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Article by Minister of Foreign Affairs, Nikos Dendias, in the Athens daily “Kathimerini,” (15 September 2020)
“Unilateral claims do not constitute inter-state disputes”
Peace and security for coming generations, good faith and dialogue ought to be the common goal of two neighbours. Especially of neighbours like Greece and Turkey, whose bilateral relations have a fraught past and complicated present.
In the case of Turkey, what’s needed is the path that will lead us there. It is a rocky path, but we must be optimistic that we can walk it. As a modern European country, Greece is committed to the peaceful resolution of any differences with its neighbouring states through dialogue and consultation.
Playing the blame game is the easy solution. Talk of mutual respect, of peaceful settlement of disputes in good faith and through dialogue is also easy and appealing.
Who could disagree?
What happens though when actions belie words?
When violations of national sovereignty and of sovereign rights in the Eastern Mediterranean or the Aegean number in the thousands, trending upwards?
When illegal acts on Greece’s continental shelf -the right to which, according to International Law, exists ipso facto and ab initio and was not created by some statement- escalate? And with warships in tow?
Or, when Turkey threatens Greece with war, should it decide to exercise its lawful right to extend its territorial waters to 12 nautical miles – a threat that violates the fundamental principles of the UN Charter?
Turkey’s persistent violations and its policy of faits accomplis do not create law or produce any legal effect. In fact, they undermine any existing sense of trust between the two sides. Greece constantly underscores this to the Turkish side, calling on it to dialogue and respect of international legality. Greece has never been the one levelling threats, directly or indirectly. It has never attempted to impose its will by projecting power. It does not violate or attempts to dispute international legality, and has never referred to its neighbouring countries in unbecoming terms.
Greece proclaims the obvious: that sovereign rights in maritime zones are not the product of individual perceptions of the law, nor do they vary depending on the balance of power or size between states. They are provided for, clearly and equally for all states, by the customary and conventional law of the sea. Which is binding for all states. Whether they like it or not.
UN and EU member states don’t just disappear from the map because someone fails to recognize them. Whole islands are not simply wiped off the map so that new geographical contiguities, legal monstrosities and artificial, illegal agreements can be created arbitrarily. Nor do the lawful sovereign rights of islands, as stipulated by International Law, constitute maximalist claims.
Nor, of course, do unilateral claims of states constitute inter-state disputes. There is one and only one dispute between Greece and Turkey. That of the delimitation of the continental shelf and EEZ.
We are ready to resume dialogue that will lead to negotiations on the settlement of this dispute or to its referral to the International Court in The Hague. In other words, we will continue to walk the walk of international legality, like other Mediterranean countries did in order to resolve similar disputes.
We proved so very recently by signing agreements on the delimitation of EEZs with Italy and Egypt, following long and difficult negotiations. We aspire to achieve the same with the rest of our neighbours including Turkey, with which we will always coexist.
We can coexist in peace, by extending a hand of friendship and pursuing mutual understanding and mutual respect. Our peoples have much to teach us in this regard.
But this depends first and foremost on Turkey.