Greece Internationalizes Turkey’s Revisionism

“We do not open a dialogue with the illegal, the ahistorical and the irrational”. This statement by Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis came after the Turkish leadership’s decision to climax its rhetoric of threats against Greece over the last few months. The Greek premier’s recent speech before a joint session of the US Congress revealed, without naming Turkey, the neighboring country’s revisionism against Greece.

Turkey’s unilateral claims against sovereign Greek territory in the Aegean Sea falls within Turkish revisionism to overturn geographical and historical realities on the ground. Turkish overflights over inhabited islands in the Eastern Aegean along with violations of Greek territorial waters and the threat by Turkey of “casus belli” constitute manifestation of Ankara’s hegemonic revisionism. Turkish revisionism is supported by the “Blue Homeland” (Mavi Vatan) doctrine and false accusations like an alleged Greek support of terrorism and the militarization of the Greek islands.

“Blue Homeland”: From Theory to Action

The “Blue Homeland” is an expansionist doctrine that claims vast sections of the Aegean and Mediterranean seas, including Greek and Cypriot maritime zones. Once a concept supported only by Turkish navy officers, it has now turned into a state nationalist aspiration fronted by President Erdoğan. In a clear support of the expansionist concept, the Turkish president was photographed with the “Blue Homeland” map, during a visit that took place at the National Defense University in Istanbul in 2019, which shows a 462 thousand square kilometer area that Turkey claims as its own. The doctrine is enhanced by the homonymous naval exercise that aims to instate a deterrent naval power for designated areas implying the threat of war should Turkish maritime claims are not accepted.

This was particularly evident in ‘Blue Homeland 2022’, the largest ever Turkish naval exercise, which deployed over 122 warships, fighter jets, air refueling and spy planes, biological and nuclear warfare teams, ATAK helicopters, drones and thousands of soldiers in an area that extended from the Black Sea to the Aegean Sea and the Eastern Mediterranean regions. A Navigational Telex, an advisory to ships, was issued by Ankara during the naval exercise, blocking off maritime areas in the southeast Aegean including the continental shelf of the Greek islands of Kastelorizo and Rhodes, as well as the Cyprus Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ). The naval exercise, like others that preceded it, combined power projection and competition over energy geopolitics and demonstrated Ankara’s politico-military regional agenda for the coming years.

Greek Premier Exposes Turkish Expansionism

To illustrate the extent of Turkish illegitimate claims and revisionism against regional countries that are strategic allies of the US, the Greek Prime Minister showed to the American president the “Blue Homeland” map during his recent visit to Washington DC. As known, the unfolding American strategy in the Eastern Mediterranean in pursuance with the “Eastern Mediterranean Security and Energy Partnership Actof 2019, that is an official American Law, is based on the following pillars.

First, support of energy exploration activities to enhance American interests by providing potential alternatives to Russian gas for US allies and partners. Second, rejection of interference by other countries in Cyprus’s EEZ and Greece’s airspace, and support of security cooperation with regional countries, not only for the protection of critical infrastructure from unauthorized intrusion or terrorism, but also for the maintenance of regional stability. In essence, as highlighted in the American Law, Washington’s interests in the East Mediterranean lie in the lowering of regional tensions and conflict and the enhancement of multilateral cooperation in the fields of energy, security, and the fight against terrorism.

It is in this context, as noted by the Greek premier before Congress, that Greece is a peace seeking democracy that always extends a hand of friendship to its neighbors and it is always open to dialogue. But there is only one framework to resolve differences namely international law and the unwritten principles of good neighborly relations. This is the path that Athens will continue to pursue for the safeguarding of its national security and regional stability.

Turkey’s Double Standards on Terrorism

However, the Turkish rhetoric against Greece continues unabated. In the latest series of intentional diplomatic tension, the Greek ambassador to Turkey was summoned to the Foreign Ministry for a complain about alleged activities in Greece of the Kurdish Workers’ Party accusing unfoundedly Athens for supporting terror groups.

The reality is that Turkey should look itself in the mirror before initiating a fake news campaign against Greece as Ankara has actively supported American and European-designated terrorist groups, such as Hamas, as well as the global Muslim Brotherhood and other extremist Islamist organizations.

For example, several TV channels affiliated with the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood have broadcasted freely from Turkey that not only promote the restoration of the organization in Egypt but also employ jihadist and antisemitic rhetoric. It is more than evident that Ankara supports other countries’ designated terrorist groups and adopts double standards when it comes to the fight against terrorism.

Solidification of Greek Sovereignty over Aegean Islands

Regarding Turkish allegations that Greece has violated conventional obligations to demilitarize the islands of the Aegean, it must be noted that Ankara deliberately mingles the different regimes ruling the Eastern Aegean islands to distort facts for every single case. The status of Greek islands in the Aegean is governed by three international treaties. The islands of Lesvos, Chios, Samos, and Ikaria by the Treaty of Lausanne of 1923.The status of the Dodecanese islands is determined by the 1947 Paris Peace Treaty and that of the islands of Lemnos and Samothrace by the 1936 Montreux Convention.

Turkey intentionally distorts provisions of the Treaty of Lausanne and, invents new arguments endeavoring to link Greek sovereignty over Greece’s Eastern Aegean islands to their military status. This is an illegal and irrational practice that is countered by the letter and spirit of the Treaty of Lausanne that Turkey is signatory. According to articles 6 and 12 of the Lausanne Treaty “islands and islets lying within three miles of the coast are included within the frontier of the coastal State”, and “.. regarding the sovereignty of Greece over the islands of the Eastern Mediterranean, other than the islands of Imbros, Tenedos, and Rabbit Islands, particularly the islands of Lemnos, Samothrace, Mytilene, Chios, Samos and Ikaria, is confirmed, subject to the provisions of the present Treaty respecting the islands placed under the sovereignty of Italy which form the subject of Article 15. Except where a provision to the contrary is contained in the present Treaty, the islands situated at less than three miles from the Asiatic coast remain under Turkish sovereignty”. Also, according to Article 16, “Turkey hereby renounces all rights and title whatsoever over or respecting the territories situated outside the frontiers laid down in the present Treaty and the islands other than those over which her sovereignty is recognized by the said Treaty, the future of these territories and islands being settled or to be settled by the parties concerned”.

On the military aspect, the Treaty of Lausanne explicitly provides that Greek military forces in the islands of Lesvos, Chios, Samos, and Ikaria will be limited to the normal contingent called up for military service, which can be trained on the spot. It also foresees a force of gendarmerie and police in proportion to the force of gendarmerie, and police existing in the whole of the Greek territory. Practically, the only country that violates no-fly provisions of the Treaty of Lausanne over the Greek islands is Turkey. The Turkish Air force systematically violates Greek airspace and flies over inhabited Aegean islands. On that premise, it is obvious that any Turkish attempt to question the sovereignty of the aforementioned Greek islands in the Eastern Aegean is deemed to failure as, simply put, their sovereignty is unconditionally granted by the Treaty of Lausanne to Athens.

Greek Islands’ Military Status

When it comes to the military status of the islands of Lemnos and Samothrace, it is a Greek right determined by the Montreux Convention, that has been recognized by Turkey for decades. On the occasion of the ratification of the Montreux Treaty, then Turkish Foreign Minister Rustu Aras recognized in his address to the Turkish National Assembly, Greece’s legal right to deploy troops on Lemnos and Samothrace. Then Turkish foreign minister specifically stated as it can be identified in Minutes of the Turkish National Assembly on July 31st, 1936, that “the provisions pertaining to the islands of Limnos and Samothrace, which belong to our neighbor and friendly country Greece and were demilitarized in application of the 1923 Lausanne Treaty, were also abolished by the new Montreux Treaty, which gives us great pleasure”.  Evidently, Turkey approved the Montreux convention’s provisions for home and abroad.

As for the Dodecanese islands, there is Greek National Guard presence in accordance with provisions of the Paris Peace Treaty and the Treaty on Conventional Armed Forces in Europe. Turkish claims on the demilitarization of the Dodecanese islands are irrelevant as well as null and void for number of reasons. First, Turkey is not a signatory to the Paris Peace Treaty. It is a third state and as such no rights or obligations are created for or against it respectively according to Article 89 of the 1947 Treaty, explicitly noting that its provisions should not confer any rights or benefits on States that are not parties to it.

Second, Greece has the right to defensively shield the Dodecanese islands, that are Greek territory, in accordance with Article 51 of the UN Charter. Article 51 foresees that a UN member state has the right to legitimate defense in the event of an armed attack against it, or in the event of a threat of use of force. Greece is entitled to defend itself especially when taking into consideration that Turkey repeatedly violates Greek airspace and maritime waters, has proceeded with the formation of the Aegean Army that maintains strong offensive capabilities just opposite the Greek islands, and threatens Greece with war (casus belli) approved by Turkey’s Grand National Assembly in 1995, should Athens extend its territorial waters to 12 nautical miles. It is in the context of self-defense that Greece enhances the operational capabilities of its Air Force with the purchase of French-made Rafale fighter jets, along with unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV), and drone response systems, while it seeks in the foreseeable future the acquisition of American 5th Generation, long-range stealth strike fighter, F-35 fighter aircraft.

Overall, Greece is a reliable regional ally that works with partners with whom it shares common strategic interests, and shared values. At a time that Turkey has shut down the Bosporus and Dardanelles straits, Greece practically proved that it enhances European security enabling the transit of equipment to Ukraine and Europe’s Eastern flank through the ports of Thessaloniki and Alexandropoulis. As acutely highlighted by the Greek Premier before American congress, the last thing that NATO needs at a time when the focus is on helping Ukraine defeat Russia’s aggression is another source of instability on NATO’s Southeastern flank. It is upon this realization that Turkey’s revisionism against Greece must be deterred for the sake of peace, stability, and collective cooperation in the broader East Mediterranean region.

Antonia Dimou
Antonia Dimou
Antonia Dimou is Head of the Middle East Unit at the Institute for Security and Defense Analyses, Greece; and, an Associate at the Center for Middle East Development, University of California, Los Angeles