Writing for Militaire.gr, Lieutenant General Antonis Vassiliou has responded to Turkish demands that Greece demilitarises its Eastern Aegean Islands.
Vassiliou explains that although a lot of ink has been spilled on the issue of irrational and repeated claims by Turkey’s political and military establishment to demilitarise the Greek islands from Thasos to the Kastellorizo archipelago, he will cite some strong facts which prove the absurdity of these claims.
The status of the Greek islands in the Eastern Aegean is governed by three international treaties:
- Lemnos and Samothrace: From the Treaty of Lausanne of 1923 to the provision for the Bosphorus Straits, which was replaced by the 1936 Montreux Convention
- Mytilene, Chios, Samos and Ikaria: From the Treaty of Lausanne of 1923
- The Dodecanese: From the 1947 Paris Peace Treaty.
Lemnos and Samothrace
The demilitarisation of the Greek islands of Lemnos and Samothrace, along with the demilitarisation of the Dardanelles, the Sea of Marmara and the Bosporus, as well as the Turkish-occupied islands of Imvros, Tenedos and Lagouson, was provided for in the 1923 Treaty of Lausanne, which was replaced by the Montreux Convention of 1936.
Greece’s right to militarise Lemnos and Samothrace was recognised by Turkey, according to a letter addressed to the Greek Prime Minister on May 6, 1936 by then-Turkish Ambassador to Athens Roussen Esref, following instructions from his government, Vasilliou explained. The Turkish government reiterated this position when then-Turkish Foreign Minister Rustu Aras, in his address to the Turkish National Assembly on the occasion of the ratification of the Montreux Treaty, unreservedly recognised Greece’s legal right to deploy troops on Lemnos and Samothrace, with the following statement: “The provisions pertaining to the islands of Lemnos and Samothrace, which belong to our neighbour and friendly country Greece and were demilitarised in application of the 1923 Lausanne Treaty, were also abolished by the new Montreux Treaty, which gives us great pleasure” (Gazette of the Minutes of the Turkish National Assembly, volume 12, July 31/1936, page 309). During the same period, Turkey gave similar assurances on this subject to the governments of interested third countries.
Lesvos, Chios, Samos and Ikaria.
The Lausanne Treaty makes no mention of these islands having been granted demilitarised status.
The Greek government simply commits to not establishing naval bases or fortifications there in accordance with Article 13 of the Treaty. More specifically, this article specifies that:
“With a view to ensuring the maintenance of peace, the Greek Government undertakes to observe the following restrictions in the islands of Mytilene, Chios, Samos and Nikaria:
- No naval base and no fortification will be established in the said islands
- Greek military aircraft will be forbidden to fly over the territory of the Anatolian coast. Reciprocally, the Turkish Government will forbid their military aircraft to fly over the said islands
- The Greek military forces in the said islands will be limited to the normal contingent called up for military service, which can be trained on the spot, as well as to a force of gendarmerie and police in proportion to the force of gendarmerie and police existing in the whole of the Greek territory”
Whilst to date Greece has faithfully implemented these provisions, Turkey has repeatedly violated the legal obligations incumbent upon it and continues to do so, despite the fact that the same article obliges Turkey not to permit its military aircraft to enter the airspace of these Greek islands.
The Dodecanese (Astypalea, Rhodes, Halki, Karpathos, Kassos, Tilos, Nisyros, Kalymnos, Leros, Patmos, Lipsi, Symi, Kos and Kastelorizo, as well as the islets adjacent to them) were ceded to Greece “under full sovereignty” Paris Peace of 1947 between Italy and the Allies.
The provisions of this Treaty provided for the demilitarisation of these islands: “The above islands shall be demilitarised and shall remain so.” There is a National Guard presence on the Dodecanese islands, which has been declared in accordance with CFE provisions.
With regards to Turkish claims on the demilitarisation of the Dodecanese islands, it should be noted that:
- Turkey is not a signatory state to this Treaty, which therefore constitutes a “res inter alios acta” for Turkey; i.e., an issue pertaining to others. According to Article 34 of the Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties, a treaty does not create obligations or rights for third countries.
- The demilitarised status of the Dodecanese islands was imposed after the decisive intervention of the Soviet Union and echoes Moscow’s political intentions at that point in time. It should be noted, that demilitarised status lost its raison d’être with the creation of NATO and the Warsaw Pact, as incompatible with countries’ participation in military alliances. Against this backdrop, demilitarised status ceased to apply to the Italian islands of Pantelaria, Lampedusa, Lampione and Linosa, as well as to West Germany on the one hand and Bulgaria, Romania, East Germany, Hungary and Finland on the other.
It should be stressed that Greece, just like any other country in the world, has never ceded its natural right of defence in the event of a threat to its islands or any other part of its territory, especially since there has been sufficient proof over the past decades that Turkey is acting in an inconsistent manner and in violation of the United Nations Charter.
According to Article 34 of the Treaty of Vienna on the Law of Treaties: “A treaty does not create either obligations or rights for a third State without its consent.” Turkey is not a party to the Paris Peace Treaty and therefore “has no right to speak.”
In addition to those provided by the international treaties of Lausanne, Montreux and Paris for these Greek islands, the basic principle and crown of all is Article 51 of the Charter of the United Nations, which refers to actions in relation to threats to peace, violations. peace and aggression:
“Nothing in the present Charter shall impair the inherent right of individual or collective self-defence if an armed attack occurs against a Member of the United Nations, until the Security Council has taken measures necessary to maintain international peace and security. Measures taken by Members in the exercise of this right of self-defence shall be immediately reported to the Security Council and shall not in any way affect the authority and responsibility of the Security Council under the present Charter to take at any time such action as it deems necessary in order to maintain or restore international peace and security.”
Greece cannot for any reason relinquish its natural and legal right to defend itself in the event of a threat against its islands, at a time when Turkey has already threatened Greece with a Casus Belli for war, has aggressively ordered its forces on coastal areas of Turkey near the islands to regularly conduct landing exercises, has concentrated landings in areas opposite the islands, and violates Greek daily airspace in the area with armed aircraft.
Regarding the security of Greece’s islands and the International Court of Justice in The Hague, Greece, in a unilateral statement submitted in 1994, has accepted the mandatory jurisdiction of the International Court of Justice in The Hague, against any other state, but with the exception of disputes involving the adoption by Greece of military defence measures for reasons of national defence. In 2015, Greece submitted a new supplementary declaration, reiterating that it recognises the jurisdiction of the International Court of Justice in The Hague as mandatory, but excluding the following three issues from its jurisdiction:
- Differences in measures to protect sovereignty and territorial integrity on the part of national defence
- Differences in state borders or sovereignty over the territory of the Hellenic Republic, including any dispute over the scope and boundaries of territorial waters and airspace
- Cases where the other party has accepted the jurisdiction of the Court only for a dispute or less than twelve months from the filing of the action before the Court
These three exceptions also define the Greek attitude towards The Hague. We are not discussing the demilitarisation of the islands, the disputes of Greek sovereignty over small Aegean islands and the extent of territorial waters and airspace.
It should be noted that Turkey has not accepted the jurisdiction of the International Court of Justice in The Hague and therefore there is no international agreement establishing a judicial link between the two states. The only way for us to find ourselves in The Hague is for Turkey to first submit a declaration of acceptance of The Hague and to draft a co-promise with Greece on the issue of appeal, which in our view is one and only. The delimitation of the Exclusive Economic Zone.
* Antonis Vassiliou is a Lieutenant General, a Graduate Civil Engineer, an MSc Business Researcher, a former OSCE Consultant on Contractual Equipment and a former Designer of NATO’s Management and Information Systems.