The Aegean dispute is a set of interrelated controversial issues for decades between Greece and Turkey over sovereignty and related rights in the area of the Aegean Sea. This set of conflicts has had a large effect on Greek–Turkish relations since the 1970s. It has twice led to crises coming close to the outbreak of military hostilities, in 1987 and in early 1996. The issues in the Aegean fall into several categories:
- The delimitation of the territorial waters,
- The delimitation of the national airspace,
- The delimitation of exclusive economic zones and the use of the continental shelf,
- The delimitation of flight information regions (FIR), and their significance for the control of military flight activity,
- The issue of the demilitarized status assigned to some of the Greek islands in the area,
- Turkish claims of "grey zones" of undetermined sovereignty over a number of small islets, most notably the islets of Imia/Kardak.
Between 1998 and the early 2010s, the two countries had been coming closer to overcome the tensions through a series of diplomatic measures, particularly with a view to easing Turkey's accession to the European Union. However, as of 2018, differences over suitable diplomatic paths to a substantial solution are still unresolved.
Maritime and aerial zones of influence
Several of the Aegean issues deal with the delimitation of both countries' zones of influence in the air and on the sea around their respective territories. These issues owe their virulence to a geographical peculiarity of the Aegean sea and its territories. While the mainland coasts of Greece and Turkey bordering the Aegean Sea on both sides represent roughly equal shares of its total coastline, the overwhelming number of the many Aegean islands belong to Greece. In particular, there is a chain of Greek islands lined up along the Turkish west coast (Lesbos, Chios, Samos, and the Dodecanese islands), partly in very close proximity to the mainland. Their existence blocks Turkey from extending any of its zones of influence beyond a few nautical miles off its coastline. As the breadth of maritime and areal zones of influence, such as the territorial waters and national airspace, are measured from the nearest territory of the state in question, including its islands, any possible extension of such zones would necessarily benefit Greece much more than Turkey proportionally.
According to a popular perception of these issues in the two countries, Turkey is concerned that Greece might be trying to extend its zones of influence to such a degree that it would turn the Aegean effectively into a "Greek lake". Conversely, Greece is concerned that Turkey might try to "occupy half of the Aegean", i.e. establish Turkish zones of influence towards the middle of the Aegean, beyond the chain of outlying Greek islands, turning these into a kind of exclave surrounded by Turkish waters, and thus cutting them off from their motherland.
Territorial waters give the littoral state full control over air navigation in the airspace above, and partial control over shipping, although foreign ships (both civil and military) are normally guaranteed innocent passage through them. The standard width of territorial waters that countries are customarily entitled to has steadily increased in the course of the 20th century: from initially 3 nautical miles (5.6 km) at the beginning of the century, to 6 nautical miles (11 km), and currently 12 nautical miles (22 km). The current value has been enshrined in treaty law by the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea of 1982 (Art.3). In the Aegean the territorial waters claimed by both sides are still at 6 miles. The possibility of an extension to 12 miles has fuelled Turkish concerns over a possible disproportionate increase in Greek-controlled space. Turkey has refused to become a member of the convention and does not consider itself bound by it. Turkey considers the convention as res inter alios acta, i.e. a treaty that can only be binding to the signing parties but not to others. Greece, which is a party to the convention, has stated that it reserves the right to apply this rule and extend its waters to 12 miles at some point in the future, although it has never actually attempted to do so. It holds that the 12 mile rule is not only treaty law but also customary law, as per the wide consensus established among the international community. Against this, Turkey argues that the special geographical properties of the Aegean Sea make a strict application of the 12 mile rule in this case illicit in the interest of equity. Turkey has itself applied the customary 12 mile limit to its coasts outside the Aegean.
Tensions over the 12 mile question ran highest between the two countries in the early 1990s, when the Law of the Sea was going to come into force. On 9 June 1995, the Turkish parliament officially declared that unilateral action by Greece would constitute a casus belli, i.e. reason to go to war. This declaration has been condemned by Greece as a violation of the Charter of the United Nations, which forbids "the threat or use of force against the territorial integrity or political independence of any state".
The national airspace is normally defined as the airspace covering a state's land territory and its adjacent territorial waters. National airspace gives the sovereign state a large degree of control over foreign air traffic. While civil aviation is normally allowed passage under international treaties, foreign military and other state aircraft (unlike military vessels in the territorial waters) do not have a right to free passage through another state's national airspace. The delimitation of national airspace claimed by Greece is unique, as it does not coincide with the boundary of the territorial waters. Greece claims 10 nautical miles (19 km) of airspace, as opposed to currently 6 miles of territorial waters. Since 1974, Turkey has refused to acknowledge the validity of the outer 4-mile belt of airspace that extends beyond the Greek territorial waters. Turkey cites the statutes of the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) of 1948, as containing a binding definition that both zones must coincide. Against this, Greece argues that:
- its 10-nautical-mile (19 km) claim predates the ICAO statute, having been fixed in 1931, and that it was acknowledged by all its neighbours, including Turkey, before and after 1948, hence constituting an established right;
- its 10-mile claim can also be interpreted as just a partial, selective use of the much wider rights guaranteed by the Law of the Sea, namely the right to a 12-mile zone both in the air and on the water;
- Greek territorial waters are set at the 6 mile boundary only because of Turkey's casus belli.
The conflict over military flight activities has led to a practice of continuous tactical military provocations, with Turkish aircraft flying in the outer 4 mile zone of contentious airspace and Greek aircraft intercepting them. These encounters often lead to so-called "dog-fights", dangerous flight maneuvers that have repeatedly ended in casualties on both sides. In one instance in 1996, it has been alleged that a Turkish plane was accidentally shot down by a Greek one.
In the context of the Aegean dispute, the term continental shelf refers to a littoral state's exclusive right to economic exploitation of resources on and under the sea-bed, for instance oil drilling, in an area adjacent to its territorial waters and extending into the High Seas. The width of the continental shelf is commonly defined for purposes of international law as not exceeding 200 nautical miles. Where the territories of two states lie closer opposite each other than double that distance, the division is made by the median line. The concept of the continental shelf is closely connected to that of an exclusive economic zone, which refers to a littoral state's control over fishery and similar rights. Both concepts were developed in international law from the middle of the 20th century, and were codified in the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea in 1982.
The dispute between Turkey and Greece is to what degree the Greek islands off the Turkish coast should be taken into account for determining the Greek and Turkish economic zones. Turkey argues that the notion of "continental shelf", by its very definition, implies that distances should be measured from the continental mainland, claiming that the sea-bed of the Aegean geographically forms a natural prolongation of the Anatolian land mass. This would mean for Turkey to be entitled to economic zones up to the median line of the Aegean (leaving out, of course, the territorial waters around the Greek islands in its eastern half, which would remain as Greek exclaves.) Greece, on the other hand, claims that all islands must be taken into account on an equal basis. This would mean that Greece would gain the economic rights to almost the whole of the Aegean.
In this matter, Greece has the UN Law of the Sea on its side, although the Convention restricts the application of this rule to islands of a notable size, as opposed to small uninhabitable islets and rocks. The precise delimitation of the economic zones is the only one of all the Aegean issues where Greece has officially acknowledged that Turkey has legitimate interests that might require some international process of arbitration or compromise between the two sides.
Tensions over the continental shelf were particularly high during the mid-1970s and again the late 1980s, when it was believed that the Aegean Sea might hold rich oil reserves. Turkey at that time conducted exploratory oceanographic research missions in parts of the disputed area. These were perceived as a dangerous provocation by Greece, which led to a buildup of mutual military threats in 1976 and again in 1987.
On September 2, 2019, Turkey's President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan appeared in a photograph with a map that depicted nearly half of the Aegean Sea and an area up to the eastern coast of Crete as belonging to Turkey. The map was displayed during an official ceremony at the National Defense University in Istanbul and shows an area labelled as "Turkey's blue homeland" stretching up to the median line of the Aegean, enclosing the Greek islands in that part of the Aegean without any indication of the Greek territorial waters around them. The Greek side expressed its regret, with the Greek Foreign Minister Nikos Dendias stating that Turkey's tactics are "communication campaigns that cannot change international legitimacy, merely establishing Turkey's image as a perpetrator".
Lodging claims in UN
On 13 November 2019, Turkey submitted to the United Nations a series of claims to Exclusive Economic Zones in the Eastern Mediterranean that are in conflict with Greek claims to the same areas – including a sea zone extending west of the southeastern Aegean island of Rhodes and south of Crete. The Turkish claims were made in an official letter by Turkey's Permanent Representative to the UN Feridun Sinirlioglu, which reflect Ankara's notion of a "Blue Homeland" (Mavi Vatan). Greece condemned these claims as legally unfounded, incorrect and arbitrary, and an outright violation of Greece's sovereignty.
Turkey-Libya maritime agreement and reactions
On 28 November, President Erdoğan signed a controversial Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) in Istanbul with the Prime Minister of the Government of National Accord of Libya, Fayez al-Sarraj, to demarcate maritime zones in the Eastern Mediterranean on an area between Turkey and Libya, as part of Turkey's notion of Blue Homeland, ignoring completely the geographical presence of Greek islands between Turkey and Libya, such as Crete and Rhodes. This agreement drew condemnation by both Greece and the international community, including the European Union, United States, Russia, Egypt, Cyprus, France, Italy, Israel, Germany, Serbia, the Arab League and the Libyan opposition, led by the Libyan House of Representatives and Khalifa Haftar, the head of the Libyan National Army, as a violation of the International Law of the Sea and the Skhirat Agreement. This has led Turkey to an unprecedented international diplomatic isolation and Libya's membership in the Arab League under threat of suspension. The United States view it as "provocative" and a threat to the stability of the region.
Turkey holds the peculiar definition is that no islands can have full Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) and should only be entitled to a 12 nautical mile reduced EEZ or no EEZ at all rather than the usual 200 that Turkey and every other country are entitled to. In this context, Turkey, for the first time in December 1, 2019, claimed that the Greek island of Kastellorizo shouldn't have any EEZ at all, because, from the equity-based Turkish viewpoint, it is a small island immediately across the Turkish mainland (which has the longest continental coastline), and isn't supposed to generate a maritime jurisdiction area of four thousand times larger than its own surface. Furthermore, according to Turkey's Foreign Ministry, EEZ has to be coextensive with the continental shelf, based on the relative lengths of adjacent coastlines and described any opposing views supporting the right of islands to their EEZ as "maximalist and uncompromising Greek and Greek Cypriot claims". Turkey's view, however, is a 'unique' interpretation not shared by any other country and not in accordance to the United Nations UNCLOS treaty, ratified by 167 countries but not Turkey. The US Assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs, A. Wess Mitchell, criticized the Turkish view, stating that it "is a minority of one versus the rest of the world."
In response to these developments, the Libyan Ambassador to Greece Mohamed Younis Menfi was summoned to the Greek Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Athens, where he was given an ultimatum of seven days, to disclose until 5th of December the agreement his country signed with Turkey on maritime boundaries, or will be considered "persona non grata" and be expelled from Greece. The authorities of the European Union also urged for the disclosure of the deal's details. Also, the Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis met with the Turkish President on the sidelines of the 2019 London summit to discuss about it. Greek Foreign Minister Dendias revealed that, earlier this year, on September, his Libyan counterpart, Libyan FM Mohamed Taher Siala had reassured the Greek side that Libya would never sign any illegal agreements with Turkey that would violate the Greek sovereign rights. On 6th December, the Libyan Ambassador to Athens was expelled from Greece, prompting strong reactions in both Libya and Turkey. Furthermore, the President of the Libyan Parliament, Agila Saleh Issa Gwaider, who condemned and opposed the Libya-Turkey deal, was invited to Athens by the President of the Greek Parliament Konstantinos Tasoulas for talks.
It is revealed that Ankara asked for the agreement on maritime boundaries from Libya, in exchange for Turkey's long-time support of the Government of National Accord (GNA) in the Libyan Civil War.
It is believed that Turkey's President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is exploiting the weakness of the GNA headed by Fayez al-Sarraj to force it to sign "illegal" agreements which are a serious breach of international laws that disregards the lawful rights of other eastern Mediterranean countries. Through these exploitations, Turkey is trying to assert its regional power and its control of the Mediterranean sea, at the expense of the rights of the other Mediterranean nations and undermining the peace-making efforts to resolve the Libyan Civil War and the curb of migrant influx to Europe.
On 4 December 2019, the Turkish Minister of Energy and Natural Resources, Fatih Dönmez, announced Turkey's intentions to start awarding licences to drills for natural gas in Greek waters which Ankara claimed through the controversial Turkey-Libya deal, once it is approved by the two countries' parliaments. The same day, Turkish President Erdogan stated that he is "ready" to start negotiations with Athens for the delimitation of maritime borders between Turkey and Greece, under the condition that the negotiations are based on Turkey's peculiar perception which is stripping the Greek islands of their sovereign rights, and is violating the UNCLOS treaty. The intentions for drills in Greek waters, was confirmed by President Erdogan on a public broadcast of the Mavi Vatan map and the Libya-Turkey deal. On 5 December 2019, the Turkish Parliament ratified the contentious Libya-Turkey maritime borders deal, where it had a strong backing by four of Turkey's five major political parties - with the exception of the pro-Kurdish People's Democracy Party (HDP). The Tobruk-based internationally-recognized Libyan Parliament however blocked the ratification and rejected the deal unanimously, with the President of the Parliament sending a letter to the United Nations declaring it as null and void.
Experts are fearing that Greece and Turkey are closer to an armed conflict due to Turkey's recent moves. On 9 December, the vessels of the Libyan Navy which are under the control of the Libyan National Army, announced that they received mandate to sink any Turkish research vessels or drillships that may attempt to conduct researches south of Crete, as part of the Libya-Turkey deal. In reaction, France signaled its intention to send French frigates and ships to the south of Crete, in coordination with Athens, and Italy plans to send the Italian frigate "Martinengo" to monitor, patrol and safeguard the sea around Cyprus, which has been the subject of claims by Turkey.
Flight information regions
Unlike the issues described so far, the question of flight information regions (FIR) does not affect the two states' sovereignty rights in the narrow sense. A FIR is a zone of responsibility assigned to a state within the framework of the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO). It relates to the responsibility for regulating civil aviation. A FIR may stretch beyond the national airspace of a country, i.e. over areas of high seas, or in some cases even over the airspace of another country. It does not give the responsible state the right to prohibit flights by foreign aircraft; however, foreign aircraft are obliged to submit flight plans to the authorities administrating the FIR. Two separate disputes have arisen over flight control in the Aegean: the issue of a unilaterally proposed revision of the FIR demarcation, and the question of what rights and obligations arise from the FIR with respect to military as opposed to civil flights.
By virtue of an agreement signed in 1952, the whole airspace over the Aegean, up to the boundary of the national airspace of Turkey, has been assigned to Athens FIR, administered by Greece. Shortly after the Cyprus crisis of 1974, Turkey unilaterally attempted to change this arrangement, issuing a notice to airmen (NOTAM) stating that it would take over the administration of the eastern half of the Aegean airspace, including the national airspace of the Greek islands in that area. Greece responded with a declaration rejecting this move, and declaring the disputed zone unsafe for aviation due to the conflicting claims to authority. This led to some disruption in civil aviation in the area. Turkey later changed its stance, and since 1980 has returned to recognizing Athens FIR in its original demarcation. In practice, the FIR demarcation is currently no longer a disputed issue.
Turkish Military overflights
As of 2009, the current controversy over the FIR relates to the question whether the Greek authorities have a right to oversee not only civil but also military flight activities in the international parts of the Aegean airspace. According to common international practice, military aircraft normally submit flight plans to FIR authorities when moving in international airspace, just like civil aircraft do. Turkey refuses to do so, citing the ICAO charter of 1948, which explicitly restricts the scope of its regulations to civil aircraft, arguing that therefore the practice of including military aircraft in the same system is optional. Greece, in contrast, argues that it is obligatory on the basis of later regulations of the ICAO, which it claims have given states the authority to issue more wide-reaching restrictions in the interest of civil aviation safety.
This disagreement has led to similar practical consequences as the issue of 6 versus 10 miles of national airspace, as Greece considers all Turkish military flights not registered with its FIR authorities as transgressions of international air traffic regulations, and routinely has its own air force jets intercepting the Turkish ones. In popular perception in Greece, the issue of Turkish flights in the international part of Athens FIR is often confused with that of the Turkish intrusions in the disputed outer 4 mile belt of Greek airspace. However, in careful official usage, Greek authorities and media distinguish between "violations" (παραβιάσεις) of the national airspace, and "transgressions" (παραβάσεις) of traffic regulations, i.e. of the FIR.
One of the routine interception maneuvers led to a fatal accident on 23 May 2006. Two Turkish F-16s and one reconnaissance F-4 were flying in the international airspace over the southern Aegean at 27,000 feet (8,200 m) without having submitted flight plans to the Greek FIR authorities. They were intercepted by two Greek F-16s off the coast of the Greek island Karpathos. During the ensuing mock dog fight, a Turkish F-16 and a Greek F-16 collided midair and subsequently crashed. The pilot of the Turkish plane survived the crash, but the Greek pilot died. The incident also highlighted another aspect of the FIR issue, a dispute over conflicting claims to responsibility for maritime search and rescue operations. The Turkish pilot reportedly refused to be rescued by the Greek forces that had been dispatched to the area. After the incident, both governments expressed an interest to revive an earlier plan of establishing a direct hotline between the air force commands of both countries in order to prevent escalation of similar situations in the future.
Armed overflights above inhabited Greek islands
During the late 2010s, Turkey escalated its provocations against Greece's sovereignty with overflights of armed F-16 directly above inhabited Greek islands such as Chios, Kastellorizo and Agathonisi. These overflights are considered to be one of the most serious of the Turkish provocations, since they pose a challenge to Greece's territorial sovereignty.
While all the issues described so far are related to zones of influence at sea or in the air, there have also been a number of disputes related to the territories of the Greek islands themselves. These have related to the demilitarized status of some of the main islands in the area; to Turkish concerns over alleged endeavours by Greece to artificially expand settlements to previously uninhabited islets; and to the existence of alleged "grey zones", an undetermined number of small islands of undetermined sovereignty.
The question of the demilitarized status of some major Greek islands is complicated by a number of facts. Several of the Greek islands in the eastern Aegean as well as the Turkish straits region were placed under various regimes of demilitarization in different international treaties. The regimes developed over time, resulting in difficulties of treaty-interpretation. However, the military status of the islands in question did not constitute a serious problem in the bilateral relations until the Cyprus crisis of 1974, after which both Greece and Turkey re-interpreted the stipulations of the treaties. Greece, claiming an inalienable right to defend itself against Turkish aggression, reinforced its military and National Guard forces in the region. Furthermore, Greece maintains the position that she has the right to demilitarize her islands in the same context as the rest of Europe, where the appliance of demilitarization statute on islands and territories ceased with the creation of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization and the Warsaw Pact; i.e. the cessation of demilitarization of Italy's Panteleria, Lampedusa, Lampione and Linosa islands, and West Germany from the NATO side, and the cessation of demilitarization of Bulgaria, Romania, East Germany, Hungary and Finland from the Warsaw Pact's side. Turkey, on the other hand, denounces this as an aggressive act by Greece and as a breach of international treaties. From a legal perspective, three groups of islands may be distinguished: (a) the islands right off the Turkish Dardanelles straits, i.e. Lemnos and Samothrace; (b) the Dodecanese islands in the southeast Aegean; and (c) the remaining northeast Aegean islands (Lesbos, Chios, Samos, and Ikaria).
Lemnos and Samothrace
These islands were placed under a demilitarization statute by the Treaty of Lausanne in 1923, to counterbalance the simultaneous demilitarization of the Turkish straits area (the Dardanelles and Bosphorus), Imbros and Tenedos. The demilitarization on the Turkish side was later abolished through the Montreux Convention Regarding the Regime of the Turkish Straits in 1936. Greece holds that, by superseding the relevant sections of the earlier treaty, the convention simultaneously lifted also the Greek obligations with respect to these islands. Against this, Turkey argues that the Montreux treaty did not mention the islands and has not changed their status. Greece, on the other hand, cites Turkish official declarations, by the then Turkish Minister for Foreign Affairs, Rustu Aras, to that effect made in 1936, assuring the Greek side that Turkey would consider the Greek obligations lifted.
These islands were placed under a demilitarization statute after the Second World War by the Treaty of peace with Italy (1947), when Italy ceded them to Greece. Italy had previously not been under any obligation towards Turkey in this respect. Turkey, in turn, was not a party to the 1947 treaty, having been neutral during WWII. Greece therefore holds that the obligations it incurred towards Italy and the other parties in 1947 are res inter alios acta for Turkey in the sense of Article 34 of the Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties, which states that a treaty does not create obligations or rights for a third country, and that Turkey thus cannot base any claims on them. Turkey argues that the demilitarization agreement constitutes a status treaty (an objective régime), where according to general rules of treaty law such an exclusion does not hold.
Lesbos, Chios, Samos, and Ikaria
The remaining islands (Lesbos, Chios, Samos, and Ikaria) were placed under a partial demilitarization statute by the Treaty of Lausanne in 1923. It prohibited the establishment of naval bases and fortifications, but allowed Greece to maintain a limited military contingent recruited from the local population, as well as police forces. With respect to these islands, Greece has not claimed that the treaty obligations have been formally superseded. However, in recent years it has argued that it is entitled to discount them, invoking Article 15 of the Charter of the United Nations. It argues that after the Turkish occupation of northern Cyprus and the Turkish threat of war over the 12 miles issue, re-armament is an act of legitimate self-defence.
The first time a dispute between the two countries in the Aegean touched on questions of actual sovereignty over territories was in early 1996 at the tiny barren islets of Imia/Kardak, situated between the Dodecanese island chain and the Turkish mainland. The conflict, triggered by the stranding of a Turkish merchant ship on the islets, was originally caused by factual inconsistencies between maps of the area, some of which assigned these islets to Greece, others to Turkey. The media of the two countries took up the issue and gave it a nationalistic turn, before the two governments even had the time to come to a full technical understanding of the true legal and geographical situation. Both governments finally adopted an intransigent stance, publicly asserting their own claims of sovereignty over the islets. The result was military escalation, which was perceived abroad as quite out of proportion with the size and significance of the rocks in question. The two countries were at the brink of war for a few days, until the crisis was defused with the help of foreign mediation.
During the crisis and in the months following it, both governments elaborated legal arguments to support their claims to sovereignty. The arguments exchanged concerned the interpretation of the Treaty of Lausanne of 1923, which forms the principal basis for the legal status of territories in most of the region, as well as certain later diplomatic dealings between Turkey, Greece and Italy.
Other "grey zones"
In the wake of the Imia crisis, the Turkish government widened its argumentation to include not only Imia but also a possibly large number of other islands and small formations across the Aegean. Since then, Turkish authorities have spoken of "grey zones" of undetermined sovereignty. According to the Turkish argument, these islets, while not explicitly retained under Turkish sovereignty in 1923, were also not explicitly ceded to any other country, and their sovereignty has therefore remained objectively undecided.
The Turkish government has avoided stating exactly which islets it wishes to include in this category. On various occasions, Turkish government sources have indicated that islands such as Pserimos, Agathonisi, Fournoi and Gavdos (situated south of Crete) might be included. Most of them, unlike Imia/Kardak, had undeniably been in factual Greek possession, which had never previously been challenged by Turkey, and all but the final two listed below have Greek residents and infrastructure. In a 2004 publication by Turkish authors close to the Turkish military leadership the following (among other, even smaller ones) were listed as potentially "grey" areas:
- Oinousses (between Chios and the Turkish coast),
- Antipsara (west of the islands of Psara and Khios),
- Agathonisi (Gaidaros),
- Kalolimnos (near Imia/Kardak),
- Gyali (between Kos and Nisyros),
- Syrna (SE of Astypalaia)
- Kandheliousa (south of Kos),
- Vrachoi Kalogeroi (small rocks 41 km northeast of Andros)
While Turkey has not made any attempt at challenging the Greek possession of these islands on the ground, the claims add to the number of minor military incidents, already numerous due to the 10-mile airspace and the FIR issues. The Turkish Air Force has reportedly adopted a policy of ignoring Greek claims to all airspace and territorial waters around such formations that it counts as grey zones. According to Greek press reports, the number of airspace violations within the 6-mile limit recognised by Ankara rose sharply in 2006, as did the number of unauthorised Turkish military flights directly over Greek islands themselves. Renewed reports of systematic Turkish military flights directly over Greek islands like Pharmakonisi and Agathonisi were made in late 2008 and early 2009.
Turkish incidents with Frontex
In September 2009, a Turkish military radar issued a warning to a Latvian helicopter patrolling in the eastern Aegean—part of the EU's Frontex programme to combat illegal immigration—to leave the area. The Turkish General Staff reported that the Latvian Frontex aircraft had violated Turkish airspace west of Didim. According to a Hellenic Air Force announcement, the incident occurred as the Frontex helicopter—identified as an Italian-made Agusta A109—was patrolling in Greek air space near the small isle of Farmakonisi, which lies on a favorite route used by migrant smugglers ferrying mostly Third World illegal migrants into Greece and the EU from the opposite Turkish coastline. Frontex officials stated that they simply ignored the Turkish warnings as they did not recognise their being in Turkish airspace and continued their duties.
Another incident took place on October 2009 in the aerial area above the eastern Aegean sea, off the island of Lesbos. On 20 November 2009, the Turkish General Staff issued a press note alleging that an Estonian Border Guard aircraft Let L-410 UVP taking off from Kos on a Frontex mission had violated Turkish airspace west of Söke.
Strategies of conflict resolution
The decades since the 1970s have seen a repeated heightening and abating of political and military tensions over the Aegean. Thus, the crisis of 1987 was followed by a series of negotiations and agreements in Davos and Brussels in 1988. Again, after the Imia/Kardak crisis of 1996, there came an agreement over peaceful neighbourly relations reached at a meeting in Madrid in 1997. The period since about 1999 has been marked by a steady improvement of bilateral relations.
For years, the Aegean dispute has been a matter not only about conflicting claims of substance. Rather, proposed strategies of how to resolve the substantial differences have themselves constituted a matter of heated dispute. Whereas Turkey has traditionally preferred to regard the whole set of topics as a political issue, requiring bilateral political negotiation, Greece views them as separate and purely legal issues, requiring only the application of existing principles of international law. Turkey has advocated direct negotiation, with a view to establishing what it would regard as an equitable compromise. Greece refuses to accept any process that would put it under pressure to engage in a give-and-take over what it perceives as inalienable and unnegotiable sovereign rights. Up to the late 1990s, the only avenue of conflict resolution that Greece deemed acceptable was to submit the issues separately to the International Court of Justice in The Hague.
The resulting stalemate between both sides over process was partially changed after 1999, when the European summit of Helsinki opened up a path towards Turkey's accession to the EU. In the summit agreement, Turkey accepted an obligation to solve its bilateral disputes with Greece before actual accession talks would start. This was perceived as giving Greece a new tactical advantage over Turkey in determining which paths of conflict resolution to choose. During the following years, both countries held regular bilateral talks on the level of technical specialists, trying to determine possible future procedures. According to press reports, both sides seemed close to an agreement about how to submit the dispute to the court at The Hague, a step which would have fulfilled many of the old demands of Greece. However, a newly elected Greek government under Kostas Karamanlis, soon after it took office in March 2004, opted out of this plan, because Ankara was insisting that all the issues, including Imia/Kardak and the "grey zones", belonged to a single negotiating item. Athens saw them as separate. However, Greek policy remained at the forefront in advocating closer links between Ankara and the EU. This resulted in the European Union finally opening accession talks with Turkey without its previous demands having been fulfilled.
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- The incident was first described as an accident. In 2004, a Greek newspaper published claims that the Turkish plane had unintentionally been shot down by the Greek one. The shootdown was confirmed by the Turkish government but denied by the Greek side .
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- "Egypt condemns MoUs signed between Turkey, Libyan PM". ahram online. 29 November 2019. Retrieved 30 November 2019.
- "The provocative Turkey-Libya agreement opens the way for EEZ (original: Η προκλητική συμφωνία Τουρκίας – Λιβύης ανοίγει το δρόμο για ΑΟΖ)". in.gr. 29 November 2019. Retrieved 30 November 2019.
Another attempt in the realization of the «Blue Homeland» whereby Turkey seeks to seize parts of the Aegean and Eastern Mediterranean by asserting the position that no islands are entitled to maritime zones beyond territorial waters. (original: Μία ακόμα κίνηση στον σχεδιασμό της «Γαλάζιας Πατρίδας», βάσει του οποίου η Τουρκία επιχειρεί να οικειοποιηθεί μέρος του Αιγαίου και της Ανατολικής Μεσογείου υποστηρίζοντας τη θέση ότι τα νησιά δεν δικαιούνται θαλάσσιες ζώνες πέραν των χωρικών υδάτων)
- "Libya divided over EEZ deal with Ankara: Government confirms it - Opposition says "illegal" (original: Διχασμένη η Λιβύη για την συμφωνία της ΑΟΖ με την Άγκυρα: Η κυβέρνηση την επιβεβαιώνει - "Παράνομη" λέει η αντιπολίτευση)". Real.gr. 28 November 2019. Retrieved 30 November 2019.
- "Cyprus, Greece and Egypt condemn Turkey-Libya deal (updated)". Cyprus Mail. 29 November 2019. Retrieved 30 November 2019.
- "Cyprus decries Turkey-Libya maritime border deal". Kathimerini. 29 November 2019. Retrieved 30 November 2019.
- "Greece, Cyprus and Egypt outraged by Libyan-Turkish maritime border agreement amid oil-drilling row". Al Araby. 29 November 2019. Retrieved 30 November 2019.
- "Turkey and Libya sign maritime deal to counter Greek drilling". Middle East Eye. 28 November 2019. Retrieved 30 November 2019.
- "Antonio Lopez: Turkey's Actions in Eastern Mediterranean Unlawful, as well as MoU with Libya". The National Herald. 30 November 2019. Retrieved 30 November 2019.
- "Greek ultimatum to Libya over deal with Turkey - Mitsotakis: Those who dispute sovereign rights will find Europe standing against them (Τελεσίγραφο της Ελλάδας στη Λιβύη για τη συμφωνία με Τουρκία - Μητσοτάκης: Όποιοι αμφισβητούν κυριαρχικά δικαιώματα θα βρουν απέναντί τους την Ευρώπη)". NewsPost. 29 November 2019. Retrieved 30 November 2019.
- "Through Libya, Erdogan builds the "Blue Homeland" (original: Μέσω Λιβύης χτίζει τη "Γαλάζια Πατρίδα" ο Ερντογάν)". SLPress. 29 November 2019. Retrieved 30 November 2019.
- "Istúriz - Tajani condemn Turkey's illegal actions and back Greece (original: Ιστουρίζ - Ταγιάνι καταδικάζουν τις παράνομες ενέργειες της Τουρκίας και στηρίζουν Ελλάδα)". SLPress. 30 November 2019. Retrieved 30 November 2019.
- ""Turkey should respect the international law": EU Commission against Ankara on the agreement with Libya (original: "Η Τουρκία να σέβεται το διεθνές δίκαιο": Κομισιόν κατά Άγκυρας για τη συμφωνία με τη Λιβύη)". Eleutheros Typos. 2 December 2019. Retrieved 2 December 2019.
- "EU asks to see Turkey-Libya maritime border deal". Kathimerini. 4 December 2019. Retrieved 4 December 2019.
The European Union on Wednesday called for the publication of a memorandum of understanding signed between Turkey and Libya which ostensibly delineates maritime borders between the two countries, and expressed its full support for the sovereign rights of Greece and Cyprus.
- "Erdogan under "fire" by the Arab League: "Libya-Turkey deal is provocative, we will remove Fayez al-Sarraj" (original: "Πυρά" Αραβικού Συνδέσμου κατά Ερντογάν: "Προκλητική η συμφωνία Άγκυρας-Τρίπολης, θα διώξουμε τον Fayez al-Sarraj")". Pentapostagma. 2 December 2019. Retrieved 2 December 2019.
- "Libya's Haftar hopes to have normal relations with Israel". Middle East Monitor. 2 December 2019. Retrieved 2 December 2019.
The official condemned Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan's actions in the Middle East. This was a reference to the deal struck between Turkey and the UN-backed Libyan government last Wednesday relating to trade and arms sales. Al-Howeej claimed that the deal was signed with those who have "no right to give to those against whom we are battling."
- "Harsh message by Macron to Erdogan: Respect Greece's sovereign rights (original: Αυστηρό μήνυμα Μακρόν σε Ερντογάν: Να σεβαστείς τα κυριαρχικά δικαιώματα της Ελλάδας)". CNN. 4 December 2019. Retrieved 4 December 2019.
«Turkey must respect the sovereign rights of NATO members. I support Greece's concerns over the Libya-Turkey Agreement» Macron said, commenting on the Turkish provocations and the agreement between Turkey and Libya on defining maritime borders and EEZ.)
- "FM of Israel: We are on Greece's side (Original: ΥΠΕΞ Ισραήλ: Είμαστε στο πλευρό της Ελλάδας)". News 247. 4 December 2019. Retrieved 4 December 2019.
- "Turkey-Libya agreement 'arbitrary and illegal'". GUE/NGL. 4 December 2019. Retrieved 4 December 2019.
- "Moscow calls on Turkey, Libya to avoid stoking tensions in region". Kathimerini. 3 December 2019. Retrieved 4 December 2019.
- "Pavlopoulos: who does Farraj represents? Voucic: we recognize Greece's integrity (original: Παυλόπουλος: Ποιον εκπροσωπεί ο Σαράζ; Βούτσιτς: Αναγνωρίζουμε ακεραιότητα της Ελλάδας)". Kathimerini. 9 December 2019. Retrieved 10 December 2019.
the Serbian president has made clear that his country will always recognize the territory and the integrity of Greece as well as of Cyprus.
- "A strong message in favor of Greece and Cyprus by Conte (original: Ηχηρό μήνυμα υπέρ Ελλάδας και Κύπρου από τον Κόντε)". EfSyn. 11 December 2019. Retrieved 11 December 2019.
- "Message by Berlin to Ankara for the respect of sovereign rights (original: Μήνυμα Βερολίνου στην Αγκυρα για σεβασμό των κυριαρχικών δικαιωμάτων)". Kathimerini. 11 December 2019. Retrieved 11 December 2019.
The European Union's position of solidarity with Greece and Cyprus is "expressly endorsed" by Berlin, German Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Adebahr recently said, urging Turkey and Libya "to respect the sovereignty and sovereignty of all member states of the EU and to follow the delimitation of maritime areas in accordance with applicable international law."
- "It is a simple paper without value and will never be ratified: It will collapse, Mitsotakis said (Original: Είναι ένα απλό χαρτί χωρίς αξία που δεν πρόκειται να κυρωθεί: Θα καταρρεύσει, είπε ο Μητσοτάκης)". Hellas Journal. 6 December 2019. Retrieved 6 December 2019.
He noted that "the texts that Ankara relies on for maritime zones have no legal effect nor are they going to be ratified, not only because they are unrecognized and unsubstantiated by removing the Greek Islands from the map but also because they have led Turkey to unprecedented diplomatic isolation. The US, Russia, the EU, Egypt, Israel condemned Turkey's stance within two hours. Even within the framework of NATO, which has always maintained a level playing field with our differences with Turkey, powerful countries have criticized the attitude of the neighboring country, with President Macron first, who has blocked the aggression of our neighbors."
- "Libya's GNA Holds Onto Arab League Membership". Al-Awsat. 6 December 2019. Retrieved 6 December 2019.
- "Pyatt: Turkey-Libya deal undermining regional stability". Kathimerini. 3 December 2019. Retrieved 3 December 2019.
- "State Department: Turkey-Libya deal on maritime borders 'provocative'". Kathimerini. 3 December 2019. Retrieved 3 December 2019.
- "Im östlichen Mittelmeer sollen Erdgasvorkommen von mehreren Billionen Kubikmetern liegen. Das befeuert den Zypernkonflikt". Neue Zürcher Zeitung. 12 November 2018. Retrieved 13 November 2018.
- "NZZ: Boreholes rekindle the Cyprus problem (original: ΝΖΖ: Οι γεωτρήσεις αναζωπυρώνουν το Κυπριακό)". Kathimerini. 13 November 2018. Retrieved 13 November 2018.
- "Cypriot EEZ and Kastellorizo - Erdogan's geostrategic stakes (Original: "Κυπριακή ΑΟΖ και Καστελλόριζο - Το γεωστρατηγικό διακύβευμα του Ερντογάν"". SLPress. 4 August 2019. Retrieved 5 August 2019.
- "Turkey-Libya maritime agreement draws Greek ire". ArabNews. 30 November 2019. Retrieved 30 November 2019.
Last year, Wess Mitchell, US assistant secretary of state for European and Eurasian affairs, sent a message to Ankara over the drilling activities for hydrocarbons underway in Cyprus's exclusive economic zone. He said that "Turkey's view is a minority of one versus the rest of the world."
- "US official sends clear message to Turkey over Cyprus drilling". Kathimerini. 16 December 2018. Retrieved 16 December 2018.
Turkey's view "is a minority of one versus the rest of the world," he said. "The rest of the world has a very clear, straightforward view that the exclusive economic zone of Cyprus is grounded in international law."
- "Turkey, Libya delimitation deal raises geopolitical tensions". New Europe. 1 December 2019. Retrieved 2 December 2019.
Turkey defines its 'EEZ' to be coextensive with its continental shelf, based the relative lengths of adjacent coastlines, which completely disadvantages islands. It is a 'unique' interpretation not shared by any other country and not in accordance to the United Nations UNCLOS treaty, ratified by 167 countries but not Turkey,"
- "Turkey sends non paper to EU, warning to stay away from Cyprus EEZ". KeepTalkingGreece. 23 June 2019. Retrieved 11 July 2019.
- "Greece's maritime claims 'maximalist,' violate international boundaries law". Daily Sabah. 13 June 2019. Retrieved 11 July 2019.
- "Turkey defends maritime deal with Libya". Kathimerini. 1 December 2019. Retrieved 5 December 2019.
- "New provocation by Turkey: disputes openly the continental shelf in Kastellorizo (original: Νέα πρόκληση της Τουρκίας: Αμφισβητεί ανοιχτά την υφαλοκρηπίδα στο Καστελόριζο)". in.gr. 1 December 2019. Retrieved 1 December 2019.
- "Athens issues ultimatum to Libyan envoy to present maritime deal with Turkey". Kathimerini. 29 November 2019. Retrieved 30 November 2019.
- "Mitsotakis-Erdogan meeting on Wed. in London". Naftemporiki. 3 December 2019. Retrieved 7 December 2019.
- "Libyan Ambassador is expelled (original: Απελάθηκε ο πρέσβης της Λιβύης)". Kathimerini. 6 December 2019. Retrieved 6 December 2019.
Mr Dendias added that the text of the agreement bears the signature of the Libyan Foreign Minister, who in September provided assurances to the Greek side in the opposite direction. Expulsion is not a break in diplomatic relations, the Foreign Minister stressed.
- "Greece expels Libyan ambassador over Turkey deal". Middle East Online. 6 December 2019. Retrieved 7 December 2019.
- "Greece expels Libyan ambassador in row over maritime boundaries". Guardian. 6 December 2019. Retrieved 6 December 2019.
- "Anger in Turkey and Libya after ambassador's expulsion - Mitsotakis: we will do whatever it needs for the agreement to not come into effect (original: Οργή σε Τουρκία και Λιβύη μετά την απέλαση του πρέσβη - Μητσοτάκης: Θα κάνουμε ό,τι περνάει από το χέρι μας να μην ισχύσει η συμφωνία)". Enikos. 6 December 2019. Retrieved 6 December 2019.
- "President of Libyan Parliament in Athens next week. (Original: Στην Αθήνα την ερχόμενη Πέμπτη ο πρόεδρος της λιβυκής Βουλής)". Enikos. 6 December 2019. Retrieved 6 December 2019.
- "Turkey-Libya agreement bears consequences for Greece - analyst". Ahval. 30 November 2019. Retrieved 30 November 2019.
The deal, referred to as a memorandum of understanding, comes as no surprise, Syrigos said, as Ankara asked for an agreement on the maritime borders between Libya and Turkey in exchange for its long-time support of the Islamist-rooted GNA.
- "Greece fears Turkish encroachment over oil exploration deal with Libya". The Times. 2 December 2019. Retrieved 2 December 2019.
The deal, which threatens to vastly extend Turkey's claimed rights over the Mediterranean, follows an agreement last week for Ankara to supply weaponry to the internationally recognised Libyan government in Tripoli, which is involved in a military struggle with forces loyal to Khalifa Haftar for control of the country.
- "Libyan National Army says Erdogan exploiting 'clinical death' of al-Sarraj govt". Al Arabiya. 2 December 2019. Retrieved 2 December 2019.
The Libyan National Army (LNA) said on Monday that Turkey's President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is trying to exploit the "clinical death" of the Government of National Accord (GNA) headed by Fayez al-Sarraj to sign "illegal" agreements which are a serious breach of international laws that disregards the lawful rights of other eastern Mediterranean countries. [...] Aguila Saleh, President of the Libyan House of Representatives, sent a letter to the UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres regarding the agreement signed between Turkey and al-Sarraj. Saleh said that the signed agreement represents a threat to the Libyan state and its future and security.
- "Turkey is trying to take over the Mediterranean, through Libya". Jerusalem Post. 2 December 2019. Retrieved 2 December 2019.
One of the governments in Libya controls only a small percentage of the country and the capital of Tripoli, but in need of Turkish support it signed a bizarre deal with Ankara over who controls the Mediterranean. [...] The real story is buried in the report. Turkey is trying to assert itself across the swath of Iraq, Syria and now all the way to Libya, with its eyes set on having power not seen since the Ottoman Empire more than 100 years ago. The reports claim that Turkey now sees its control of the Mediterranean from the "three-dimensional viewpoint" and this "maximizes the country's maritime boundaries and shows that Turkey's border districts of Marmaris, Fethiye and Kas are actually neighbors with Libya's Derna, Tobruk and Bardiya districts."
- "Greece expels Libyan ambassador in row over maritime boundaries". The Guardian. 6 December 2019. Retrieved 6 December 2019.
- "Erdogan takes half the Mediterranean Sea. And Italy is watching (original: Erdogan si prende mezzo Mediterraneo. E l'Italia sta a guardare)". Repubblica. 6 December 2019. Retrieved 6 December 2019.
There are those who want to rewrite history and those who now want to rewrite even geography. An agreement between Tripoli and Ankara in fact has redefined the maritime borders between the two countries, ignoring the Atlas and erasing all that is in the sea between Libya and Turkey: Cyprus and Crete have been considered as insignificant rocks. The dream of Erdogan, who imitated the Ottoman rulers and redesigned the maps, giving himself control of the eastern Mediterranean.
- "Turkey and Libya want to divide the Mediterranean among themselves (original: Die Türkei und Libyen wollen das Mittelmeer unter sich aufteilen)". Der Tagesspiegel. 5 December 2019. Retrieved 6 December 2019.
Not only because of the impact on the gas dispute in the Mediterranean, the Turkish-Libyan agreement provokes new tensions with the EU. The agreed arms deliveries to the Sarraj government could also fuel the conflict in Libya, where Germany is currently trying to end the fighting. The Federal Government is planning a peace conference on Libya in Berlin in early January; Germany wants to curb the influx of refugees from Libya to Europe. [...] Erdogan's Libya Treaty could make the German efforts fail. Turkey is the most important arms supplier for the Sarraj government, providing drones and armored vehicles, among other things.
- "Turkey to start drilling in expanded Mediterranean jurisdiction - minister". Ahval. 4 December 2019. Retrieved 4 December 2019.
- "Erdogan: The MoU with Libya is our sovereign right (original: Ερντογάν: Κυριαρχικό μας δικαίωμα το μνημόνιο με τη Λιβύη)". CNN. 4 December 2019. Retrieved 4 December 2019.
- "Erdogan shows his intentions in the eastern Mediterranean using maps (original: Ο Ερντογάν έδειξε με χάρτες τις προθέσεις του στην ανατ. Μεσόγειο)". SigmaLive. 10 December 2019. Retrieved 10 December 2019.
- "Greece expels Libyan envoy following Turkish vote on East Mediterranean deal". Middle East Eye. 6 December 2019. Retrieved 6 December 2019.
- "Turkish lawmakers ratify contentious maritime borders deal with Libya". Kathimerini. 5 December 2019. Retrieved 6 December 2019.
- "The Libya-Turkey memorandum, the Foreign Ministry's actions and Field Marshal Haftar (original: Το μνημόνιο Λιβύης - Τουρκίας, οι ενέργειες του ΥΠΕΞ και ο στρατηγός Χαφτάρ)". Naftemporiki. 7 December 2019. Retrieved 7 December 2019.
It is also noted that the internationally recognized Parliament of Libya (Tobruk) rejected the memorandum from the outset, stressing that it was a "blatant violation" of the security and sovereignty of Libya, as well as "a threat to peace and security in the Mediterranean".
- "The Libyan Parliament rejects deal made with Erdogan (original: Η Βουλή της Λιβύης απορρίπτει το deal με Ερντογάν)". TheTOC. 6 December 2019. Retrieved 6 December 2019.
The Libyan Parliament rejects the agreement on the Maritime Borders between Turkey and Libya, which Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan has portrayed as a great success. Hours after the Turkish National Assembly voted for the deal, and while the deal remains pending, the Libyan House of Representatives sent a letter to the UN declaring the text null and void.
- "Invalid, says the president of the Libyan Parliament, about the agreement with Turkey (original: Ακυρη η συμφωνία με Τουρκία λέει ο πρόεδρος του Κοινοβουλίου της Λιβύης)". Protagon. 6 December 2019. Retrieved 6 December 2019.
- "Expulsion of the Ambassador of Libya from Greece (original: Απέλαση του πρέσβη της Λιβύης από την Ελλάδα)". Huffington Post. 6 December 2019. Retrieved 6 December 2019.
- "Turkey-Libya Agreement: "Blockade" through Haftar and Libyan Parliament (original: Συμφωνία Τουρκίας- Λιβύης: "Μπλόκο" μέσω Χαφτάρ και λιβυκής Βουλής)". News 247. 7 December 2019. Retrieved 7 December 2019.
- "Greece and Turkey closer to armed conflict, say experts". Al Jazeera. 6 December 2019. Retrieved 6 December 2019.
- "The Libyan admiral who graduated in Greece: I have a mandate to sink Turkish ships (original: Ο ναύαρχος της Λιβύης που σπούδασε στην Ελλάδα: Εχω εντολή να βυθίσω τα τουρκικά πλοία)". Ta Nea. 9 December 2019. Retrieved 10 December 2019.
- "French and Italian support in «blocking» Turkey (original: Γαλλική και ιταλική στήριξη με «μπλόκο» στην Τουρκία)". In.gr. 11 December 2019. Retrieved 11 December 2019.
The French assistance to Greece aimed at ending the Turkish challenges has also been a major topic of discussion at the highest [diplomatic] level between Athens-Paris. [...] According to the Italian "La Repubblica", Italy also sends the frigate "Martinengo" to the port of Larnaca, as part of an Eastern Mediterranean patrol, with the aim of «presenting and monitoring maritime areas, with due regard for international law and for protection of national interests.»
- "Ankara escalates tensions in the Aegean: Mass overflights by Turkish F-16s (original: Κλιμακώνει την ένταση στο Αιγαίο η Άγκυρα: Mαζικές υπερπτήσεις από τουρκικά F-16)". Ta Nea. 12 June 2019. Retrieved 7 October 2019.
τουρκικών οπλισμένων αεροσκαφών πάνω από κατοικημένα ελληνικά νησιά θεωρείται από τις πιο σοβαρές προκλήσεις, αφού είναι έμπρακτη αμφισβήτηση της εδαφικής κυριαρχίας της Ελλάδας (Turkish armed aircraft over the inhabited Greek islands is considered one of the most serious provocations, as it is a practical challenge to the territorial sovereignty of Greece)
- "Extreme provocations by Ankara: Overflights in Chios and Oinousses (original: Θρασύτατες προκλήσεις από την Άγκυρα: Υπερπτήσεις σε Χίο και Οινούσσες)". ToVima. 13 May 2019. Retrieved 7 October 2019.
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