Conflict Over Aegean Sea: Turkey & Greece- UPSC Current Affairs

Conflict Over Aegean Sea: Turkey & Greece- UPSC Current Affairs

It’s time to upgrade your UPSC knowledge bank with our Daily Dose of Current Affairs. In today’s edition of our Current Affairs Dialog box, we will discuss Conflict Over Aegean Sea: Turkey & Greece and find its relevance to the UPSC CSE syllabus.

Read further to enhance your UPSC CSE preparation.

For Prelims: Current Events of National and International Importance.

For Mains: Bilateral, Regional, and Global Groupings and Agreements involving India and/or affecting India’s interests.

Why in the News?

Turkey has accused Greece of building a military presence in violation of the 1923 Treaty of Lausanne and the 1947 Paris Treaty, which guarantee the Aegean islands’ unarmed status.

Also read: The Western Sahara Dispute

Probable Question

Examine the significance of the Montreux Convention in the light of the ongoing conflict between Turkey & Greece over Aegean Sea.

Key Points

Background

  • Greece and Turkey have been regional adversaries on a host of issues concerning the Aegean Sea since the 1970s, both asserting rival claims over their borders in the Sea. 
  • They came to the brink of war in 1996 over a pair of uninhabited islets in the Aegean Sea, referred to as the Imia islets in Greece and as Kardak in Turkey.
  • Turkey alleges that Greece has been building a military presence in violation of international treaties that guarantee the unarmed status of the Aegean islands. 
  • Meanwhile, Greece maintains that Turkey has deliberately misinterpreted the treaties (Treaty of Lausanne and the 1947 Paris Treaty), adding that it has legal grounds to defend itself.

Points of Dispute

Territorial Seas

  • In 1995, Greece ratified the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), which provides a legal framework to recognize the limits of maritime zones of coastal nations. Turkey did not sign it as it did not favor its interest in the Aegean Sea.
  • Presently, Turkey claims a territorial sea of six nautical miles and has not exercised its claim over the 12 nautical miles from its coast in the Aegean Sea.
  • Turkey argues that if Greece extends its territorial waters, it would have control over two-thirds of the Aegean Sea, depriving Turkey of its basic access to international waters and trade routes.

Continental Shelves and Exclusive Economic Zones

  • Greece argues, citing UNCLOS provisions, that every Greek island in the Aegean generates its own continental shelf, which would mean that the Greek Continental Shelves extend to Eastern Greek islands near the Turkish Coast. 
    • However, Turkey contends that the continental shelf border in the Aegean is the median line between the coasts of the two countries and should be determined on an equitable basis.
  • Turkey maintains that it will undertake exploratory work in the areas it lays claims to as there is no bilateral agreement between the two countries delimiting their continental shelves.
Continental Shelf

In geological terms, the continental shelf is defined as the seabed and subsoil that is the prolongation of a country’s landmass, extending beyond its territorial sea. 

 As per the UNCLOS, the continental shelf extends to 200 nautical miles from the country’s coastal baseline but is within its continental margin. A country has sovereign rights over the natural resources in the water and the seabed and soil within its continental shelf.

Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ)EEZ is a zone in which a country has special rights to exploration, use of natural resources, wind and hydro-power generation, and other economic activities like laying of pipelines, fishing and so on. EEZs also extend to 200 nm from the coastline. 

Militarization

  • Turkey has cited the Lausanne and Paris treaties, arguing that Greece is violating them by increasing its military presence in the Aegean Islands.
  • Greece argues that it has a military presence in such islands for the purposes of self-defence. After Turkey’s invasion of Cyprus in the 1970s, Greece militarized the Dodecanese Islands near Turkey for defensive purposes.

Airspace Violations

  • UNCLOS states that a country has sovereign rights over the airspace above its territorial sea.
  • Currently, Greece claims six nm of territorial sea in the Aegean, starting from its coast. Hence, its internationally recognised airspace over the Aegean is also up to six nm.
  • Both Greece and Turkey have alleged that the other is carrying out flights near or over their coasts. 
United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS)UNCLOS is an international treaty which was adopted and signed in 1982.

It replaced the four Geneva Conventions of April, 1958, which respectively concerned the territorial sea and the contiguous zone, the continental shelf, the high seas, fishing and conservation of living resources on the high seas.

It is also known as Law of the Sea.UNCLOS divides marine areas into five main zones which are-Internal Waters
Territorial Sea
Contiguous Zone
Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) the High Seas
The Convention has become the legal framework for marine and maritime activities.

It provides the backbone for offshore governance by coastal states and those navigating the oceans. It not only zones coastal states’ offshore areas but also provides specific guidance for states’ rights and responsibilities in the five concentric zones.Image Source: The Hindu

International Treaties about Aegean islands

The Lausanne Treaty of 1923

  • It was signed at the end of the First World War to settle the conflict between Turkey (the successor of the Ottoman Empire) and the Allied Powers including Greece. 
  • The Treaty defined the boundaries of Turkey and Greece, and several islands, islets and other major territories in the Aegean Sea beyond three miles from the Turkish coast were ceded to Greece, with the exception of three groups of islands. 
  • Under the terms of the Treaty and the Lausanne Convention of 1923, Greece was obligated to keep the islands demilitarised. 
  • The Treaty also opened up civilian shipping passage in the Turkish Straits and mandated Turkey to demilitarise the straits. Turkey also ceded Cyprus to the British.

Also Watch:

Paris Peace Treaties of 1947

  • At the end of the Second World War, as part of the Paris Peace Treaties of 1947, the Dodecanese Islands (a group of 12 islands in the Aegean Sea) were given to Greece, again with the obligation of permanent and total demilitarisation. 
    • They had been ceded to Italy in 1923.
  • While Turkey recognises both these treaties, Greece accuses it of wrongly interpreting them, and argues that the 1936 Montreux Convention Regarding the Regime of the Straits superseded the Lausanne Treaty on the Straits, as it gave Turkey the power to militarise the Turkish Straits, hence nullifying the obligation upon Greece to demilitarise the Aegean Islands.
Montreux ConventionThe Montreux Convention was signed in 1936 regarding the Regime of the Straits. 

Under the accord, Turkey has control over the Bosphorus and Dardanelles and the power to regulate the transit of naval warships.

It also guarantees the free passage of civilian vessels in peacetime and restricts the passage of ships not belonging to Black Sea countries. In wartime, Turkey is authorised to close the straits to all foreign warships or when it is threatened by aggression.

It can also refuse transit for merchant ships from countries at war with Turkey and fortify the straits in case of conflict. 

All non-Black Sea countries wishing to send vessels must notify Turkey 15 days in advance, while Black Sea nations must give eight days’ notification.
Conflict Over Aegean Sea: Turkey & Greece- UPSC Current Affairs

Image Source: World Atlas

Aegean Sea Location:

The sea is situated between the Anatolia and Balkan peninsulas and lies between Turkey and Greece. Islands in the Aegean Sea: North Aegean Islands, West Aegean Islands, Sporades, Cyclades, Saronic Islands.

The Aegean Sea experiences a Mediterranean climate, experienced in Western Turkey and Greece.

The Bosphorus and Dardanelles Straits connect the Aegean Sea to the Black Sea and the Marmara Sea respectively. 

The Aegean is subdivided into the Myrtoan Sea and the Thracian Sea (marked on the map above) and lies on the African and Eurasian tectonic plates’ collision path, making the region one of the most seismically active areas in the Mediterranean. 

News Source: The Hindu

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