Why Turkey, Greece remain on collision course over Aegean islands | Conflict


The Japanese Mediterranean and the islands of the Aegean, the place Greek and Turkish claims overlap, are as soon as once more within the focus amid the newest dispute between Greece and Turkey.

The complexity of the difficulty below worldwide regulation is now additional exacerbated by an absence of diplomacy.

The 2 NATO allies are nonetheless in a dispute over islands within the Aegean Sea. Particularly, Turkey rejects what it calls a “militarisation” of some islands by Greece.

Hasan Gogus, former Turkish ambassador to Greece and Austria, informed Al Jazeera that Turkey’s stance is legitimate.

“We now have a number of disputes with Greece within the Aegean Sea, such because the width of territorial waters, delimitation of the continental shelf, demilitarisation of islands or size of airspace. Whereas all points are interrelated, Greece solely acknowledges the existence of the continental shelf dispute,” he mentioned.

“Many of the Greek islands within the Aegean Sea are in shut proximity to the Turkish mainland, similar to Kastellorizo or Kos. These islands got to Greece [under the 1947 Paris Peace Treaty] on the situation of demilitarisation. Nevertheless, Greece violates this provision,” mentioned Gogus.

In the meantime, from a Greek viewpoint, Turkey is making claims which are supported neither by the established order nor by worldwide regulation.

“Greece considers the Aegean Sea a elementary a part of the Greek territory given the 1000’s of islands and Greeks dwelling there,” Sotirios Zartaloudis, affiliate professor in comparative European politics on the College of Birmingham informed Al Jazeera.

“Furthermore, the Aegean Sea is for Greece of nice geopolitical and strategic significance as Europe’s southeastern frontier to the east and the Center East together with the Black Sea,” he mentioned.

map of greece and turkey

The authorized bases are discovered within the treaties of Lausanne (1923), Montreux (1936) and Paris (1947), whereby the treaties signed in Lausanne and Paris regulate which island belongs to which nation.

Nevertheless, the treaty of Montreux was supposed to exchange the treaty of Lausanne partially, and Turkey has basically been deriving its claims from the latter.

Ankara’s interpretation therefore creates a fancy state of affairs regarding sovereign rights within the East Aegean, Dimitris Papadimitriou, professor of politics on the College of Manchester, informed Al Jazeera.

“The standing of the Aegean islands concerning their ‘demilitarisation’ is a fancy authorized challenge, and the 2 sides have very totally different interpretations concerning the obligations that emanate from these treaties. Given the present local weather of distrust, it’s troublesome to think about how a bilateral negotiation in an effort to discover a widespread language might succeed,” he mentioned.

Brink of armed battle

Two years in the past, the edges got here to the brink of navy battle as tensions rose over vitality assets within the japanese Meditarennean. Since then, even diplomatic rapprochement appeared conceivable.

Nevertheless, Ankara’s rhetoric modified drastically after Greece’s Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis visited america final month and referred to as on Washington to rethink arms gross sales to Turkey.

An affront, in Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s view. The Turkish chief introduced he wouldn’t meet once more the Greek aspect till an “trustworthy politician” was in entrance of him.

Since then, the dispute has spiralled, together with a large-scale Turkish navy manoeuvre, which Erdogan attended. In truth, his look made international headlines when he not directly threatened conflict.

Not solely did Erdogan warn Greece of “catastrophic penalties”, however urged his neighbour to “keep away from desires, statements and actions that it might remorse”.

“I’m not joking,” Erdogan mentioned.

Regardless of the rhetoric from Ankara, Greece, to this point, has not but ceased diplomatic efforts.

“Though the final media discourse in Greece stays very hostile in direction of Turkey, the response by the Greek authorities was comparatively muted,” Papadimitriou mentioned.

Greek Foreign Minister Nikos Dendias and his Turkish counterpart Mevlut Cavusoglu
Greek Overseas Minister Nikos Dendias and his Turkish counterpart Mevlut Cavusoglu at a information convention in Athens [File: Costas Baltas/Reuters]

Greek Overseas Minister Nikos Dendias emphasised through the summit of Southeast European international locations final week that Greece wouldn’t contribute to the escalation by taking part in “insulting statements, unlawful and inappropriate calls for and accusations”.

On the similar time, the Greek international ministry printed 16 maps supposed to doc “the extent of Turkish revisionism”, supposed to show Turkish territorial claims from 1923 to the current day.

“Greek authorities officers proceed to accuse Turkey that it suffers ‘delusions of imperialist grandeur’,” Papadimitriou mentioned.

“Mitsotakis, when requested if he would meet once more with President Erdogan, replied: ‘in fact, I’d.’ This exhibits that the Greek authorities doesn’t wish to reduce off all channels of communication with Turkey though, when it comes to coverage substance, the chasm between the 2 international locations stays huge,” he mentioned.

Nevertheless, given Erdogan’s rhetoric, Athens can be even much less inclined to demilitarise the islands.

“Greece argues that any navy presence/gear on the islands is there for coaching causes and deterrence/defence. Greece additionally argues that any navy presence on the Greek islands is just not aimed in direction of/in opposition to Turkey except Turkey assaults Greece,” Zartaloudis mentioned.

Greece considers that navy presence its proper to self-defence, alluding to the quite a few touchdown craft on the west coast of Turkey and common violations of Greek airspace by Turkish fighter jets.

“The Greek governments declare they fear about Turkey’s heavy navy presence close to the Greek border and the Greek islands within the Aegean Sea, which Greece argues is a standby expeditionary pressure. A compromise might be a mutually agreed de-escalation – unlikely for my part,” Zartaloudis mentioned.

The EU and NATO

Given this obvious conundrum, the EU referred to as upon Turkey to behave “constructively”.

“Escalating steps and rhetoric” have to be prevented and changed with “good neighbourly relations”, Brussels urged.

NATO Secretary-Common Jens Stoltenberg inspired Greece and Turkey to settle their variations and keep away from any motion or rhetoric that might escalate the state of affairs.

Nonetheless, the present state of affairs raises varied questions in Greece and, as so typically in these circumstances, the long run is sophisticated to foretell.

“Public opinion in Greece is properly versed within the hostile rhetoric from each side of the Aegean. Nevertheless, most people doesn’t realise how rapidly an ‘accident’ within the Aegean can escalate into full-scale conflict,” Papadimitriou mentioned.

“Many individuals speculated that the conflict in Ukraine would solely final a couple of days. We are actually into the fourth month of battle with no indicators of the conflict ending quickly. An analogous situation for Greece and Turkey is just not science fiction. That’s the reason it will be important that the rhetoric clams down and that channels of communication between the 2 sides stay open,” he added.

Most hope that Erdogan’s conflict rhetoric is merely a part of his marketing campaign technique. With a presidential election looming, and a painful financial state of affairs in Turkey – inflation is presently at 70 p.c – some analysts are optimistic that the home state of affairs in Turkey may have an effect on how the battle proceeds.

“The potential of a Greek-Turkish battle additionally arises from inner dynamics in Turkey, if, as an example, the Greek-Turkish relations grow to be salient amongst Turkish voters. Forces in favour or in opposition to Erdogan could wish to use battle to spice up or dent his reputation.

“Nevertheless, the hope is that NATO, the US, the navy deterrence from each side together with Erdogan’s rationalism about his personal political survival will stop an open battle,” Zartaloudis mentioned.

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