|Friday, 31 March 2023|
Unilateral Turkish claims in the Aegean
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UNILATERAL TURKISH CLAIMS IN THE AEGEAN
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.
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
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.
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.
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:
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.
a. Greek territorial waters were fixed by law in 1936 at 6 nautical miles from the Greek coast line.
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.
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.
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.
Contrary to Turkey's assertions, the militarization of the islands of the Eastern Aegean falls into three distinct categories:
Turkey cannot threaten Greece with war over Greek sovereign rights and then demand that Greece unilaterally disarm itself.
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:
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.
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.