Monday , October 3 2022

Are we close to a new era in Turkish-Greek relations?



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Are we close to a new era in Turkish-Greek relations?

The Greek daily To Vima claimed last week that Turkey had recognized Greece's decision to extend the width of its territorial waters from six to 12 nautical miles. The newspaper reported that this was agreed at a meeting of delegations from the foreign ministries of the two countries.

If confirmed, this will be a major change in Turkey's policy on this issue. Turkey and Greece have a large inventory of the problems associated with their claims and their counterparts in the Aegean and elsewhere. The issues of the Aegean include the issue of the continental shelf of Anatolia. The boundaries of this shelf are not even delimited and Turkey claims that the shelf extends beyond the Greek islands close to the Anatolian hinterland. The continental shelf is important for exploring oil and gas and extracting other natural resources.

Another problem is the demilitarized situation of the Greek islands in the eastern part of the Aegean. When the Ottoman Empire was defeated in the Balkan Wars of 1912-13, it had to concede to Greece almost all of the Aegean islands, provided they were demilitarized. But as the years passed, Greece militarized them.

A third problem is the line dividing the air traffic control zones in the Aegean. This is the line where, when crossed, pilots have to identify their aircraft at a ground control station. Greece uses this line as the boundary of its national airspace and harasses Turkish military aircraft that cross the line, arguing that they have violated the airspace of Greece.

Fourth is the state of uninhabited islands, rocks and geographic formations in the Aegean islands. Turkey says that if the name of such a prominence does not refer to any of the international agreements, the Turkish territory should remain, because all these islands belong to the Ottoman Empire and only those named in the agreements were transferred to Greece.

The fifth problem is the subject of this article and relates to the breadth of the territorial waters of the Greek islands in the Aegean. The Greek Parliament in 1995 authorized the government to extend the breadth of territorial waters to 12 nautical miles when appropriate. The Turkish parliament responded, stating that if Greece did so, it would consider it a "casus belli" – a legitimate reason to declare the war.

The reason for Turkey's sharp response is that many Greek islands in the Aegean Sea are so close to the Turkish coast and among them that when planning a 12 nautical mile cycle around every Greek island, the Aegean ports of Turkey will be cut off completely by the offshore and Turkish ships will not be able to sail even from one Turkish port to another without crossing the territorial waters of the Greek islands.

This agreement excludes from its scope certain other outstanding issues between the two countries, including the status of uninhabited islands, rocks and geographic formations. the demarcation of the exclusive economic zones on the high seas; the demilitarized situation of the islands of the eastern Aegean. and the issue of the continental shelf of the islands.

Yasar Yaks

Turkish ships will only be able to cross Greek territorial waters by using their right to "innocent passage", which means that the Greek authorities will have the right to embark and inspect any Turkish ship using this right. Turkey says such restrictions will be a serious obstacle to the free movement of Turkish ships and will stifle the nation.

Vima also says that the Greek decision will not be applied to the northern coast of Turkey around Chanakkale, in the Dardanelles Strait. the breadth of territorial waters will be maintained as six nautical miles in the Dodecanese (the region of the twelve islands) in the southern Aegean. and that territorial waters in the eastern Aegean Sea will not extend to full 12 nautical miles.

Greece will also adjust the boundaries of its airspace to the new breadth of territorial waters.

The two delegations agree that if the agreement on territorial waters and airspace is finalized, the parties may refer the question of the delineation of the continental shelf to the International Court of Justice in The Hague.

This agreement excludes from its scope certain other outstanding issues between the two countries, including the status of uninhabited islands, rocks and geographic formations. the demarcation of the exclusive economic zones on the high seas; the demilitarized situation of the islands of the eastern Aegean. and the issue of the continental shelf of the islands. None of these will be easy to solve. Strong opposition from the opposition parties to the Turkish parliament may be expected to ratify this agreement, but President Recep Tayyip Erdogan's sovereignty over the ruling AKP party itself can ensure ratification without ignorance

If finalized, it may be the beginning of a new era in Turkish-Greek relations and may lead to the solution of other problems.

  • Yassar Yakis is a former Foreign Minister of Turkey and a founding member of the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP). Twitter: @yakis_yasar

Disclaimer: The views expressed by the authors in this section are theirs and do not necessarily reflect the Arab News

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