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Aegean Neighbors: Page 1 2 3

Territorial waters

THE ISSUE of Greece's territorial waters in the Aegean is the only one that has led Ankara to threaten war with Athens.

The Turkish parliament in June 1995 unanimously adopted a resolution which declared that a move by Greece to extend its territorial waters to the internationally recognised 12-mile limit would represent a casus belli for Turkey.

Ankara's permanent representative to the United Nations indicated in a subsequent letter to the UN secretary-general that the resolution reflected Turkish government policy. Greece has insisted that it will exercise its right if and when it sees fit.

According to the 1923 Treaty of Lausanne, the territorial waters of both Greece and Turkey extended three miles. Following the 1936 Treaty of Montreux, Greece exercised its pursuant right to increase the extent of its territorial waters to six miles. Turkey followed suit in 1964.

The 1982 Montego Bay Convention on the Law of the Sea, to which Greece is a signatory but Turkey is not, allows coastal countries territorial waters up to a range of 12 miles. Athens cites the fact that Turkey, like the vast majority of countries, has itself exercised this right, extending its territorial waters in both the Black Sea and the Mediterranean.

Ankara appears poised to request, in the course of the planned dialogue on the Aegean, that Athens forfeit its legal right. "Greece says that it has a right to extend its territorial waters to 12 miles, but on the other hand the casus belli is there. Let us reach an understanding that Greece will not extend its waters, and this will give much happiness to the Turkish side," a Turkish diplomatic source told the Athens News.

"Let's agree on the six miles and then the Turkish parliament lifts the casus belli," the same source said regarding what Athens might receive in return.

Turkey argues that a 12-mile range would deprive it of "its basic right to access to high seas from its territorial waters, the economic benefits derived from the Aegean, scientific research etc".


GREECE'S 10-mile airspace in the Aegean, which Athens declared by Royal Decree of September 1931, had for decades triggered no reaction from Turkey, which now argues that Greece's claim to 10 nautical miles, when Athens has territorial waters that extend only six miles, is arbitrary and not in accord with the international legal principle that a country's airspace exactly matches its territorial waters.

Even some Greek diplomats recognise legal weaknesses in the Greek position, though Athens is not without several well-founded arguments.

Greece stresses that the 1931 decree extending the airspace was immediately sent to the competent international aviation committee (CINA) of the then League of Nations, and that only Great Britain expressed objections, which it later lifted.

Countering Turkey's contention that it was in the dark, Athens argues that Ankara was formally informed and expressed no objection, at least by 1952 and 1958, when the boundaries of the Athens and Istanbul Flight Information Regions were set out by the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO).

Athens also argues that, later, the entire Greek decree was published in a United Nations collection of documents on countries' laws and actions regarding their territorial waters. Turkey abruptly stopped recognising this arrangement in 1974.

Next Page: Gray Zones Page 1 2 3