It took Ottomans more than 26 years to conquer the Aegean island of Crete from then-powerful maritime republic, Venice. The conquest in 1669 finally averted the security concerns for Anatolia what is now mainland Turkey. 241 years later, in 1909, Ottomans lost the control of the islands first to Italians then to Greeks. However, Greece’s sovereignty over the islands depends on demilitarization which has been imposed by several international agreements. Turkey says Greece has been violating the demilitarization condition which brings Athens’ sovereignty over the islands into question. And Turkish NGOs are now preparing for an international legal battle to claim the 13 eastern Aegean islands back based on violation of demilitarization condition.
Turkish World Solidarity and Association (TWSA) which represents more than 100 NGOs will launch the legal case for the return of the islands. Deputy rector of Istanbul University, Professor Ilyas Topsakal who provides legal counseling to TWSA says demilitarization is not the only matter. “Treaty of London in 1913 only left one fourth of the island to Greece but Greeks illegally occupied the whole island,” said Topsakal when stipulating the matters that will be argued at international courts. He also reiterated that TWSA includes NGOs from Central Asian Turkic countries as well as several NGOs from the Balkans.
The 13 eastern Aegean islands including Crete and Rhodes are in extreme close proximity to the Turkish cost and militarization of those islands poses direct threat to Turkish national security, according to Turkish Foreign Ministry.
The 1913 London Treaty left the faith of the certain eastern Aegean islands in the hands of Six powers, the UK, France, Italy, Russia, Germany and Austria Hungary. And these six powers decided in 1914 that the islands under Greek occupation should be ceded to Greece under the strict rule of demilitarization. 1923 Lausanne Peace Treaty and 1936 Montreux Convention have also confirmed the demilitarization status of the islands. Lastly, 1947 Paris Peace Treaty once more confirmed the demilitarization issue while ceding some other islets to Athens. “Greece, in this respect, cannot unilaterally reverse this status (demilitarization) under any pretext,” says a Turkish Foreign Ministry statement.
However, despite the protests of Turkey, Greece has been violating the status of the Eastern Aegean Islands by militarizing them since the 1960’s in contravention of her contractual obligations. These illegal acts of Greece have increased considerably over the last years and became a vital dispute between the two countries. It is worthwhile to recall that Turkey’s several appeals to Greece to respect the demilitarized status of these Islands have been disregarded so far.
TWSA has been working on all those facts to prepare the legal and historic bases for its application to international institutions including the United Nations and the European Union. Its head says they will also fight to protect the rights of Turkish Cyprus.
The eastern Aegean islands are also main source of territorial waters issue between Ankara and Athens. Turkey had announced back in 90s that any attempt by Greece to increase its territorial waters to 12 nautical miles would be considered Casus Belli, a Latin term to justify a war. That kept Greece from expanding its Aegean “Megali Idea” but has not refrained from militarizing the islands in violation if international law.