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Aegean Neighbors: Page 1 2 3

Gray Zones

TURKEY'S play for concrete territorial gains vis a vis Greece in the Aegean is encapsulated in the phrase "gray zones". This is the newest item on the list of Turkish foreign policy claims against Athens, epitomised by Ankara's threat to go to war in 1996 over the uninhabited Aegean rock islet Imia.

Greece cites the international treaties by which it gained sovereignty over the Aegean islands from Italy in response to Turkey's demand for more living space. The first is the 1923 Lausanne Peace Treaty, by which Turkey renounced its rights to the Dodecanese.

Secondly, by a January 1932 Italo-Turkish agreement, Ankara ceded sovereignty to Italy over the Dodecanese Agreeing to delineate the entire Italo-Turkish sea frontier, the two sides completed the process, which assigned the vast majority of islands, islets and rocks to Italy, in a December 1932 protocol.

Ankara claims that the protocol is not in effect because only the core treaty was formally delivered to the League of Nations. But Athens cites a January 3, 1933, letter from the Turkish foreign minister to the Italian ambassador stating that the delineation of the sea frontier was completed and enshrined in a "proces-verbal", and that Ankara accepted the arrangement. Ankara also accepted the existence of Aegean sea boundaries in a 1950 regional air traffic agreement.

By the February 1947 Paris Peace Treaty between Italy and the Allies, the Aegean islands were ceded from Italy to Greece, both because of the historically Greek cultural character of the isles, and Greece's significant contributions to the war effort.

In Article 14 of the Paris Peace Treaty, the 14 islands of the Dodecanese group, "as well as adjacent islets", were transferred from Italy to Greece.

Demilitarisation of islands

TURKEY is certain to bring up its demand for the demilitarisation of the Greek islands of the Aegean, basing its position on a related provision of the 1947 Paris Peace Treaty by which the Dodecanese islands were ceded to Greece by the vanquished Axis power Italy. According to the special terms laid out in Article 14 of the treaty, the said islands "shall be demilitarised and shall remain demilitarised".

In the 1923 Treaty of Lausanne (Article 13), Athens undertook to establish "no naval base and no fortification on the islands of Mytilene, Chios, Samos and Ikaria". Greek military forces were to be limited to a "normal contingent called up for military service".

Greece cites the 1936 Treaty of Montreux, which permitted Turkey to remilitarise the straits and lifted the Lausanne Treaty's proscription, as allowing it to refortify Limnos and Samothrace, in the northern Aegean.

But Greece - in the aftermath of the 1974 invasion and occupation of nearly 40 percent of Cyprus - cites Article 51 of the United Nations Charter, which allows countries the right of self-defence in justifying the islands' defences.

"Nothing in the present Charter shall impair the inherent right of the individual or collective self-defence if an armed attack occurs against a member of the United Nations, the article states.

Greece has also stressed that purely defensive fortifications on the islands cannot possibly be deemed to pose any military threat to Ankara.

Greek analysts also cite the international legal principle - codified in the 1969 Vienna Convention - that a treaty cannot establish obligations or rights for a third country without its consent, and that Greece never agreed to the demilitarisation clause initially imposed on Italy.

Others argue that the agreement of 13 countries - including the US, Britain and France - to Italy's request to remilitarise in the early 1950s creates a parallel right for the Dodecanese.

"This is the main issue on which no concession is possible. The defences that are in place today are an absolutely necessary minimum," one Greek diplomat told the Athens News.

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