Last night's Aegean incident
by Athanassios Protopapas

As you may already know, Greek and Turkish warships spent the night within breathing distance from each other at the west side of the Aegean, close to the Turkish coast.

The media here may have been calling it "a dispute over a little rock" or what have you, but you sure don't believe it can be *that* stupid. Let us go over the facts briefly and then I'll give you an opinion about what's behind all this and why it had to happen now. Please bear with me for a moment, even if you don't really care very much about places that far away. People were killed, a war was narrowly missed, and the prompt intervention of U.S. officials (including President Clinton) shows that not only was this a serious incedent, but also it matters to everybody.

In short, last month a Turkish ship ran aground on a 10-acre uninhabited Greek island close the the Turkish coast. The ship's crew refused help from Greek officials claiming that they were on Turkish soil. Following that, the mayor of the nearest Greek island had a Greek flag installed on Imia, as the island we are talking about is called. Yesterday a group of Turks (allegedly journalists) flew by helicopter to Imia, took down and tore the Greek flag and raised the Turkish flag, which was then proudly displayed over Turkish media. Following that, Greek marines were deployed to the island to restore the Greek flag and nine of them remained there to guard it. The reaction of the Turkish prime minister was to declare that they cannot tolerate a Greek flag on a Turkish island and soon several warships from both sides were arming their missiles at an arm's length from each other. With the help of U.S. officials escalation of the incident was avoided and the specifics of returning to a peaceful situation were negotiated (and are hopefully currently being carried out). In the meantime, Turkish marines occupied a second nearby uninhabited Greek island and a Greek helicopter that was sent to examine the situation fell into the sea, its three-member crew almost certainly killed. Officially this was an accident due to bad weather and failure of the electronic systems.

The international press has so far followed an equal-distance policy towards the matter, meaning that blame is not yet assigned to any of the two parties and only facts are reported. Equal distance is a good strategy in general, especially when the details of a situation are not known. This, however is not a "general" case, and the details are known. The press is treating Turkey and Greece as being equally absurd, although this is the same Turkey that slaughtered millions of Armenians, killed the Greeks of Constantinople and burned their properties in 1956 (in violation of the Lausagne treaty), invaded and still occupies 37% of Cyprus, and to this day opposes freedom of speech, executes its own Kurdish citizens, is allowed to carry the anti-Kurdish massacre outside its borders into Iraq, has a human-rights record soaked in blood, refuses to endorse the international law of the sea threatening to declare war against Greece if Greece exercises her legal right to extend its air space to 12 miles and, of course, continuously asserts its claims to Aegean Greek islands and underwater mineral resources.

Apart from these general reasons not to keep equal distances from the two parties, the specifics of the situations also indicate where the right lies: The Protocol of 1932 between Italy and Turkey transferred sovereignty of the Dodecanese from Turkey to Italy, stating clearly that the sea border between Turkey and Italy is at the middle of the distance between the KATO, which is Turkish, and IMIA, which was Italian. With the Paris Accord of 1947 the sovereignty of the Dodecanese was transferred from Italy and, hence, the former Italian/Turkish border became the border between Greece and Turkey.

Turkish allegations that the 1932 Protocol is invalid because it has not been submitted for registration with the Society of Nations together with the main Treaty are totally invalid because the Charter of the Society of Nations states clearly that only main Accords must be officially registered and that added Protocols, maps, technical documents etc are not registered. Moreover, maps of Turkey published by the Turkish Foreign Ministry as late as 1954 (January) do not include the islet IMIA and show the border line near the island of Kalymnos at exactly the point where Greece says it is.

It should therefore be clear to any informed person whether the two sides have equal claims to reason or not. It can be made clearer if connected with the current political situation in Turkey whose frailing goverment urgently needs a popularity boost in view of the rising muslim fundamentalist party and the more than 100% annual inflation rate and extensive poverty. Turkey's prime minister, who lost the recent elections, thought that another provocation against Greece at this time would serve Turkey's long-term goals in the Aegean and, at the same time, provide her with negotiating power in the formation of the new government. Not only was the event planned, it was also precisely timed, as it now becomes clear. It should be also mentioned that Greece has recently got a new government and is thus in a relatively vulnerable position since the new scheme has not had time to establish itself in the political scene. In fact, a vote for approval of the new government is due tonight, which argues against the timing of the Imia incident as being incidental.

In spite of the above, many of you may have been left wondering, why all this fuss for a piece of rock? Well, that would be a very reasonable question if the issue was about a piece of rock. What it is really about, though, is about sovereignty in the Aegean. If Turkey manages to convince the world that a little piece of rock is in dispute, then the relevant Accords also become disputed and, if Greece is forced to negotiate over a little piece of rock, who's to say that tomorrow she won't have to negotiate over a larger piece of rock? Proximity to a neigboring coutry's borders and size are not relevant. It would be like Russia claiming Hawaii; how many of you would aceept that?

I apologize for the lengthy message and I urge all of you who are not convinced to investigate the facts carefully and not to be misled by equal-distance arguments that serve only to promote what is, in this case, just plain wrong. I ask you to care and to be informed, and if you don't believe me, to get a reason for it, other than CNN et al.'s superficial reports.

Thank you for bearing with me this far.

Thanassi Protopapas
Cognitive and Linguistic Sciences