The Greek islands positioned on the Turkish continental shelf supposedly entitle Greece, by its own account, to an Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ), thereby giving them the sole drilling rights in the region. However, this argument presumes that islands may extend the EEZ of a peninsular state, such as Greece, Turkey or Italy. According to articles 46 and 47 of the 1982 United Nations Convention of the Seas (UNCLOS), the EEZ of a peninsular state may not be extended beyond the 200 mile radius from the continent. Islands on the other side of the median line between riparian states are accepted as natural extensions of the closest state.
The 1958 Geneva Convention mandates that Turkey and Greece must come to an agreement on delimitation. If agreement attempts fail to reach a conclusion, article 6. of the Convention states that the delimitation must be drawn in conformity with the principle of prolongation. In other words, each nation’s maritime boundary should display a natural prolongation between its land territory and coast. This is often achieved by drawing a median line between the two riparian states. The islands which remain closest to an opposing state’s mainland may have a continental shelf only insofar as the area lies under those islands’ respective territorial waters.
One such demonstration of this was seen in the International Court of Justice’s (ICJ) decision on the case of the Channel Islands between France and the UK. The ICJ gave similar verdicts across many disputes, including those between Canada-France, Guinea-Guinea Bissau, Libya-Malta, Romania-Ukraine, and Eritrea-Yemen, concluding that “the land dominates the sea” (Principle of Domination). International law follows a basic guideline; a comprehensive blend of the principles of fair and equitable sharing, proportionality and non-encroachment of the territory of the mainland state. In retrospect then, Greece’s claims concerning the Eastern Mediterranean and the Aegean contradict the entire ICJ history, multiple conventions and treaties, as well as customary and arbitrary law.
Turkey’s adherence to the principle of good will (UNCLOS-III, Article 300.) reflects their engagement in dialogue with adjacent and neighboring countries. Since 1986, Turkey has defined its maritime jurisdictions and drawn its EEZ in the Black Sea with full cooperation and mutual understanding, and so has not encountered any problems with any of its neighbors in the Black Sea regarding delimitation. As such, it can be said that Turkey typically relies on reaching bilateral agreements with all concerned parties when determining its EEZ.
By contrast, in 2004, the Greek Cypriot Administration of Southern Cyprus (GCASC) announced their EEZ following hasty bilateral agreements with Lebanon, Israel and Egypt, excluding Turkey. Combined with the unilateral, maximalist demands of Greece, Turkey was pushed, if not forced, to take the decision to act and defend its rights and interests with international law as its compass. As a result, Turkey resolved an agreement on the delimitation of its maritime borders with the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus (TRNC) in 2011. Similarly, in 2019, the western limit of the Turkish maritime jurisdiction in the Eastern Mediterranean was defined with the Maritime Boundary Agreement between Turkey and Libya.
Greece’s justification for its actions typically center around ideas of Turkish aggression in the surrounding region. Turkey’s presence in Libya and support to the Government of National Accord (GNA) is neither aggressive, nor is a violation of the international law, according to the UN Resolution (No: 2259) made in 2015. It should also be noted that the GNA is the only government recognized by the UN as having legitimate authority in Libya. Equally, both the 1985 decision of the United Nations General Assembly (No: 40/61) and the 1998 Adana Agreement between Turkey and Syria state that Turkey posseses the right to self defense against terrorism by PKK/YPG, and its response in Syria is justified and in accordance with international law. The cause of Turkey’s exclusion in the Eastern Mediterranean is not due to a fictitious Turkish aggression, but rather the result of Greece’s maximalist territorial demands. This exclusion is inequitable and unfounded in international law.
Therefore, if France is furious at Turkey, it is due to personal and preposterous reasons. France’s idle support to Greek claims that Kastellorizo possesses the right to a continental shelf and an EEZ of 40.000 km² is absurd. This island is merely 10km² in size and lies only 2km from Turkey’s mainland. Furthermore, Turkey’s position on this matter is very similar to France’s stance during the 1977 ICJ case over the Channel Islands, which concluded in favor of France. By supporting Greek claims over Kastellorizo, France oddly contradicts itself.
French hysteria doesn’t end with self-contradicting policies, but also entails lawless attempts at obtaining military bases on Cyprus at the expense of ignoring the Zurich and London Treaties. France is not a guarantor in Cyprus. Hence, its opportunist military involvement attempts in Cyprus dangerously escalates the situation in the Eastern Mediterranean— a region from which it is geographically removed. Equally, the EU’s potential decision to impose unfair sanctions on a NATO ally may raise questions regarding the EU’s commitment to, and respect for, NATO. One must understand that the sanctions to be implemented by the EU will never deter nor frighten a regional power like Turkey.
On the other hand, Turkey viewed Angela Merkel’s attempts to mediate between Greece and Turkey positively. Upon her appeal, Turkey halted its seismic research ship’s (Oruc Reis) activities to provide a chance at de-escalation. Unfortunately, in this ‘time-out’, Greek officials went behind Germany, the EU term president, and made a hasty, unlawful delimitation agreement with Egypt. This was considered a breach of the principle of good faith (UNCLOS-III, Article 300), and Turkey resumed Oruc Reis’ activities. The context of the Greece-Egypt agreement does not indicate a legitimate response to Turkey, but an ill-intentioned move which should not have occurred during the ‘time-out’. A similar treatment was imposed on the Secretary General of NATO, Jens Stoltenberg, whose efforts were refuted by Greek officials immediately.
However, it should be clarified that the military drills in the Eastern Mediterranean between France, Greece, and Italy do not constitute a military alliance against Turkey. Under the NATO umbrella, military drills between Turkey, USA and all countries mentioned are routine.
The 1923 Lausanne Treaty declared that territorial waters must be limited to three miles. This treaty was violated by Greece in 1936 when they raised their territorial waters to 6 miles, and again in 1964, when Greece militarized islands ordered to be demilitarized. Greece has more recently increased its territorial waters in the Ionian Sea to twelve miles; a warning that it will do the same in the Aegean. Yet in 1995, Turkey passed a law, casus belli, stating that increasing territorial waters to 12 miles in the Aegean would be considered a cause for war. If Greece is sending such a warning, it is clearly not an act of good faith. For the establishment of stability and safety, Turkey has always recommended restoring the conditions of the Lausanne Treaty.
According to the International Hydrographic Organization, the islands Greece bases its claims on are not even considered within the Eastern Mediterranean. Consequently, Greece’s interference in this region is not justified, and claims that Turkey is not respecting international law are ignorant at best.
Hurşit Furkan Dikmen – BAUMAGS Expert
Zeynep Ceyhan – BAUMAGS Expert