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Greek militarization of Eastern Aegean islands in 5 questions

Athens continues to deploy military elements on Eastern Aegean islands in violation of international law on their non-military status

Tevfik Durul   | 17.06.2022
Greek militarization of Eastern Aegean islands in 5 questions


Athens continues to violate the non-military status of the Eastern Aegean islands in violation of international treaties to which it is a party, while Ankara has said the militarization of the islands poses a serious threat to Türkiye's security.

Not denying the militarization of the islands in question, Greece argues that its policy is a "right of self-defense."

Anadolu Agency has compiled details on the binding status of international agreements on the non-military status of the Eastern Aegean islands, the Greek policy of militarization of the islands, and Türkiye's steps in response.

Which Eastern Aegean islands are in question?

The islands of Thasos, Samotraki, Lemnos, Aya Evstratios, Lesvos, Chios, Psara, Samos, and Ikaria remain under Greek sovereignty on condition that they remain in non-military status under the 1923 Treaty of Lausanne.

The islands that were handed over to Greek sovereignty by Italy provided that they were demilitarized under the 1947 Paris Peace Treaty are called the Dodecanese Islands, comprising the islands of Patmos, Lipsi, Leros, Kalymnos, Kos, Nisyros, Astypalaia, Tilos, Chalki, Karpathos, Kassos, Symi, Rhodes, and Kastellorizo.

The proximity of Eastern Aegean islands to the mainland of Türkiye is an attention-grabber, and the most evident case is the island of Kastellorizo, which is only 2.1 kilometers (1.3 miles) to the Turkish mainland whereas its distance to the Greek mainland is 582 km (361 miles).

The island of Kastellorizo is not the only one that could be observed from geographical proximity from Türkiye's Aegean coasts, as the same goes for some larger islands such as Lesvos, Samos, and Chios at varying distances of up to 10 kilometers (6 miles) from the Turkish mainland.

The fact that these islands are at an arm's length from the Turkish mainland is the main reason behind the adoption of the non-military status in the first place as they could pose a potential threat to Türkiye's security.

How did Greece gain control of East Aegean Islands?

The Eastern Aegean islands stretching from Thasos to Ikaria were occupied by Greece during the 1912-13 Balkan Wars.

The future of the islands was to be decided by "Six States" (Austria-Hungary, England, France, Russia, Italy, and Germany) under the 1913 Treaty of London signed after the First Balkan War.

A notification issued to the governments of the Turkish and Greek sides by the "Six States" in 1914 said the islands would be ceded to the sovereignty of the latter.

In 1923, the decision of the "Six States" was approved by the Lausanne Peace Treaty signed following the Turkish War of Independence and World War I, and the islands went under Greek control.

In 1912, the Dodecanese Islands were occupied by Italy, which was supposed to withdraw from the islands according to the Treaty of Ouchy. However, Italy did not abide by the deal as World War I erupted and the islands remained under Italian sovereignty with Paris Peace Treaty signed once World War II ended.

Because Italy was on the losing end of World War I, these islands were handed over to Greece under the Paris Peace Treaty signed between Italy and the allied countries on Feb. 10, 1947. This treaty explicitly says that the islands in question would be rid of military elements and remain this way in the future.

Does Greece have right to militarize islands under int'l agreements?

The islands of Thasos, Aya Evstratios, Psara, Samotraki, and Lemnos were given to Greece through the decision of the "Six States" in 1914 and it was decided that these countries would give Türkiye a guarantee regarding demilitarization and non-military status of the islands. Under Article 12 of the Treaty of Lausanne, the 1914 Decision of Six Powers was confirmed.

The Treaty of Lausanne also noted that the Greek government would not be able to establish a naval base or fortification on the islands of Lesvos, Chios, Samos, and Ikaria.

The Paris Peace Treaty stressed the non-military status of the Dodecanese Islands, also noting that no military base or fortification could be built on the islands, no military exercises could be performed and no aerial, naval, or ground vehicles could be deployed there.

Both agreements permit the deployment of only a limited number of law enforcement units on the islands.

So, under the explicit provisions of the treaties to which Athens is a party to, Greece does not possess the right to arm the islands in the Eastern Aegean.

What sort of military activities does Greece hold on the islands?

Despite Türkiye's opposition and the obligations arising from international agreements, Greece has been militarizing the islands since 1960, violating their non-military status.

Although Greece accepted the compulsory jurisdiction of the International Court of Justice in 1993, it made a reservation about "national security interests" to prevent the issue of Eastern Aegean islands from being referred to the International Court of Justice.

The islands of Samotraki, Lemnos, Lesvos, Samos, Chios, Psara, and Ikaria are supposed to be demilitarized today, while Greece violates the agreements with deployed brigades and divisions, as well as cannons and rifles.

Greece adopts the same attitude in the islands of Patmos, Leros, Kalymnos, Kos, Tilos, Karpathos, Symi, Rhodes, and Kastellorizo and violates the law in nine of the 14 Dodecanese Islands.

In total, Athens has now militarized 16 of the Eastern Aegean islands.

What steps has Türkiye taken in response to unlawful Greek acts?

Türkiye has rejected the militarization of the islands by Greece since the very beginning, protesting the Greek policy of violating the non-military status of the islands since 1960s.

Ankara has issued protests through diplomatic channels and requested the violations to stop. The issue came to the UN and NATO agenda in the 1970s.

The latest Turkish diplomatic move was to send a letter of complaint to the UN in July 2021, saying the militarization of the islands posed a serious threat to Türkiye's security.

Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu, for his part, said the sovereignty over the islands would be questionable in the scenario that Athens maintained its violations.

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