Turkey is the only country that refers to and demands the demilitarisation of the eastern Aegean islands.
With regard to the militarisation of the islands in the Eastern Aegean, various international agreements apply. In particular :
• the status of the islands of Limnos and Samothrace was governed by the 1923 Lausanne Treaty on the Straits, but was been replaced by the 1936 Montreux Treaty;
• the status of the islands of Lesvos, Chios, Samos and Ikaria, is governed by the 1923 Lausanne Peace Treaty; and
• the status of the Dodecanese islands is governed by the 1947 Paris Peace Treaty.
Limnos and Samothrace
The demilitarisation of the Greek islands of Limnos and Samothrace along with the demilitarisation of the Dardanelles, the Sea of Marmara and the Bosporus, and the Turkish Imvros (Gokceada), Tenedos (Bozcaada) and Rabbit Islands (Tavcan), was originally provided for in the 1923 Lausanne Treaty on the Straits. This was annulled by the 1936 Montreux Treaty, which, as it categorically stated in its preamble, replaced in its entirety the aforementioned Lausanne Treaty.
Greece’s right to militarise Limnos and Samothrace was recognized by Turkey, in accordance with the letter sent to the Greek Prime Minister on 6 May 1936 by the Turkish Ambassador in Athens at the time, Roussen Esref, upon instructions from his Government. The Turkish government reiterated this position when the then Turkish Minister for Foreign Affairs, 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 Limnos and Samothrace, with the following statement:
“The provisions pertaining to the islands of Limnos and Samothrace, which belong to our neighbor 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.
The status of 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 Lesvos, 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.
• 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 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.
On the other hand, the same article permits Greece to maintain a normal contingent called up for military service, which can be trained on the spot, as well as a force of gendarmerie and police.
The Status of the Islands of the South-Eastern Aegean (the Dodecanese)
The Dodecanese islands were ceded to Greece in full sovereignty by the Paris Peace Treaty between Italy and the Allies in April 1947. 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 regard 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, however, be noted that a demilitarised status lost its raison d’être with the creation of NATO and the Warsaw Pact, as incompatible with countries’ participating 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 defense 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.
Apart from the threat of war, Turkey:
• invaded Cyprus in 1974, in violation of the Cyprus Treaty of Guarantee, to which Greece is a signatory state, and despite the numerous United Nations Security Council and General Assembly Resolutions to the contrary, still continues to maintain substantial military forces in the occupied territories.
• systematically violates Greek Air Space, and its military aircraft, often armed, fly over inhabited Greek islands in the Aegean Sea, which raises serious security concerns.
• over the past three decades, has maintained a significant number of military units, aircraft and landing craft at points on the coast of Asia Minor just across from the Greek islands, which is a serious threat against Greece.
This state of affairs, in conjunction with the threat of a casus belli should Greece extend its territorial waters to 12 nautical miles as is its legal entitlement, coupled with a more general revisionist tendency in Turkey concerning International Treaties determining the status of the Aegean, oblige Greece to be in a state of preparedness that it is allowed, if need be, to exercise its right to legitimate defense, as provided for in Article 51 of the United Nations Charter and to protect the Greek islands of the Aegean.
This article was published on June 14, 2018 by the Greek Ministry of Foreign Affairs.