By Nikos Kotzias
Turkey raises the issue of “demilitarization” of the Dodecanese and asserts sovereignty over isles and islets of the same complex – and not only. They want the disarmament of the Greek islands. They are talking about the demilitarization of Greek territories, while they themselves have set up the ” Aegean Army” targeting the Greek islands. Their true intentions were demonstrated in Cyprus and Imia.
I firmly believe that the two countries, Greece and Turkey, should not settle their “differences” by military means. At the same time, I opine that in the case of the Aegean and the Eastern Mediterranean we are not dealing with two states whose only disagreement concerns the application of International Law of the Sea (UNCLOS, 1982) but with one state, Turkey, that invokes old colonialist “rights” and rejects the International Law of the Sea. Therefore, the approach that the points of friction between the two states simply arise from the application of the International Law of the Sea – and that their resolution is only a matter of dialogue – is insufficient.
My view on the matter differs radically from the mainstream view. The issues in the Aegean between Greece and Turkey do not arise unequivocally from the disagreements and disputes regarding the application of the International Law of the Sea. On the contrary, they also arise from a provocative and unique in the history of civilized humanity way of enforcing Turkey’s aspirations: the restoration of “rights” from the colonial era.
Turkey’s “historical” arguments lack historical and legal basis
Turkey disputes Greek sovereignty over some “rocks and islets” (as defined by the UNCLOS), and even islands, which belong to the Dodecanese complex. By invoking alleged “gaps” in the international treaties, concerning these islands, Turkey seeks to negotiate parts of the territorial and maritime sovereignty and rights of Greece. They also argue that, supposedly, not all the islets and rocks of the Dodecanese were immediately handed over to Italy after the Turco-Italian war. Let us carefully consider the Turkish argument:
First, and most importantly, the whole complex of Dodecanese, down to its last rock, never belonged to Turkey. Not for a single second in the history of the Republic of Turkey, since its “birth”. Turkey has never had rights to anything related to the Dodecanese.
Second, Greece was handed over the Dodecanese by the British, who took over the islands after the German occupation, that had succeeded that of the Italians. The latter had turned the Dodecanese into a colony after the defeat of the Ottomans in the Turco-Italian war in 1912. Let us not forget that, during that period, colonial empires used to take over colonies of their defeated enemies, such as the Italians from the Ottomans and later France and Britain the ottoman colonies in the Middle East (such as Palestine, Lebanon, and Iraq). Thus, until the Dodecanese were united with Greece, they were successively occupied by four different colonial empires, but never fell into the hands of Turkey. Finally, let me remind you that at least 93% of the population of the Dodecanese have identified themselves as Greeks since the 19th century.
Furthermore, Turkey often – and even officially- does not consider itself the successor state to the Ottoman Empire, especially when the latter’s crimes are mentioned, such as the genocide of the Pontic Greeks and Armenians. Consequently, it can not claim any legacy of this colonial empire.
Moreover, let us assume that Turkey slyly asserts the Ottoman succession on some issues and denies it on others, and that the Dodecanese claims are among the first. Then, it is the Ottoman Empire itself, to which Turkey “is a successor state”, that handed over all the Dodecanese islands and therefore Turkey today is not entitled to claim anything.
The fifth point is the most crucial one: When Turkey appears as the successor state to the Ottoman Empire and claims the restoration of rights and sovereignty over lands/seas that the latter handed over to third countries, at first glance, it calls for revision of international treaties signed under different conditions. However, the truth is that Turkey does not simply request a “special” application of the UNCLOS. It does not simply want back lands and islands/islets it lost in the past, as Turkey. Outrageously, it demands the return of territories and maritime rights held by a colonial empire, of which Turkey itself was also a part.
In other words, Turkey seeks to overrule modern world history, the common sense of justice, and International Law as well. Turkey demands back lands and rights that did not belong to it, but to a colonial empire. In a nutshell, it wants to present outdated colonial practices and occupations as its own, contemporary rights. Turkey is (only when convenient, of course) the first “successor” of a colonial power that considers the colonies to be its heritage, even today; that, by extension, it has rights over the former colonial territories. This is a view that is completely hostile to history, International Law, and the rules of good neighborliness.
The “legal” arguments
So, what does Turkey rely on in order to legally support its second claim regarding the Dodecanese (that is, their demilitarization)? The Paris Peace Treaty of 1947. Except that Turkey did not “participate” in this Treaty. Consequently, it has no right to invoke and check a transnational agreement between third states (Article 34 of the Vienna Convention), states that (in contrast to Turkey) currently have no objection to the Greek policy in the Dodecanese, which are part of the Greek state. No state, according to international law, has any rights or any say in agreements, treaties or conventions of which it is not a part of.
Let us not forget that the provision for the demilitarization of the islands was made due to the insistence of the former Soviet Union. Molotov, after agreeing to the cession of the islands to Greece, had stressed that it would not be allowed for them to be used against the Soviet Union in the upcoming Cold War. What’s more, at the same conference in Paris, in February 1947, Turkey submitted the request that Kastelorizo and Symi not be returned to Greece due to their proximity to the Turkish mainland. The request was overwhelmingly rejected. It should also be noted that the islands have, according to the UNCLOS (Article 121, paragraphs 2 and 3), the same rights as the mainland regarding the maritime zones.
During the 1982 UNCLOS negotiations, Colombia raised the issue of introducing the “distance criterion”, so that islands and islets located far away from the mainland and close to a third country (Nordquist 336, paragraph 121.7) do not have rights. A request that was also overwhelmingly rejected by the UNCLOS conference. And, of course, since the request was rejected regarding the islets, it was definitely rejected regarding larger islands such as Kastelorizo.
In conclusion, Turkey’s objections to the character, distances, and rights of the Dodecanese have no legal or historical basis.
Summarizing, Turkey is demanding rights it never had, not even a single day. It demands back the rights that belonged to the Ottoman colonial empire, to which it often claims not to be a successor state. But, aside from this denial, what Turkey is asking for is a return to colonial rules. It is something that no serious country in the world asks for. It is allowed neither by international law nor by the decisions of the global community, such as the UN. Turkey also calls for the demilitarization of the Dodecanese, presenting itself as a successor to the Soviet Union, something that can only be treated as a joke.
We, members of PRATTO, as Greek leftists and patriots, want peace and we are fighting for it. At the same time, however, we firmly believe that our country is entitled to defend its rights. And we ought to defend our country with diplomacy, law, and any other means needed. We are obliged to do so due to the continuing illegal occupation of northern Cyprus and we are reminded of this by the accumulation of aggressive military systems in the Aegean by Turkey.
P.S. 1: I hope that the Greek government did not discuss with the Turkish government about procedures and meetings on the Cyprus dispute. Greece and Turkey have no right or say on anything related to the internal operation, regulations, and life of Cyprus. This is a matter that concerns the Cypriots exclusively and we must support them with all the means at our disposal. Of course, Turkey questions the independence of Cyprus. I hope the current Greek government will not question it as well.
P.S. 2 I hope that the Greek government is not discussing the Turkish demands for the demilitarization of Greek islands, such as the Dodecanese. Even its own frivolous compliance must have its limits.