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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 December 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, Turkey is obliged within the framework of its accession course to meet basic international and European obligations with regard to respect for minority rights and religious freedoms. Greece emphasizes the importance of Turkey’s respecting the internationally recognized rights of the Greek minority and the religious freedom of the Ecumenical Patriarchate.
Despite recent steps in the right direction with regard to the Greek minority in Turkey and the Ecumenical Patriarchate, Ankara is still mired in an outdated rationale of reciprocity. Specifically, Turkey continues to mistakenly link its obligations on human rights and religious freedoms (such as the reopening of the Halki Seminary) with the Muslim minority in Thrace or even the building of mosques in Athens.
Beyond its obvious full and manifest respect for the provisions of the Treaty of Lausanne and the religious beliefs and cultural background of the Muslim minority and its members, the Greek state confronts the members of the Muslim minority and their issues in the same way that it confronts all Greek citizens: it is attentive to their desires and concerns, consulting with them and planning and implementing a consistent, cohesive policy for best meeting their needs in all areas.
Attempts from any quarter to ghettoize the minority and ignore the unique qualities of every member conflict with international law and result in the violation of human rights. The best and loudest responses to these attempts come from the minority itself, through its active and productive contribution to the political and social life of our country.
Greek-Turkish relations are an important parameter not only in the relations between the two countries, but also in the development and stability of the wider region of Southeast Europe and the Eastern Mediterranean.
Greece stresses the importance of the principle of good neighbourly relations – one of the pillars of the European Union – and makes every effort to strengthen and consolidate this principle.
Greece is making an ongoing effort to convert Greek-Turkish relations from relations of conflict into relations of cooperation. That is why Greece is extending a hand of friendship to Turkey, calling on the latter to cooperate – in the spirit of consensus and constructiveness befitting neighbours – on improving Greek-Turkish relations and ironing out tensions.