Ankara Calling for the Demilitarization of Greek islands

The latest statements of Turkish Defense Minister, Hulusi Akar, have fueled further the already increased tension between Greece and Turkey. Akar, during his visit to one of the major players of the Turkish Defense Industry, missile producer Roketsan, publicly stated that Greece “illegally” maintains armed forces in sixteen islands in the Aegean Sea. He stressed out that Athens should stop ignoring international treaties and demilitarize the aforementioned areas. He also referred to the developments in Libya pointing that the Turkish controversial moves in the region are fully compliant with international law and Greece should reconsider its stance and start behaving as a trustworthy neighbor. With regards to Cyprus, he repeated that Ankara has been doing and will continue to take all the appropriate measures to protect the Turkish-Cypriot community of the island and the rights of the self-proclaimed Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus (TRNC), the de facto state established in the north of the island after the Turkish invasion in 1974, which is internationally recognized only by Turkey.

The rationale behind the Turkish claims

But where are these Turkish demands for demilitarization coming from? Akar is referring to a series of treaties among Greece, Turkey and other countries, that have been signed during the 20th century and which dictate the status of the Aegean islands. The Greek islands in the Aegean Sea according to these treaties could be categorized as below:

Samothrace and Lemnos Islands in the Northern Aegean

According to the 1923 Treaty of Lausanne, the islands of Samothrace and Lemnos should be demilitarized, and this is one of the main pillars of the Turkish -unfounded- argument. Unfounded because the 1936 Montreux Convention Regarding the Regime of the Straits, has replaced the provisions of the Lausanne Treaty for the aforementioned islands and fully restored the rights of Greece to station armed forces there. Turkey has approved the Montreux Convention, and the Turkish Minister of Foreign Affairs at the time, Dr. Tevfik Rüştü Aras, has explicitly accepted all the provisions of the Convention both home and abroad.

Ikaria, Chios, Lesvos and Samos Islands

With regard to these islands, Article 13 of the 1923 Treaty of Lausanne clarifies that Greece should not establish “naval base and fortification” in their territory. Indeed, Greece has been following these instructions ever since, establishing a military presence in these islands within the limitations of the Treaty. Additionally, there is another provision referring to those islands, advising that Greek and Turkish military aircraft should avoid flying over these areas. Here we should address a serious contradiction of the Turkish accusations, since the Turkish Air Force has been breaching the Greek airspace, with fighter jets flying over these islands, on a regular basis over the last decades. This is a quite interesting fact, the implications of which could be further examined in another article in the near future.

Dodecanese – Islands of Southeastern Aegean

Those islands in the Southeastern part of the Aegean Sea, have been under Italian occupation since 1912, and have been granted to Greece with the Treaty of Paris in 1947. According to this treaty, those islands should be demilitarized and in this context, Greece has officially stationed only National Guard units in those locations, in compliance with the Treaty on Conventional Armed Forces in Europe (CFE). On top of that, particularly for the case of Dodecanese, the status of Turkey is deemed as res inter alios acta, considering that Greece and Italy are the two contracting parties in the treaty, therefore any Turkish objections for the past and current status of the islands are simply irrelevant.

It is apparent that the Turkish claims cannot be backed by international treaties or any interpretation of the International Law; however, using the alleged demilitarization argument, is not a new tactic for Ankara. Every time Turkey crosses the lines, causing international criticism over a dispute with Greece, the same rhetoric is being adopted in an effort to provoke Athens, boost the morale of the Turkish public and disorientate the international community. It is notable that similar comments have been made again by Akar, less than a year ago.

The Greek Reaction

The Greek Side has promptly responded to the provocative statements of the Turkish Minister, with an official press release from the Hellenic Ministry of Foreign Affairs. The Turkish stance has been described as hypocritic, considering that Ankara is continuously questioning the territorial integrity of the neighboring countries and regularly ignores the International Law, or interprets it according to the Turkish interests; there has also been a special reference to the violation of the UN-imposed arms embargo in Libya. Concluding, the Greek response highlighted the significance of the legitimate right to self-defense; a right that every sovereign state has and the Turkish side seems to be persistently ignoring, according to the Greek statement.

The implications of this announcement are even more interesting when combined with the assertions made by the newly-appointed Chief of the Hellenic National Defence General Staff a couple of days ago. General Konstantinos Floros, during the Change of Command Ceremony on January 21, stated that Greece is currently going through a turbulent and challenging period, with regards to the ongoing geopolitical developments within and around the country. According to the Greek General, the most appropriate way to maintain stability and peace in the region is to be constantly well-prepared for war.