial and distorted picture of the real issues underlying recent Turkish claims to a tiny pair of islets that have been recognized as Greek territory by international law for half a century. Your February 3rd Editorial, "Aegean Tantrum", is guilty of worse -- not simply marginalizing crucial and pressing Greek fears over what is clearly a policy of Turkish expansionism, but unconscionably implying that it is Greece that is "extend[ing] territorial claims in the eastern Aegean region".

Even a superficial inquiry, independent of Washington's expedient diplomacy, should have apprised the New York Times that the evidence in support of Greek sovereignty over the Imia islets is overwhelming and incontrovertible. Official aeronautical maps by the U.S. Air Force clearly and consistently delineate the Imia islets as Greek territory. The 1932 Treaty of Lausanne, ratified by both Greece and Turkey, specifically limits Turkish sovereignty to islets less than three nautical miles from Turkey's coastline, excluding Imia. Clearly dispositive of Turkey's claim over Imia is the fact that Turkey itself, as a signatory to a binding international agreement, had explicitly recognized the island as belonging to the Dodecanese territory which Italy later ceded to Greece under the 1947 Treaty of Paris.

Significantly, Turkey had not raised any issues regarding Greece's sovereignty over Imia and other islands in the Aegean until the 1970's, when Turkey invaded and occupied Cyprus and initiated a systematic policy of disputing Greek islands, airspace and territorial waters in the Aegean. Turkish fighter jets continue to routinely violate even undisputed Greek airspace on a weekly basis, not simply to alternatively test and harass Greece's armed forces and minimize Greece's control over her own skies, but to create a precedent for future territorial claims. By provoking and escalating the Imia incident, Turkey hoped to place the Aegean's entire territorial order into question, forcing Greece to negotiate for what already belongs to her.

Although the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea gives Greece the right to extend her territorial waters 12 nautical miles from her continental shelf, the Turkish Parliament solemnly passed a unanimous resolution last summer empowering their government to declare war against Greece in advance should Greece exercise this right. Prime Minister Tansu Ciller threatened that Turkey "will have troops landed on the Greek islands within twenty-four hours" should Greece claim her territorial waters. And Turkey has been preparing to make good on this threat: the organization of its Aegean Army during the past thirty years has focused on preparations for a large-scale maritime invasionary force containing the largest fleet of landing craft in Europe.

Despite the media's mischaracterization of Athens' response to the Imia provocation, Greece has in fact acted with great restraint. To appreciate the validity of this statement one must simply imagine a scenario of a Cuban or Russian claim over an uninhabited island in the Florida Keys during the height of the Cold War, backed by a concomitant military buildup around the island, a Soviet flag being planted, and finally a raid and occupation of the island by Soviet commandos while American soldiers were defending its shores. Yet Greece not only agreed to withdraw its forces from the area, but further agreed to remove its flag from the island.

When attempting to deal with conflict in this area of the world, you ignore history at your own peril. The U.S.'s failure to appreciate the importance of historical context and confrontation by proxy in the region's geopolitical alchemy has been a major reason for its policy failures in the Balkans and the Middle East. In keeping with this myopic approach, the Times editorial characterized the Imia dispute as a "reckless little showdown over rocks, goats and flags". Scratching the surface would have revealed far more: a bubbling cauldron of insecurity, fear and loathing; of apocalyptic carnage, incomprehensible brutality and archetypal nightmares unresolved and seared deep within a people's collective memory.

The rule of law is constantly touted by our nation's leaders as the measure of international conduct. We launched a massive invasion against Iraq to uphold the principle of non-aggression. We are sending thousands of American men and women over to Bosnia to stem the rampant human rights violations there. Yet when the third largest recipient of U.S. military aid endemically violates these very same principles, the State Department pooh-poohs its transgressions and rewards it with 120 ATACMS missiles, a highly advanced deep-strike weapon so devastating that it has not yet been sold to any other nation, and one that international human rights organizations are convinced Turkey will use against civilians.

The implications of this open hypocrisy are more than simply academic. They have very real and far-reaching consequences. Many a transgressing nation -- including that of the Bosnian Serbs, Iraq, Iran and Lybia -- has explicitly cited to the U.S.'s blatant double-standard with regard to Turkey as a genuine motivational factor behind its own actions. How can we expect the Serbs not to view U.S. condemnation with suspicion, if not outright contempt, when Turkey has been allowed to ethnically cleanse hundreds of thousands of Kurds and Greeks from Kurdistan and Cyprus within the last two decades? How can we expect Lybia and Iraq to take our censure of their own violations seriously when Turkey is allowed to openly flout U.N. resolutions, binding international treaties, and fundamental human rights protections with impunity?

Imia may indeed be "a tiny island inhabited by several dozen goats", but the horns that totter above its craggy surface may prove to be far sharper and have far greater consequences than Mr. Engelberg, the NY Times, or Asst. Secretary of State Richard Holbrooke are ready to recognize.

Very truly yours,

Phillip Spyropoulos, Esq.

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