About sea frontiers

About sea frontiers

While Greece was burning, Turkey’s Foreign Minister Melvut Cavusoglu decided to stir tensions in the Aegean by claiming that there are no sea borders between Greece and Turkey, prompting a swift and unambiguous response from Athens.

Ankara knows very well that when the Dodecanese islands were transferred from the Ottomans to the Italians in 1912, the agreement between them clearly identified sea boundaries. Cavusoglu is also fully aware the fact that in 1947, the land and sea of the Dodecanese region was transferred from Italian to Greek administration and was officially incorporated into Greece in 1948.

A designated borderline north of the Dodecanese between Greece and Turkey does not exist. There the 6-mile sovereignty rule, or the median line where distances are smaller, applies, in line with the Treaty of Lausanne.

During the 1950s, this regulation was likely not considered adequate by Athens, which sought to set out official sea borders with Ankara. Turkey was unwilling to do this back then.

It is interesting that although the distinction at the technical level is clear, Ankara’s offensive behavior remains the same, across the entire eastern Aegean, and Athens diligently refrains from stating the qualitative difference of Turkey’s provocations.

Another interesting issue is that although in the 1950s Ankara was unwilling to proceed with an agreement on Aegean Sea borders with Athens, today Cavusoglu presents the absence of such an agreement as a disadvantage.

There may be many ways of interpreting this behavior. One is that Ankara has put the matter of “gray zones” in the Aegean on its agenda. There may be consequences that Athens will have to bear in the event of an precise sea border delineation, as certain islets may be handed over to Turkey.

It should also not be surprising that over the years, Greece and Turkey have occasionally invoked the same arguments for the promotion of their own goals. When Eleftherios Venizelos was pursuing the Asia Minor campaign, he put forward the argument that the eastern Aegean islands are an extension of Anatolia.

The same argument has been invoked by Ankara in the years since democracy was restored to Greece in 1974, and of course it has been rejected by Athens.

It’s all well and good to play with words. The question is how long this can last.

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