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Athens News Agency Feature: "Crisis on Imia"

Misc. Greek news Directory

From: Hellenic Ministry of Press <pegasus@compulink.gr>

CRISIS ON IMIA

by Annie Podimata and Petros Demetropoulos

Following the recent crisis concerning the Imia islet complex, which brought Greece and Turkey to the brink of military confrontation, diplomacy has been regaining its ground and interesting proposals have been ascertained by many sides for a permanent and peaceful solution to the problem.

Considering that it has strong legal arguments indisputably proving its sovereignty over the islets, Greece initially reacted positively to the latest US proposal for referral of the issue to the International Court of Justice at The Hague or to some other Arbitration Court that could be set up ad hoc. On the basis of international law and the relevant agreements, the Turkish demand constitutes, according to the Greek side, dispute of the legal status quo in the Aegean, under the threat of war.

The legal arguments

"The Dodecanese," points out Thanos Veremis, president of the Hellenic Foundation for European and Foreign Policy (ELIAMEP), "were seized by Italy in the Italian-Turkish war of 1912-13. According to Article 15 of the 1923 Treaty of Lausanne, the islands Astypalaia, Rhodes, Halki, Carpathos, Kassos, Tilos, Nissyros, Kalymnos, Leros, Patmos, Leipsi, Symi and Kos, as well as their dependent islets, were ceded to Italy. The same article also ceded Kastellorizo to Italy. Problems arose between Turkey and Italy concerning the area of Kastellorizo. These problems were resolved with the signing of the Italian-Turkish agreement of January 4, 1932, regarding the sovereignty over certain islets between Kastellorizo and the Turkish coasts, and with the delineation of the territorial waters from those islands." Associate Professor at the Political Sciences Department of Athens University, Haritini Dipla, recalls that on that same day, in a letter to the Italian side, Turkey proposed that the two sides proceed in the delineation of the boundary in the remaining section of the Italian-Turkish border in the Aegean - this time at experts' level - given that, according to the Turkish letter, the section remaining did not comprise the object of dispute or demand. Following the affirmative reply of the Italian side, Italian and Turkish experts proceeded in the delineation on maps of the British Admiralty. According to Point 30 of the Protocol of December 28, 1932, the delineation line passes "halfway between the distance between Kardak (the name of Imia in Turkish) and lower Anatolia".

Greece acquires legal sovereign title over the islands and succeeds Italy in the rights and obligations emanating from the 1932 accords, with the 1947 Greek-Italian agreement and the 1947 Paris peace treaty. Since then, the Greek sovereignty has never been disputed, since the larger islands are populated. As for the islets, such as Imia, for example, Greek fishermen have been fishing within their littoral zone, while Greek shepherds led their flocks to the islets. According to Constantine Arvanitopoulos, associate professor of International Politics at the Panteion University and Head of Programmes at the IDIS (Institute of International Relations), the Turkish side's dispute of the Greek sovereignty over the islets and, naturally, the landing executed - albeit for a few hours - by Turkish commandos, apart from violating the Italian-Turkish agreement of 1932 and Greek-Italian agreement of 1947, also violates the 1975 Helsiniki Final Act, which in fact had been co-signed by then Turkish Prime Minister Suleyman Demirel. The Helsiniki Final Act proclaims in the clearest way the inviolability of the borders of the European states, abstention from infringement of the borders as well as from acts or claims of usurpation of the territory or a section of any participating country. Dr. Arvanitopoulos points out that Turkey's actions comprise a violation of Article 2 of the United Nations Charter, in which is founded the principle of abstention of the members from the use or threat of use of violence against the territorial integrity of a country by another.

The European dimension

The Turkish side's dispute of the Greek sovereignty over the Imia islet does not only comprise a dispute of Greece's territorial integrity and violation of international law and international agreements. It also comprises dispute of the Community territory, customs territory, external borders and a wide network of rules of the European Union, with which Turkey has agreed to full customs union. "This," Panayotis Ioakimidis, associate professor of European Studies at the Athens University, points out, "means direct dispute of the territory of the European Union, as set out in Article 227 of the Treaty of Rome. As ruled by the European Court (Siot case, 266/81), the European Community territory must be considered a single entity and indivisible for all member-states. It also comprises a dispute of the 'external borders' of the European Union as established in the set of Union legal documents concerning the internal market, etc.". Dr. Ioakimidis also puts forward the question of "whether a country that so blatantly disputes the legal and political order of the European Union can proceed for example in the establishment of customs union with the European Union".

The European Commission itself replies to this question, with its announcement of February 7 in which it points out, inter alia, that "the Commission expresses its full solidarity with Greece, a member state of the European Union", and reminds that "the decisions taken by the Council of Ministers on March 6, 1995 which concern customs union with Turkey and which were ratified by the European Parliament on December 13, were aimed at creating conditions for an upgraded level of relations based on respect for democratic principles, international law and definitely excluding resorting to force."

However, the recent crisis underlines the pressing need for the Union to develop more effective means and mechanisms in the framework of common foreign policy in order to protect the member states facing security problems. This is why, Dr. Ioakimidis points out, it is imperative that, at the Intergovernmental Conference (IGC) to be convened for revision of the Maastricht Treaty, the protection of the Union's external borders should be explicity set out as a goal and a clause of mutual assistance should be established for reinforcement of the member states facing security problems.

Of course, we may not yet be very close to such a development, but as Ambassador Emeritus and former foreign minister George Papoulias underlines, the recent crisis, with the provocative claims on the Turkish side of territories that belong to a European Union member state will create a policy turn-about on this issue, which could also have an auspicious influence in the direction of the creation of the European borders from the defence perspective as well.

The role of the US

The first signs of concern of certain European partners in this direction, combined with the increased US interest and role in the sensitive region of the Eastern Mediterranean and the Balkans, have already been displayed. The president of the Liberal Group at the Western European Union (WEU) Parliamentary Assembly, Belgian Senator Armand de Decker, notes that the US is exceptionally present throughout the region and "has the tendency of dealing at this time with many problems that concern Europe".

"For this reason," he points out, "it is of primary importance for Europe itself to handle this issue and not leave the settlement of this specific matter exclusively in the hands of the US".

As for the role of the US, Dr. Arvanitopoulos notes, as characteristic examples of the increased US presence in the region, the "military agreement with Albania, the military presence in FYROM, the Dayton agreement, the Palestinian-Israeli peace agreement and also their interest in the oil which is/was controlled by Moscow and passes through such countries as Kazakhstan and Azerbaijan, countries which Turkey aspires to bring under its sphere of influence".

The solution

The United States, despite the policy of equal distances towards Athens and Ankara they maintained from the outset of the crisis, was the one who proposed for the first time the referral of the issue to the International Court of Justice at The Hague or to another Arbitration Court, a proposal that was seen as a step forward by the Greek side, and was adopted on February 8 by the Italian presidency of the European Union.

"The legal arena is an auspicious arena for the Greek side," Ms. Dipla points out, "since, when the two sides find themselves before an international court, they will be on an equal footing. The same does not hold true when the two sides sit together at a negotiations table, where the political and military strength of each side plays a very great role. Acceptance of this proposal could be combined also with acceptance by the Turkish side of a settlement of the (Aegean) continental shelf issue, also through a judicial process," she says.

This view is also fully endorsed by George Papoulias, who describes this development as positive, and notes that "it is imperative that Greece should turn the attention of the allies and partners to the legal side of the question, reminding that there are international treaties, international lawful order, that there is a UN Charter, and from within these we should find the best reply to the Turkish arbitrary actions, Turkish aggressiveness or expansionism".

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