Are we close to the new era in Turkish-Greek relations?
The Greek daily To Vima last week claimed that Turkey acknowledged Greece's decision to expand its territorial waters from six to 12 nautical miles. The newspapers say that it was agreed at a meeting of delegations of foreign ministries of both countries.
If this is confirmed, this will be a major shift in Turkish politics on this topic. Turkey and Greece have a large list of problems concerning their claims and counterattacks in the Aegean Sea and elsewhere. Questions on the Aegean include the issue of the continental shelf of the Anatolian land. The borders of this shelf have not yet been disclosed, and Turkey claims that the shelf extends beyond the Greek islands located near the Anatolian shore. The continental shelf is important for the exploration of oil and gas and for the extraction of other natural resources.
Another problem is the demilitarized status of Greek islands in the eastern part of Aegean. When the Ottoman Empire was defeated in the Balkan wars of 1912-13, it had to cancel almost all of its Aegean islands in Greece, provided it would be demilitarized. But, as the years passed, Greece militarized them.
The third problem is the line that divides the flight control zones through the Aegean. This is the line where, when crossed, pilots must identify their plane to the ground control station. Greece uses this line as the limit of its national airspace and harasses Turkish military planes crossing the line, claiming they have broken the Greek airspace.
The fourth is the status of uninhabited islands, rocks and geographical formations in the Aegean Islands. Turkey says that if the name of such a trip is not mentioned in any of the international agreements, it should remain in the territory of Turkey, because all these islands belonged to the Ottoman Empire, and only those listed in the agreements were transferred to Greece.
The fifth problem is the subject of this article and refers to the breadth of territorial waters of the Greek islands in the Aegean Sea. In 1995, the Greek parliament approved the government to expand its territorial waters at 12 nautical miles when considered appropriate. The Turkish parliament responded by saying that, if Greece did, it was considered "casus belli" – a legitimate reason for the declaration of war.
The reason for Turkey's harsh response is that many Greek islands in the Aegean Sea are so close to the Turkish coast and one another that when you pull out a 12-mile round around each Greek island, the Turkish ports of Aegean will be completely interrupted by the great sea and Turkish ships will not be able to sail even from one Turkish port to another without crossing the territorial waters of the Greek Islands.
This agreement leaves outside its area a number of other open issues between the two countries, including the status of uninhabited islands, rocks and geographical formations; determination of exclusive economic zones in the open sea; demilitarized status of the eastern Aegean Islands; and the question of the island's continental police.
Turkish ships will be able to cross Greek territorial waters solely by using their right to "innocent dog", which means that the Greek authorities will have the right to lead and inspect any Turkish ship using this right. Turkey says such restrictions will become a serious obstacle for free movement of Turkish ships and a strangulation of the nation.
Vima also says that the Greek decision will not apply to the northern shores of Turkey around the canal, in Dardanel's belt; the territorial waters will be retained as six nautical miles in Dodecanese (the so-called Twelve Region) in the south of the Aegean; and that territorial waters in the eastern Aegean will not extend to 12 nautical miles.
Greece will also adjust the boundaries of its airspace to the new breadth of territorial waters.
It was said that the two delegations agreed that, if the agreement on territorial waters and airspace ends, the parties may refer to the issue of delineation of the continental list to the International Court of Justice in The Hague.
This agreement leaves outside its area a number of other open issues between the two countries, including the status of uninhabited islands, rocks and geographical formations; determination of exclusive economic zones in the open sea; demilitarized status of the eastern Aegean Islands; and the question of the island's continental police. None of these will be easy to solve. It is possible to expect strong objections by opposition parties in the Turkish parliament when it comes to ratifying this agreement, but the reign of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan over his party of the ruling majority, the AKP, can ensure ratification without any accident
If it is completed, it may be the beginning of a new era in Turkish-Greek relations and can lead to the resolution of other problems.
- Iasar Iakis is Turkey's former foreign minister and founder of the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP). Twitter: @ iakis_iasar
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