Peace and security for future generations, good faith and dialogue, are and must be the common goal of two neighbors. Particularly in the case of neighbors like Greece and Turkey, who share a heavy historical past and a difficult present in their bilateral relations. What is required, in the case of Turkey, is the road that will lead us there. It is a difficult road, but we must be optimistic that we will walk it.
Greece is a modern European country that consistently resolves any disputes with neighboring countries by peaceful means, through dialogue and consultation. It understands that reciprocal blame is the easy solution. At the same time, phrases such as mutual respect, peaceful means of resolving disputes, good faith and dialogue are nice and easy. Who could disagree?
But what happens when actions refute words? When violations of sovereignty and sovereign rights in the Eastern Mediterranean or the Aegean are counted in the thousands, at an increasing rate? When the illegal actions on the Greek continental shelf – the right of which according to international law already exists and was not born with a declaration – escalate with an escort of warships? When Greece is threatened with war by Turkey if it exercises the right to extend its territorial waters to 12 nautical miles, in violation of fundamental principles of the UN Charter?
However, Turkey’s insistence on illegal behavior and the policy of faits accomplis does not create law, nor does it produce legal results. Instead, it undermines any trust between the two sides. Greece constantly points this out to Turkey, calling on Ankara to enter into a dialogue and respect international law. Greece is never the one that threatens directly or indirectly, it is never the side that seeks enforcement through the projection of power, it does not violate or try to challenge international legitimacy and it is never the one that refers to neighboring countries with inappropriate expressions.
It states the obvious. Namely that sovereign rights in maritime zones are neither a product of an individual perception of law nor do they vary according to the correlation of size and power between states. They are stipulated clearly and equally for all states by the customary and conventional law of the sea, which is binding for all states. Like it or not.
United Nations and European Union member-states do not disappear from the map if they are not recognized by someone. Entire islands do not disappear from the map to create, at will, new neighborhoods out of the blue, legal miscarriages and artificial illegal agreements. Nor, of course, are the legal sovereign rights of the islands, as enshrined in international law, a maximalist claim. And of course the unilateral claims of states do not constitute transnational differences. There is one and only one difference between Greece and Turkey. That of the delimitation of the continental shelf and the exclusive economic zone.
We are ready to restart the dialogue that will lead to negotiations in order to resolve this dispute or to refer it to the International Court of Justice in The Hague. In other words, we will continue to follow the path of international legitimacy followed by other Mediterranean countries to resolve similar disputes. We have proved this, very recently, with the signing of EEZ delimitation agreements with Italy and Egypt, after long and difficult negotiations. We would like to achieve the same with the rest of our neighbors. This includes Turkey, with which we will continue to coexist. We can coexist peacefully, extending a hand of friendship and seeking mutual understanding and mutual respect. Our people have a lot to teach us about this. But this depends primarily on Turkey itself.
* Nikos Dendias is Greece’s foreign minister.