The Root Causes of the Disputes between Greece and Turkey, Prospects for Resolving

Strategic Council Online: Issues such as territorial waters, flight information areas, disputed maritime zones, arming islands, and violation of rights of Turk minority in Thrace (Muslim inhabitant regions of Greece) have been among cases to cause tension between Ankara and Athens within the recent decades. All evidences stipulate that there is no conceivable perspective to de-escalate tensions between the two countries in near future. Despite counselling and agreements already made, yet there is not adequate stability to preserve them. Thus, they can be subject to questions. Mahmoud Fazeli, International Analyst

Turkey has recently bolded the breach of international accords on prohibition of arming the islands in Aegean and Mediterranean Sea by the conservative government of Greece in international and media circles through different ways and means such as exploiting the international capacities. From Ankara point of view, although arming of islands of Aegean and Mediterranean Sea prohibited by Lausanne Treaty (1923) and Paris Peace Treaty (1947), Greece continues to arm the Islands and has turned them into weaponry arsenal, a measure that seriously threaten Turkish national security. Turks claim that as early as 1960, their restless neighbor having cited to Montreux Convention of 1936 has armed many of islands in Aegean Sea (Lemnos and Samothrace in particular) more than ever in the past.

Turkey has taken the blatant violation of laws in islands by Greece to international and regional forums. Turkey believes that if Greece fails to implement her commitments according to the treaties, she can’t claim for other maritime rights spelled out in these treaties such as specification of her maritime territory too. Turkey has issued a number of protesting notes to Athens, but the Greek government, being a NATO member, has ignored the international accords and has escalated the tensions.

Turks believe that in geography of East Mediterranean Sea, they play a very effective role in securing and safeguarding peace and stability of the region, and this is Greece who launches different military wargames with instigating measures, arming Greek islands illegally and in Aegean Sea as well as Eastern Mediterranean Sea stage provoking measures against the international laws. Contrary to 6 miles of maritime boundary, Greece has declared 10 miles as her aerial boundary and thus has breached the aerial international law.

Ankara believes that Greece, with her behavior, has threatened Turkish security, and Greece offenses may be followed by spiraling of tensions, which in turn will cause negative consequences on trans-region peace and security. They try to pretend that there is only one problem between the two countries, i.e. limits of continental shelf and exclusive economic area. In fact, this is only one out of many other old problems between the two countries such as area of territorial waters, aerial boundary, sovereignty of islands and cliffs which were not given to Greece through credible international treaties.

On the opposite side, among the Greek conservatives, there is no expression of remorse about the militarization of Aegean islands and yet, they speak of militarization of Greek islands as long as there is a threat against them. They deem the arming of the islands necessary based on their sovereign rights. Athens believes that if Greek authorities practice their legitimate rights, then Ankara threatens them with war, questions about the Greek national sovereignty and sovereign rights, occupies the territory of other countries, keeps her army and armed forces in other countries and destabilizes them.

It seems that Greece refers to the foreign policy of Turkish government (justice and development party) at this period which started with operations in Syria and based solely on military power, continued with expedition of military forces to Libya, establishment of military bases in Qatar and Somalia, measures taken by Turkish government to explore oil resources in East Mediterranean and Aegean Sea with their navy logistics. Erdogan, who has established bases from Mediterranean Sea to Red Sea, from Indian Ocean to Persian Gulf tries to float his fleets and to introduce Turkey as an independent state.

Simultaneously, within the past year when the Turkish government tolerated international pressures especially, European ones on her disputed issues with Greece and Cyprus, tries to escape the new wave of international pressures and criticisms. Thus she brings about claims against her trouble-making neighbor from one hand and from the other, tries to introduce herself as a country that seeks for good neighboring and peaceful relations as well as cooperation with them, thus to invite Greek leaders to dissuade arming the islands and abide by their commitments in  existing treaties between the parties. There is no doubt that blatant violation of existing treaties by any of the two parties causes spiraling tensions in the region and any of them will play a separate role in creating tension in the Mediterranean region through forming regional blocks and signing various multi-lateral agreements. Within the recent years, Greece tries to convert her disputes with Turkey into creating disputes between Turkey-EU, Turkey-US, and Turkey-NATO.

Aggressive attitude of both sides which is in contrast with international laws, violation of territorial and continental shelf waters, arming islands in Aegean Sea and East Mediterranean Sea have made serious challenges for the national security of both sides. In the new wave of tensions, no party assumes the responsibility of starting and continuing tensions. Any of them accuses the other side to ask for greater share in connection with maritime territorial boundaries based on small islands that are located only a few kilometers away from the other side’s coasts.

All evidences show that in near future, no clear perspective is conceivable to de-escalate the tensions. Regular political counsels ongoing between the two foreign ministries, although visits and contacts among the authorities of the two countries have also gained a new momentum, even trade, tourism relations, more scheduled flights, Izmir-Thessaloniki shipping lines projects, express railroads linking Istanbul-Thessaloniki, constructing a new bridge at a border post, and facilitating visa regulations for visitors of seven Greek islands close to Turkish coasts had all created new hopes but none of the agreements was solid enough and could be a matter of question.

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