Turkey raises the issue of “demilitarization” of the Dodecanese and sovereignty over islands and islets of the same complex (and not only). She wants the Greek islands disarmed. She talks about the demilitarization of Greek areas, while she has set up the “Army of the Aegean” targeting the Greek islands. We saw her real intentions in Cyprus and Imia.
I strongly believe that the two countries, Greece and Turkey, should not resolve their “differences” by military means. At the same time, I believe that in the case of the Aegean and the Eastern Mediterranean we are not dealing with two states whose sole disagreement is the application of United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS, 1982) but with one state, Turkey, which invokes old colonialism “rights” and denies UNCLOS. For this reason, the approach that the two countries have problems with each other that arise simply from the implementation of the Law of the Sea and that their solution is a matter of dialogue, is insufficient.
My reading of the situation is radically different from the mainstream analyses. The problems in the Aegean between Greece and Turkey do not arise unequivocally from the disagreements and disputes regarding the implementation of the Law of the Sea. On the contrary, they still arise from a unique way in the history of civilized humanity – and a provocation – of enforcing Turkey’s aspirations: The restoration of “rights” from the colonial era.
Turkey’s “historical arguments” have neither a historical nor a legal basis
Turkey disputes the Greekness of some “rocks and islets” (as defined by UNCLOS), even islands, which belong to the Dodecanese complex. She invokes gaps in the international agreements that concern them and seeks to negotiate parts of the territorial and maritime (according to UNCLOS “non-dry land”) sovereignty and rights of Greece. She argues that not all the islands and rocks of the Dodecanese were immediately handed over to Italy after the Ottoman-Italian war. Let us carefully consider the Turkish argument:
First, and most importantly, the Dodecanese, the whole complex, and its last rock, never belonged to Turkey. Not for a second in the history of the Turkish state since its birth. Turkey has never had rights to anything related to the Dodecanese.
Second, Greece “received” the Dodecanese from the British who took it after the German occupation that had succeeded that of the Italians. The latter colonized the Dodecanese after the defeat of the Ottomans in the war between them in 1913. Let us not forget that that was the period when colonial empires took over colonies of the defeated, such as the Italians from the Ottomans and later France and Britain from the Ottomans. Middle East (such as Palestine, Lebanon and Iraq). Consequently, until the Dodecanese joined Greece, they passed for a short or long time into the hands of four different colonial empires, but never into the hands of Turkey. Finally, I remind you that at least 93% of the population of the Dodecanese have identified themselves since the 19th century as Greeks.
Third, Turkey on many occasion, and what’s more officially, considers herself a non-successor state to the Ottoman Empire, especially when referring to the latter’s crimes, such as the genocide of the Pontians and Armenians. Consequently no claim can be made of this colonial empire.
Fourth, let us assume that Turkey slyly claims the Ottoman continuity on some issues and denies it on others, and that the Dodecanese are among the first. In that case it is the Ottoman Empire herself whose Turkey “is a continuation”, which handed over all the Dodecanese and therefore the latter is not entitled today to ask for anything.
The fifth is the most crucial point: When Turkey appears as the continuation of the Ottoman Empire and claims the return of rights and sovereignty over lands/seas that the latter gave to third countries, at first glance it calls for the revision of international agreements agreed under other conditions. In reality, however, it does not simply call for a “special” application of UNCLOS. She does not ask back for lands and islets/rocky islets that lost as Turkey. What is outrageous is that she is asking back lands and maritime rights held by a colonial empire of which she was a part.
In other words, Turkey seeks to overthrow modern world history, the sense of justice, but also International Law itself. She demands back lands and rights of a former colonial empire, which, she never owned. In other words, she wants to present as her modern claimed rights, outdated colonial practices and occupations. Turkey is (when it is convenient for her, of course) the first “heir” of a colonial power that considers the colonies to be her heritage even today. That, by extension, she has rights over the former colonial territories. A view that is completely hostile to history, international law and the rules of good neighborliness.
The “legal arguments”
What does Turkey invoke in order to legally support its second demand regarding the Dodecanese (their demilitarization)? The Paris Agreement of 1947. Except that she is not a “participant” in this Agreement. Consequently, he has no right to invoke and control a transnational agreement between third states (Article 34 of Vienna), which (unlike it) currently have no objection to Greek policy in the Dodecanese part of the Greek state. No state, according to international law, has rights and does not have any say in agreements, treaties, conventions of which they are not part.
Let me remind you that the provision for demilitarization was made after the insistence of the then Soviet Union. Molotov, after agreeing to the surrender of the islands to Greece, had stressed that they would not be allowed to be used against the Soviet Union in the coming Cold War. Also, at the same conference in Paris, in February 1947, Turkey submitted the request that Kastelorizo and Symi not be returned to Greece because of their proximity to the main body of Turkey. A request that was rejected “after praise”. The islands, moreover, I note, have in accordance with UNCLOS (Article 121, paragraph 2 and 3) all the rights of the mainland with regard to maritime zones.
In the 1982 UNCLOS negotiations, Colombia raised the issue of introducing the “distance criterion” so that islands and islets that are far from the mainland of their country and close to a third (Nordquist 336, paragraph 121.7) would have no rights. A request that was rejected, also after much praise, by the UNCLOS configuration conference. And of course if it was rejected for the islets, it was rejected much more for islands such as Kastelorizo.
Consequently, Turkey’s objections to the character, distances and rights of the Dodecanese have no legal or historical basis.
In short, Turkey is asking for rights it did not hold for a single day. She demands that she be given the rights of the Ottoman colonialism, of which she has often said she is not a continuation of. But despite this refusal, what she is asking for is a return to colonial settings. Something that no serious country in the world does. It is not allowed by international law, but also by the decisions of the world community, such as the UN. She also calls for the demilitarization of the Dodecanese, presenting herself as a continuation of the Soviet Union, which can only be perceived as a joke.
We of PRATTO, as Greek leftists and patriots, want peace and we fight for it. At the same time, however, we believe that our country is entitled to defend its rights. And we must defend it with diplomacy, law, and any other means needed. We are forced to do so by the continuing illegal occupation of northern Cyprus and we are reminded of this by the accumulation of aggressive military systems from Turkey in the Aegean.
PS 1 I hope the Greek government did not discuss with the Turkish government about procedures and meetings on the Cyprus issue. Greece and Turkey have no place discussing anything related to the internal operation, regulations and life of Cyprus. This is a matter exclusively for the Cypriot people that we must support with all the means at our disposal. Of course, Turkey questions the independence of Cyprus. I hope the current Greek government does not follow along that path.
PS 2 I hope that the Greek government does not discuss the Turkish demands for demilitarization of Greek islands, such as the Dodecanese. Even its own superficial yieldingness must have limits./ibna
*Nikos Kotzias is an Emeritus Professor of International Relations-Foreign Policy, former Minister of Foreign Affairs, Member of the PRATTO Movement and author