Need for Dialogue: Turkey, Greece, and the Possibility of Reconciliation

By Stephanopoulos, Constantinos | Harvard International Review, Winter 1998 | Go to article overview

Need for Dialogue: Turkey, Greece, and the Possibility of Reconciliation


Stephanopoulos, Constantinos, Harvard International Review


SULEYMAN DEMIREL is President of Turkey.

Turkish-Greek relations today seem far from the splendor of the days of Ataturk-Venizelos in the 1930s or those of Menderes-Karamanlis in the 1950s, when talks between the two countries were characterized by friendship and cooperation. At the height of peace, Venizelos, while still Prime Minister of Greece, nominated his one-time battleground enemy Ataturk for the Nobel Peace Prize. Today, seemingly ages from that golden era in Turkish-Greek relations, the newspaper headlines instead read "Tension in Turkish-Greek Relations," "Aegean Neighbors In Dispute," and even "Turkey and Greece at Brink of War."

Although the present picture is not a particularly hopeful one, I still believe that the interests of both countries would best be served by a sound and mutually beneficial web of relations. As neighbors, the situations of Greece and Turkey are markedly similar. The two nations share a common border in Thrace, the easternmost edge of Europe. Both are littoral states in the Aegean--the only countries, in fact, to share and enjoy the potential benefits of that sea, be it in the field of tourism, transport, fisheries, or mineral wealth. Perhaps most importantly, both are members of such international organizations as the United Nations, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, the Council of Europe, and the Black Sea Economic Cooperation Organization, and--though Turkey is as yet an associate member--the European Union. They are bound to one another not only by the shared values of the Commonwealth of Democracies, but by the cultural ties of a common geography and a history of interaction.

Origins of Dispute

Why, then, are relations between the two neighbors and former allies marked by discord, hostility, and confrontation instead of by cooperation? The primary point of contention between Greece and Turkey relates to the Aegean. Both countries presently exercise a six-mile limit of territorial waters in the Aegean. Under this limit, Greece holds approximately 43.5 percent of the Aegean Sea, with Turkey holding less than eight percent. The remaining 49 percent is considered high seas. The six-mile breadth of territorial waters allows free use of almost half of the sea and of the airspace above. Any attempt by Greece to extend its territorial waters beyond the present six miles would drastically alter the existing balance in the Aegean and constitute an abuse on the part of Greek authorities.

Accompanying the conflict over territorial waters is the struggle over land mass beyond these limits. The absence of a delimitation agreement between the two countries is a source of friction. Since an agreement delimiting the Aegean continental shelf would determine the areas to be allocated to Turkey and Greece beyond the six-mile territorial sea limit, it would have a direct bearing on the overall equilibrium of rights and interests in the Aegean. Turkey has proposed negotiations that would take into consideration the legitimate rights and interests of both parties. When Greece accepts the need for a negotiated settlement of this issue, the problem of delimitation of the Aegean continental shelf will be removed from the agenda of contentious issues.

An additional threat to Turkey's national sovereignty and growth lies in the Greek militarization of the Eastern Aegean islands, which violates the provisions of several international agreements, including the 1923 Lausanne Peace Treaty and the 1947 Paris Peace Treaty. The demilitarized status of the Eastern Aegean islands is fundamental to Turkey's security. In other words, there is a correlation between the sovereignty of those islands and their demilitarized status. Since the 1960s, however, Greece has been violating the status of the Eastern Aegean islands by militarizing them. Appeals on our part to respect the internationally established demilitarized status of these islands have consistently gone unheeded by Greece. …

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