Turkey announced two new navigational telex (Navtex) after Greece violated the demilitarized status of some islands in violation of the Treaty of Lausanne, marking the latest development in the two countries' dispute over maritime rights in the Eastern Mediterranean.
The Office Of Navigation, Hydrography and Oceanography’s Izmir station announced the Navtex late Tuesday, saying that the demilitarized status of the Aegean islands of Samothrace, Lemnos and Agios Efstratios has been violated by Greece.
The Turkish government disputes Greece’s claim of having exclusive rights in the waters where Turkey's seismic research vessel Oruç Reis is working, arguing that islands should not be included in calculating sea boundaries between countries. Greece has armed 18 out of its 23 islands in the Aegean Sea, which Turkey sees as a threat to its security. These include the islands of Lesbos, Chios, Samos, Symi, Icaria, Patmos, Leros, Kalymnos, Kos, Astypalaia, Rhodes, Kastellorizo (Megisti-Meis), Nisyros, Tilos, Halki, Karpathos and Kasos.
Beginning with the Treaty of London in 1913, the militarization of the Eastern Aegean Islands was restricted and their demilitarized status was confirmed in the Treaty of Lausanne signed in 1923. The 1947 Treaty of Paris, which ceded the Dodecanese islands from Italy to Greece, also confirmed the demilitarized status.
However, Greece argues that the 1936 Montreux Convention on Turkish Straits should be applied regarding the issue, while Ankara says Greece's obligation to disarm the islands remains unchanged under the Montreux Convention as there is no provision that it is different from the Treaty of Lausanne on the issue.
Greece, with France's support, has disputed Turkey's energy exploration, trying to box in Turkish maritime territory based on small islands near the Turkish coast. Turkey, which has the longest coastline in the Eastern Mediterranean, has rejected the maximalist maritime boundary claims of Greece and the Greek Cypriot administration in the region, stressing that these excessive claims violate the sovereign rights of both Turkey and the Turkish Cypriots. Turkish leaders have repeatedly stressed that Ankara is in favor of resolving all outstanding problems in the region through the means of international law, good relations, dialogue and negotiation.
NATO backs solution efforts
Regarding the tensions between NATO allies Turkey and Greece, the alliance’s Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said Wednesday that he follows the situation with concern and underlined the importance of reducing the tensions. Speaking at a news conference in Brussels ahead of a virtual meeting of NATO defense ministers, he said the alliance had helped establish a hotline between Greece and Turkey, using NATO communication systems and secure networks 24/7 if needed.
“We are working on how to strengthen the mechanism established by NATO,” Stoltenberg said and added that NATO also supports the exploratory talks mediated by Germany’s efforts.
NATO announced last month that following a series of technical meetings between the military delegations of Greece and Turkey at NATO headquarters in Brussels, a bilateral military de-confliction mechanism was established.
The mechanism is designed to reduce the risk of incidents and accidents in the Eastern Mediterranean and includes the creation of a hotline between Greece and Turkey to facilitate de-confliction at sea or in the air.
Stoltenberg had said in a statement: “I welcome the establishment of a military de-confliction mechanism, achieved through the constructive engagement of Greece and Turkey, both valued NATO Allies. This safety mechanism can help to create the space for diplomatic efforts to address the underlying dispute, and we stand ready to develop it further. I will remain in close contact with both Allies.”
Turkish and Greek military delegations have agreed on “general principles” in NATO talks, Turkey’s Defense Ministry also said following NATO's announcement.
Most recently, Turkey’s Defense Minister Hulusi Akar on Tuesday voiced support for more meetings under NATO, as well as for the fourth round of talks between Turkey and Greece, two of which had been in Athens and one in Ankara, so far.
Akar reiterated Ankara's support for a resolution to the dispute in the Eastern Mediterranean and Aegean Seas through dialogue and under international law as well as good neighborly relations.
"Let's solve the problems by talking, but everyone should have seen and understood that we won't submit to any fait accompli, coercion or pressure," said Akar in a videoconference meeting.
Expressing Turkey's determination to protect its interests and rights in the Eastern Mediterranean and Aegean Seas, he underlined that the country would also continue to defend the rights of the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus (TRNC).
Akar asserted that Ankara was on the side of peace, dialogue, political resolution and negotiations, adding that exploratory talks with Greece should continue.
Exploratory talks refer to having bilateral dialogue during which the parties have a critical, but also a constructive, approach to each others' opinions. During the talks, the sides provide the necessary information to each other, propose recommendations to solve the problem, discuss these recommendations and then, hopefully, reach an agreement. This format of talks is usually used when there are multiple problems between the parties as the method is regarded as one of the best ways to enhance dialogue in a diplomatic way. In this respect, the problems are treated as a whole package, and when one problem is not solved, the others are considered to be unsolved as well.
The upcoming exploratory talks will be the 61st of its kind, as the two countries started to have exploratory talks on problems in the Eastern Mediterranean on March 12, 2002, with an aim to come up with a fair, sustainable and inclusive solution.
These talks continued regularly up until 2016. However, since that date, both due to the political conjecture and the Greek side's reluctance, there have not been any new rounds. However, Germany's efforts to mediate between the two countries renewed hope of restarting the talks.
UK to work with both sides
Amid tensions in the Eastern Mediterranean between Turkey and Greece, the United Kingdom will continue to work with both parties, Prime Minister Boris Johnson told his Greek counterpart in a phone conversation on Tuesday.
Speaking with Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis, Johnson "stressed the need for dialogue and welcomed the public commitment from Greece to resolve differences with Turkey diplomatically," said Johnson's office in a statement.
"He confirmed the U.K. would continue to work with both sides to de-escalate the situation," it added.
Johnson also discussed Sunday's election results in the TRNC, in which Prime Minister Ersin Tatar won the presidential seat from incumbent Mustafa Akıncı.
"The prime minister was clear that a settlement in Cyprus was in everyone's interest," said Number 10 Downing Street.
The U.K. is a guarantor country in Cyprus and maintains two bases on the island.