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"Greco-Turkish relations in light of the Cyprus Tragedy and the ongoing Aegean Crisis"



Introduction


The Turkish invasion of Cyprus in 1974 constitutes a landmark in modern Turkish foreign policy because it was the first case of conquest since the Turkish army marched into the Syrian province of Alexandretta (now Hatay) in 1938. The fact that in both cases there was an absence of an international outcry, left a lasting impression on the Turkish military in policy-making matters. The message sent, inadvertently or not, was that war is a superior method of achieving foreign policy objectives than through the unpredictable use of diplomacy. 

This policy became evident in the last decade, where Turkey has not only become more self-confident and assertive but has also demonstrated a willingness to act unilaterally, if necessary. The most striking example of this trend was Turkey?s second confrontation with Syria in October 1998 over support for the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK). But there are other more recent examples, including Ankara?s threat to use force to prevent the deployment of the S-300 missiles by the Republic of Cyprus and its daring capture of PKK leader Abdullah Fcalan in Kenya in February 1999. 

It is with this introduction that the agenda of Turkish demands on Greece has increased over the years. Turkey has gradually gained a sense of self-worth in terms of size, military might and strategic value. These became the determining factor in Turkey's view of Greece. As time passed power was used by Turkey as the major condition for resolving any Greco-Turkish differences. It must be said that these differences have arisen simply because Turkey is dissatisfied with the status quo.

Today, besides the Cyprus tragedy, three other critical questions give rise to serious tension between Greece and Turkey: 1) the Aegean continental shelf; 2) control of the air traffic over the sea; and 3) the allocation of operational responsibility of the Aegean and its air space within the framework of NATO.

1. Greco Turkish relations and the Cyprus Tragedy 

The ambiguity that governed the transition from cold-war entrenchment to the relative freedom of movement within the climate of detente, spurred Turkey to pursue a more autonomous policy within NATO. The Middle East crisis of 1967 increased the value of their country in the American agenda and at the same time convinced the Turkish policy-makers that the vulnerable adjacent regions were no longer off limits. Furthermore the Soviet-American detente minimised the probability of a Russian military involvement in regions of high priority for US interests and therefore what appeared unthinkable to President Johnson in 1965, was condoned by Henry Kissinger in 1974. Turkey illegally invaded Cyprus.

Today the Cyprus Tragedy remains a major source of instability in the Eastern Mediterranean and a major concern for Greece and Turkey?s NATO allies. At the same time, the Cyprus invasion opened the Pandora's box of the Aegean and soon one after another the contested issues popped out in quick succession. In January 1996, the two countries nearly went to war over the islet of Imia. Only last minute, high-level U.S. intervention prevented a possible military clash between the two countries. Moreover, in the wake of the incident, the air forces of both sides continued to engage in mock dogfights, increasing the risk that any inadvertent accident or incident could spiral out of control and lead to armed conflict. 

Recently however, Greek-Turkish relations have begun to warm. In July 1999, the two countries opened a dialogue on non-sensitive issues such as trade, the environment, and tourism. This dialogue was given greater impetus by the earthquake in Turkey on August 19 and the one in September in Athens, which provoked an outburst of popular sympathy in both countries. This was followed by Greece?s support for Turkey?s EU candidacy at the Helsinki summit in December 1999 and a visit to Ankara by Greek Prime Minister George Papandreou in January 2000 - the first visit by a Greek foreign minister to Turkey in nearly 40 years. 

To date the dialogue has been limited to ?low politics?-i.e. non-controversial items such as trade and tourism. However, the success of these talks could lead to a broader dialogue on more sensitive issues in the Aegean. Turkey has indicated that it would be willing to bring the continental shelf issue to the International Court of Justice in The Hague, a long-standing Greek demand. This is an important shift in Turkey?s policy and could lay the basis for an eventual resolution of the continental shelf issue. 

Despite this "dialogue", Cyprus remains a major irritant in relations. However, the EU?s acceptance of Turkey?s candidacy for EU membership, as well as the recent improvement in Greek-Turkish relations, add a new dynamic to the Cyprus equation and could eventually contribute to a settlement of the tragedy. Turkey now has a greater incentive for trying to achieve a settlement on Cyprus. A Cyprus settlement would not only give new impetus to the recent thaw in Greek-Turkish relations, but would also remove an important obstacle to Turkey?s eventual membership in the EU. 

However, a major breakthrough on the Cyprus issue does seems unlikely in the near future. Within the Turkish Cypriot community, the parties that favour a more conciliatory approach to the Cyprus issue have lost support and are today weaker than they were several years ago. 

Nor is there any sign that Ankara is ready to put serious pressure on Rauf Denktash, the leader of the Turkish Cypriot community, to take a more conciliatory position. Denktash did agree to resume the UN-sponsored ?proximity talks? in December 1999. But there is little indication that he is about to drop his insistence that the so-called "Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus" (TRNC) be recognized as a co-equal independent state - a nonstarter as far as the international community and the Greek Cypriots are concerned 

It is doubtful moreover whether either Turkey or the Turkish Cypriots would ever agree to the demilitarization of the island, as the Greek Cypriots have proposed. Both Turkey and the Turkish Cypriots see the Turkish military presence as a guarantee of the security of the Turkish Cypriot community. However, Turkey is increasingly seeing this very presence as integrally linked to its own security. It compensates for Turkey?s weakness vis-?-vis Greece in the Aegean. Hence, Ankara is likely to oppose any settlement that would lead to a significant reduction of this presence. 

Several factors however could provide an incentive for progress over the medium term. A Greek-Turkish rapprochement that resolved the outstanding differences over the Aegean, for instance, could provide the much-needed impetus for the two countries to address the Cyprus problem. Moreover, if a real reconciliation with Greece were to occur, Turkey might feel less of a strategic imperative to retain a large military presence on Cyprus. 

The EU?s approach to Cyprus could also have an important influence on an eventual settlement. At the Helsinki summit in December 1999, the EU indicated that a Cyprus settlement would not be a pre-condition for the admission of the Republic of Cyprus. Thus if a settlement of the Cyprus issue has not been achieved by the time of the completion of accession negotiations with the Cypriot government, the EU will admit even a divided Cyprus. From the Turkish point of view, this would be highly disadvantageous, since Greek Cypriot membership would add another potential veto against Turkish accession to the EU. To avoid this, Turkey might be willing to make concessions that would facilitate a settlement. 

To date Ankara has not demonstrated any such conciliatory stance. In fact the reverse has occurred, with Cyprus and Greece making concessions and Ankara continuing with the use of threats, which do seem to be paying dividends once again. Turkey once again demonstrated her aggressive foreign policy which also caused a major crisis in the wider region when she threatened the use of force to prevent the deployment of the defensive S-300 missiles by the Cypriot government. The crisis was later defused when Cyprus, after consultation with Greece, agreed to deploy the missiles on Crete rather than on the Cypriot mainland. 

2. The Continental Shelf

Turkey considered her continental shelf to be an extension of the Asia Minor land mass into the sea to the west of certain Greek islands, to which she denied possession of a continental shelf. It follows that the islanders can only exploit the seabed of their islands within the territorial sea limit of six miles. Greece, while referring to the Geneva Convention which recognises the right of islands to a continental shelf, also reserved her right (following general world practice) to extend her territorial sea limit to twelve miles. Such a decision would automatically solve the continental-shelf controversy in Greece's favour but would, according to Turkey, constitute a casus belli because according to Turkey it would limit its access to international waters. Retreating from an earlier commitment, Turkey insisted that the question of the continental shelf should be solved through political negotiations between the two interested parties, while Greece, although submitting to negotiations, believed that the dispute necessitated a settlement by international legal arbitration. The advantages of such a solution are obvious. International arbitration would save the politicians of both countries from loss of face and a decision made by the International Court of Justice would be easier to accept.

Throughout the summer of 1976 the Turkish ship Sismik conducted research in areas of the Aegean shelf appertaining to Greek islands. Because of opposition at home and the danger of an armed confrontation with Turkey, the Greek government appealed to the UN Security Council and simultaneously sought arbitration unilaterally by the International Court of Justice. The Security Council did not attempt to deal with the substance of the dispute but tried to lessen the tensions by asking both sides to abstain from hostile acts. On 11 September 1976 and 19 December 1978 the International Court indicated its inability to come to a decision on the substance of the Greek application.

The 1978 Karamanlis-Ecevit meeting in Montreux, diminished tension on this specific issue. Both sides agreed to discuss the problem and to abstain from activities (such as magneto metric studies for discovering oil in disputed areas), which would cause friction between them. Although bilateral discussions did not lead to a solution they did at least reduce the possibility of recourse to violence. Turkey continued to reject the median line between the islands and the mainland and insisted on her formula of equity, but refrained from pressing her own argument. 

3. Air Traffic Control 

While refusing to accept an extension of Greece's territorial waters, Turkey pointed out that the existing six-mile limit should set the standard for Greek air space, which since 1932 has extended four miles beyond the limit of Greece's territorial sea. By constantly violating the ten-mile limit of Greek air-space with her fighters, Turkey has since 1974 embarked on the dangerous practice of unilaterally redefining the Aegean air-space. This systematic testing of nerves has repeatedly caused deadly accidents and could lead to general conflagration. 

A regional convention of the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) in Paris decided in 1952 that the Aegean controlled air-space (except the band of Turkish national air-space off the coast of Asia Minor) should form part of the Athens Flight Information Region (FIR) for air traffic control purposes. All planes flying west (civil or military) were required to file flight plans and to report positions as they crossed the FIR boundary after leaving the coast of Turkey. Planes coming from the opposite direction were required to report to the control centre in Istanbul as they entered the Turkish FIR. As Andrew Wilson pointed out: "To have placed the FIR boundary further to the west would have obliged Greek aircraft to pass through a Turkish zone of control on flights to the Greek islands. To this extent the arrangement was consistent with geography and seems to have worked well for 22 years". On 6 August 1974 the Turkish Authorities issued NOTAM 714 (notice to ICAO for transmission to air users) demanding that all aircraft reaching the median line of the Aegean report their flight plan to Istanbul. Greece refused to accept this contravention of ICAO rules and, on 14 August 1974, issued NOTAM 1157 declaring the Aegean area of the Athens FIR dangerous because of the threat of conflicting control orders. All international flights in the Aegean between the two countries were suspended. On 22 February 1980 Turkey withdrew her claim to air-traffic rights in the eastern half of the Aegean, and the air corridors were subsequently reopened. 

4. The NATO Framework

Greece's withdrawal from NATO`s military structure after the failure of the western alliance to react to the captivity of northern Cyprus, was more of a trial separation than a divorce since the country remained in the political arm of the Alliance. As early as August 1975, and after the normalisation of Greece's return to a democratic regime, Karamanlis' government expressed its willingness to re-enter the military structure of NATO. However Turkey, having raised a claim over the reallocation of the Athens FIR, was in effect also demanding a reallocation of the operational control zones of the Aegean air space, vetoed reintegration attempts. According to the pre-1974 arrangements, NATO has ceded the military control over the Aegean air-space (Greek and international sea waters) to Greek command. Any other arrangement would result in placing Greek territories under Turkish protection.

The reintegration of Greece into the military structure of NATO in October 1980 was achieved after Turkey was persuaded to postpone her claims on the operational status quo in the Aegean. In his interview with the Financial Times (24 February 1982), Andreas Papandreou admitted that, as Turkish pressure had diminished since the advent of military rule in Ankara, Greece could perhaps exchange her right to extent her territorial waters for the withdrawal of Turkish objections to the pre-1974 operational responsibilities in the Aegean. Such operational arrangements that exist within the NATO framework, however, are without international legal status, and if Greece had chosen to ignore Turkish demands, there was nothing that Turkey could do to impose her claims short of war. All Greek governments have made clear that they cannot tolerate arrangements that would affect the air space of the Greek islands.

In his September 1979 Harvard speech, George Rallis (then Greek Foreign Minister) expressed his country's fundamental concern over the Aegean problem in the following terms: "Claims that could result in the enclavement of the Greek islands of the Eastern Aegean in a Turkish continental shelf and in a Turkish controlled air-space are obviously unacceptable to Greece, all the more so since such claims have no basis either in International Law or in International practice".

The most persistent Turkish demand in the Aegean is the demilitarisation of the Greek islands of Samothrace, Lemnos, Lesvos, Chios, Samos and the Dodecanese. Turkey invokes the relevant provisions of the Lausanne Treaty and Convention (1923) as well as the Paris Treaty (1947) while Greece argues that Samothrace and Lemnos were relieved of their demilitarised status through the Montreux Convention of 1936 and the other islands were fortified after the establishment of the Turkish Fourth Army based in Izmir. According to US estimates, the Fourth Army had had a peacetime force of 35,000 combat personnel and is equipped with landing craft and an amphibious capability, which is the second largest among NATO members.

In the past Greece has repeatedly cancelled its participation in Aegean NATO exercises, refusing to accept the exclusion of the Lemnos air-field from NATO scenarios. In an attempt to overcome the deadlock, Papandreou tried another approach by the end of 1984. Greece officially notified the presence of its forces on the island in the Defence Planning Questionnaire (DPQ) and asked that they be placed under NATO command but failed to override Turkey's veto.

On 27 March 1987, Greece and Turkey came as close to an armed confrontation as they had been for years. The cause of the crisis was Turkey's decision to send a research vessel escorted by warships to explore for oil in the disputed continental shelf around Lesvos, Lemnos and Samothrace. 

It seems that the Turks misread Papandreou's pronouncement that he would nationalise the North Aegean Petroleum Company (NAPC) consortium prospecting for oil in the northern continental shelf of Greece whereas Papandreou was clearly trying to prevent NAPC from drilling in a disputed area in order to avoid trouble with Turkey. The crisis was defused after Greece's firm stand, but both sides agreed to abstain from oil exploration in a large part of the Aegean continental shelf.

The question of Turkey's relationship with the West is a recurring theme in Turkish history, especially at times when the Middle Eastern option appeared to recede. Turgut Ozal made his own western preference clear from the outset of his term in power but the end of the Iran-Iraq war, the withdrawal of Soviet forces from Afghanistan and the declining fortunes of the oil producers, relieved his foreign policy from its eastern distractions and made the European Community a more desirable prospect.

The meeting of Papandreou and Ozal in Davos in February 1988 heralded a brief but significant detente in Greek-Turkish relations. The move elicited relief from the Greek public and was based on a consensus among the Greek political parties. In Turkey its acceptance was less obvious. Ozal's Motherland Party had only secured 35% of the electorate in November 1987 while the position of the other political forces on Davos remained unclear.

There was also confusion between the two sides. Before the meeting, Papandreou had declared his commitment a) to a "compromise" between Greece and Turkey, which was the sine qua non for referring the Continental Shelf dispute to the Hague and b) to the withdrawal of the Turkish forces from Cyprus, as preconditions for any progress in Greek-Turkish relations. These, according to Papandreou, were the only two issues he intended to discuss in Davos. Instead he agreed with Ozal to create two committees that would, a) review all pending problems between the two states and b) would deal with questions of cooperation in commerce and tourism.

On the Turkish side, Foreign Minister Mesut Yilmaz, appeared to be in tune with his Ministry's establishment when in the spring of 1988 he reiterated standard Turkish positions on the "Turks" of Greek Thrace and refused to consider a troops withdrawal from Cyprus before the two communities came to an agreement. On the Greek side, there was increased reluctance to discuss issues that threatened the status quo, although they constituted points of friction between the two states and technically belonged to the competences of the first committee.

The demise of communism and the unity of the Soviet Union temporarily deprived Turkey of its vital role in the western alliance. The prospect of a withdrawal of US interest brought Europe into Turkish focus. The year 1989 therefore could have been a good one for a genuine Greek-Turkish rapprochement. Turkey was preparing for the final attempt to enter the European Community and Greece was looking for a principled solution to the problems that strained relations with her neighbour and burdened her own ailing economy. Unfortunately the Davos process between the two Prime Ministers -Papandreou and Ozal- came a year too soon and the detente that was generated by it had expired by the time (20 December 1989) that the Turkish government received a negative reply from the European Commission to its 14 April 1987 application for full membership in the EC. Since further negotiations for entry were deferred, a major incentive for seeking immediate improvement of relations with Greece was removed form Turkish desiderata.

The Gulf crisis, which commenced in the summer of 1990, was yet another turning point in Turkish foreign policy. Between the winter of 1989 and the fall of 1990, there was considerable change of attitude on the part of Turgut Ozal, who had already secured his election as President of the Republic through the majority of his Motherland Party in parliament. Whereas in the past Ozal had projected the image of a moderate technocrat, dedicated to his country's European vocation and therefore open to a Greek-Turkish detente, during the Gulf crisis he was transformed into a gambler who pursued opportunity wherever it occurred in order to establish Turkey's role as a peripheral power. At the same time he continued to give the Islamic element a free hand in areas which under the Ataturk tradition had been off limits to devout Moslems. He thus managed to extend his country's influence in Azerbaijan as part of Turkey's old Turanian claims to the inhabitants of Transcaucasia and used this foothold as a leverage to extract Soviet compliance on such items as the exclusion of the Southeastern part of Turkey from the CFE disarmament talks in Vienna.

Throughout the Gulf war, Ozal succeeded in becoming a standard bearer for the cause of the alliance against Saddam. Via CNN, he championed western values, lectured on democracy and liberalism and admonished the Germans for their passivity throughout the conflict. This stance won his points with the American administration, which were soon turned into economic benefits. Despite Ataturk's policy, Turkey in the post-war period had often vacillated between a Middle-Eastern and a European vocation according to opportunities arising in each instance. Criticised by a small westernised elite as well as by the military and the dedicated Moslems for his departure from neutrality, Ozal chose to appeal to his wider public's instincts by promising a windfall of benefits for his contribution to the war effort. He also might have hoped that a disintegration of Iraq would yield the oil-rich province of Mosul to Turkish influence.

Ozal's transformed image as a dynamic politician with a daring foreign policy, prompted such statements as that of March 1991 questioning the status of the Greek Dodecanese islands. He was also quick to embrace the initiative of the UN Secretary General on Cyprus in order 1) to counter the EC Presidency`s (Luxembourg) effort at a solution, and 2) to provide a justification to members of the State Department and Congress trying to abolish the 7:10 ratio in military aid to Greece and Turkey.

Ozal's successor as Prime Minister (and later as President) Suleyman Demirel, was an old conservative who disliked his predecessor's innovations. His presence in power was conducive to a rapprochement in Greek-Turkish relations. On February 1, 1992 he met with Prime Minister Constantine Mitsotakis in Davos. Their joint communique stated that they had agreed to prepare a "friendship, good-neighbourliness, cooperation treaty" and pledged support for UN efforts in Cyprus. Although Mitsotakis was criticised at home for not insisting that a Cyprus settlement was the precondition for improved relations with Turkey, he insisted that bilateral disputes and a solution of the Cyprus problem must follow separate, but parallel paths. The friendship treaty however did not materialise. Demirel's moderating influence did not alter the predicament of his successors who were absorbed by Turkey's internal metamorphosis. Transition, from the Ataturk legacy into an era of Islamic influence became the main challenge for the new generation of center-right politicians., Ms Tansu Ciller and Mr. Mesut Yilmaz were too preoccupied with domestic developments to bother striking an improved relationship with Greece. Ciller in fact, encouraged and exploited a strain in relations as a diversion to her own insoluble problems at home.

In March 1995, Greece raised its objections to Turkey's entry into the EU Customs Union agreement, with the understanding that the application of Cyprus for membership would be discussed after the Intergovernmental meeting of 1996. Greece's move, although celebrated in Turkey, elicited no positive response from Ciller's government towards Greece. A series of incidents between the two states that began in 1994, over the twelve mile issue, reached their high point on 8 June 1995 when the Turkish parliament granted the government license to take whatever action it deemed necessary (including military) if Greece exercised its right, foreseen by the International Law of the Sea Convention, to extend its territorial waters. Although such a decision had not been made, Greece refused to give up a potentially important bargaining chip by relinquishing its right to extend its territorial waters.

When a Turkish vessel ran into a reef near the islet of Imia on December 26, 1995 and refused to be tugged by Greek boats insisting that this was Turkish territory, and after Turkish diplomats in Ankara officially supported this view, the Mayor of nearby Kalymnos decided to plant a Greek flag on the islet. A team of Hurriyet journalists subsequently removed the flag in January 1996, and a Turkish flag was hoisted on the barren islet. Greek soldiers replaced the Greek flag and the incident led to an escalation that added another yet negative item in the already burdened agenda of Greek-Turkish relations. Was the Turkish move designed to bring the Greeks to the negotiating table over all the Aegean claims raised by Turkey, or an opportunity to allow Ciller a way out of her political impasse? Since 1994, "casus belli" threats became the Turkish Prime Minister's favourite expression when addressing relations with Greece.

The problems over the Imia issue continue to surface. This is the first occasion that Turkey lays claims on Greece's land territory and chooses to do so within the Dodecanese islands whose regime has been described in the 1932 treaty between Italy and Turkey. The sea borders agreed upon was a continuous median line from north to south, between the islands and the coast of Turkey. After the Dodecanese were ceded to Greece, the latter, as the successor state inherited the agreed regime of 1932.

The pattern has become predictable: Every so many years since 1973, a new item is forcefully introduced in the Greek-Turkish agenda, followed by invitations to bilateral negotiations. In 1973 Turkey refused to accept that Greek islands are entitled to a continental shelf, in 1974 the territorial integrity of Cyprus was violated and the island was divided in two. The same year the Turkish aviation authorities challenged the 1952 ICAO decision, according to which, for air-traffic control purposes, most of the Aegean airspace was considered part of the Athens Flight Information Region (FIR). At the same time the violation of Greece's ten-mile air- space (established in 1931) began in earnest by Turkish aircraft and this practice continues to this day. Fighters traversing Greek islands off the coast of Turkey have become a routine. In 1978 Turkey refused to abide by the 1964 NATO decision that the operational responsibility of most Aegean air-space was assigned to Greece. Far from considering the Aegean a Greek sea (since much of it consists of international waters and air-space) the above arrangements were based on the rationale that between Greece and Turkey flights must go over the Greek islands.

Questions and objections concerning the regime of the islets can only be brought to the International Court of Justice, since this is obviously a legal question. If Turkey would agree to submit the issue to the Court, the Greek government has stated its willingness to actively take part in the procedure. However, Turkey's refusal to accept international litigation on one issue is not new. In 1976 Greece applied to the International Court of Justice over the question of the Continental Shelf, but Turkey insisted on bilateral negotiations. The bilateral talks between 1976-1981 failed to produce a tangible result. It was Greece's view then, what is valid today, that international legal processes will preclude confrontational attitudes and will spare politicians on both sides from going back on their word.

According to Greek perceptions, Turkey is forever burdening the agenda with new claims so that if bilateral negotiations occur it will be only on Turkish demands. Of course this strategy precludes any credible discussion and inches towards armed conflict with each passing incident. The most recent, following the Imia crisis, was centered on the inhabited Greek island of Gavdos. During the planning of NATO exercise "DYNAMIC MIX 1996" in Naples (Italy) to take place in the area of Crete, the representative of the Turkish General Staff submitted a statement (dated May 30, 1996), according to which Turkey opposed the inclusion of the Greek island of Gavdos (situated Southwest of Crete) in the exercise "due to its disputed status of property". The Turkish Representative also suggested that NATO officials should refrain from becoming involved in what he termed as a Greek-Turkish dispute. Senior officials of the Turkish Government and Prime Minister Yilmaz himself endorsed the claim in the following days. Seventy-three years after the signing of the Lausanne Peace Treaty, Mr. Yilmaz referred to unspecified islets of the Aegean and questioned Greece's sovereignty over the island of Gavdos, the legal status of which was defined in 1913, by the Treaty of London. According to that document Turkey renounced all sovereign rights over Crete (and Gavdos in this respect), with article 4 of the London Peace Treaty. As far as the Aegean Sea is concerned, the Treaty of Lausanne provides that Turkish sovereignty extends only to those islands that lie within 3 miles from the Turkish coast as well as on the islands of Imbros, Bozcaada and Rabbit Islands. With the same Treaty Turkey renounced all rights and titles over all territories and islands beyond the three miles limit.

On 7 August 1996 the Turkish daily Cumhuriyet, printed excerpts of a Turkish academy report, according to which any Aegean island under six miles from the Turkish coast "by law belongs to Turkey, a successor of the Ottoman empire" and "Turkey still retains sovereignty over the islands which were not given to Greece under article 12 of the 1923 Lausanne Treaty". Greece is accused of allegedly "claiming all of the Aegean islands that are not mentioned in the Lausanne Treaty and the 1947 treaty of Paris" which settled the sovereignty over the Dodecanese islands. Although the content of the academy report has neither been affirmed nor refuted by the Erbakan government, it appears to reflect accurately a sense of disappointment from international reaction to the Imia incident. "Greece has succeeded in disputing the Turkish sovereignty over Kardak (Imia) which is Turkish territory according to international law. Turkey must persuade Greece to sit at the negotiating table about the status in the Aegean" it said.

After the Erbakan-Ciller government of July 1996 was formed, widespread criticism against various aspects of Turkish policy, previously downplayed by the western media, was unleashed. Jim Hoagland of the Washington Post turned his guns against Ciller for striking a "cynical" deal to save her skin and because it was during her term in power that Erbakan's Welfare party went from 7 percent of the national vote to 21 percent. "Ciller never attempted to gain control over the Turkish military, still a dominant force in the country's politics. The military has in fact been throwing its weight around in this time of domestic uncertainty, stoking the fires of nationalism by aggressively courting confrontation with Greece and smacking around Turkey's own Kurdish citizens and Kurdish guerrillas in Iraq and Iran".

Western coverage of the two Greek Cypriot's murder by "Grey-Wolf" paramilitary groups in mid-August 1996, also constitutes a departure from the relative apathy of the Western media to similar phenomena in the past. No doubt Erbakan's decision to visit Iran in the midst of President Clinton's advisory to US allies that they should abstain from relations with the maverick state, has added fuel to the fire.

In the meantime, Greek vigilance must focus on the protection of the Greek islands off the Turkish coasts. In an August 1996 article of Air-Force Monthly, three options of a Turkish attack on Greek territory were aired: "The first would be to occupy some of the inhabited Greek islands close to mainland Turkey. Kastelorizo, the most easterly of the Dodecanese chain and barely two miles (3 km) from the Turkish mainland is an obvious choice, but this seems hardly worth the effort. The much larger islands of Lesvos, Chios and Samos would give much greater long-term strategic gains by opening up afar larger portion of the Aegean". The second Turkish option, according to the author of the article "would be a limited offensive in mainland Thrace. While this seems unlikely, the fact is that both countries are better equipped to fight a series of massive land battles than anything else". The third option, "which would hurt Greece badly, would be the conquest of the remainder of Cyprus ... (however) should Turkey seek to occupy the whole island, it would be faced with a hostile population and an extremely active resistance movement. The game is simply not worth the candle". In conclusion, the author does not exclude an attack on a couple of the larger Greek islands which "might well prove to be a useful bargaining counter for the future, if they can be taken at a reasonable price". What, not too long ago, appeared by occidental commentators as Greek paranoia, is now being discussed in earnest.

At the end of every incident the US urges Greece to accept bilateral negotiations over Aegean questions with Turkey. Given the declared importance to which the US attaches to its own relations with Turkey, the leasing of flight refuelling tankers that allow constant refuelling of Turkish planes in the air, and the sale of ATACMs, Greek officials view American mediation with concern. At the same time the EU partners of Greece have made few credible efforts to mediate and some British TV station asks if fighting over a rock in the Aegean made any sense. Images of the armada sailing across the globe to affirm British rights in the Falklands, and the solidarity displayed then towards a fellow member by all European Community states, immediately spring to mind. Yet Greece must still point out to its NATO and EU partners that it is impossible to discriminate over sovereignty, be it in Syntagma Square Athens, or in a barren Aegean islet.

It is also Greece's task to convince her allies that they have a significant vested interest in improving relations between the Aegean neighbours. This can be achieved if the EU sets the usual concrete standards for Turkey's entry, with no mix of nebulous references to cultural factors. Improved relations between Greece and Turkey besides opening up a new vista of economic prospects, will also facilitate Turkish efforts at full EU membership. This will in time secure the acculturation of Turkey into the ways of the west and will therefore reduce Aegean problems to their true dimensions.

Western pressure on Greece to submit to bilateral discussions with Turkey on the basis of an agenda that has no Greek input, will inevitably lead to a conflict that will destabilise the Aegean for the years to come, will add to the economic tribulations of the adversaries and will ultimately destroy Turkey's European prospect. 

 

Article Source: Justice 4 Cyprus 

 

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