Saturday, 10 December 2016
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Issues of Greek - Turkish Relations

In the early 1970s, Turkey initiated a systematic policy of contentions and claims  against the sovereignty, sovereign rights and international responsibilities of Greece in maritime, island and air space.

The goal of this newly formed policy against Greece was and is the changing of the territorial status quo provided for in international treaties – the Treaty of Lausanne being pivotal among these – and the legal status of maritime zones and airspace as they legally derive from international law and from the law of the sea.

The initiation of this policy ushered in a new chapter of tension in Greek-Turkish relations that has lasted until today, and was marked by the first  claims on the Greek continental shelf, in 1973, and the first disputing of the extent of Greek national airspace, in 1975.

The advent of this new Turkish policy coincided with the Turkish invasion of Cyprus in July 1974 and the subsequent Turkish occupation of the northern portion of Cyprus, which continues to this day, decisively impacting relations between the two countries and increasing tensions.

Starting at that time, Turkey began to weave a canvass of ever-increasing disputes and claims that even brought the two countries to the brink of armed conflict (crisis of March 1987 and Imia crisis of January 1996).

Starting with the dispute over the delimitation of the continental shelf (1973) and the crisis that followed – bringing the two countries into intense disagreement, which was taken in hand, on Greece’s initiative, by both the UN Security Council and the International Court in the Hague – Turkey started to implement the policy of constantly increasing contentions and claims, including:

•  contesting Greece’s legal right, on threat of war (casus belli), to extend its territorial sea to 12 nautical miles, as provided for by the Law of the Sea, and as has been done by virtually all coastal states in the international community, with very few exceptions;
•  disputing the extent of Greek national airspace, through constant violations by Turkish fighter aircraft;
•  contesting Greek sovereignty over islands (theretofore unheard-of grey zones theory) and violation of that sovereignty even in cases of inhabited islands;
•  disputing the delimitation of territorial sea.
•  disputing responsibilities within the Athens FIR, which are exercised by Greece based on ICAO decisions, and constant refusal on the part of Turkey to comply with air traffic regulations;
•  disputing Greece’s responsibilities within the region of Greek responsibility for search and rescue matters;
•  demanding the demilitarization of the islands of the Eastern Aegean.

Turkey promotes the aforementioned contentions in practice through methods that contravene the fundamental principles of the UN Charter (threat of war, violations carried out with armed fighter aircraft over inhabited islands, etc.).

What is Greece’s reply to the Turkish stance? Greece is firmly dedicated to the principle of peaceful resolution of disputes based on international law. Greece’s dedication to international law is not theoretical – it is manifest, given that Greece has stated its acceptance of the general mandatory jurisdiction of the International Court in The Hague, with the exception of dipsutes involving the taking of military measures of a defensive nature for security reasons, while, Greece has signed and ratified the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (1982).

Within this framework, Greece is pursuing the resolution of the only outstanding dispute between Greece and Turkey, in accordance with regulations of international law and specifically the law of the sea. This dispute is of a legal nature and concerns the delimitation of the continental shelf.

Turkey’s European perspective plays a particularly important role in Greek-Turkish relations. Greece is a firm and sincere supporter of Turkey’s EU accession course, because Greece believes that the European Union is a catalyst for regional stability and growth, and that Turkey’s accession will benefit Turkey itself, Europe and the wider region.

A fundamental precondition for Turkey’s accession to the European Union is, of course, the timely fulfilment of the accession criteria, including respect for the principle of good neighbourly relations. Within this framework, the peaceful resolution of differences – including, if necessary, recourse to the International Court in The Hague – has emerged as one of the basic criteria, prerequisites and priorities within the framework of Turkey’s accession process, and it has been set down in the fundamental accession texts (Negotiating Framework, Accession Partnership), as well as in the Enlargement Strategy, the annual Progress Reports, Council Conclusions and other official EU texts.

Beyond that, on the course of its accession negotiations, Turkey should meet international and European standards with regard to minority rights and religious freedom. Greece lays emphasis on the respect by Turkey of the internationally recognized rights of the Greek minority and the religious freedom of the Ecumenical Patriarchate.

Despite recent steps forward, Ankara obstinately follows an obsolete rationale of reciprocity with regard to the Greek minority and the status of the Ecumenical Patriarchate. Namely, Turkey insists in coupling the respect of human rights and religious freedom within its territory with the status of the Greek citizens of Muslim faith.

In this respect, the Greek State fully and actively complies with general international law provisions on the protection of minority human rights as well as with particular provisions of the 1923 Lausanne Treaty. Despite their distinct religious and cultural identity, Greek Muslims who reside in the Region of Thrace equally enjoy their rights before law, as every Greek and EU citizen. The Greek Government is in a constant dialogue with the Muslim population in Thrace, consults with them periodically and pursues policies aiming at addressing effectively their needs and contributing to their comprehensive political participation.

Turkey tries to hijack the identity of Muslim Greeks claiming an exclusive Turkish identity, neglecting the distinct cultures of Pomaks and Roma Muslim Greeks. These attempts violate international law and the rights of the members of the minority.

Improving Greek-Turkish relations is an important factor with regard not only to the relations between the two countries, but also with regard to the development and stability of the wider region of Southeastern Europe and Eastern Mediterranean. Greece upholds the importance of good neighborly relations –a full-fledged Copenhagen criterion– and spares no effort in their establishment.

Greece aspires to turn the Greece-Turkey relationship to a cooperative one, instead of creating tension, and this is why Greece calls on Turkey to come forth with willingness and constructive spirit for the complete normalization of this relation. After all, this is appropriate for neighbouring countries.

For information on Greek-Turkish bilateral relations, click here.