The Lausanne Peace Treaty states in Article 13 that no naval base and no fortifications would be established on the Greek islands of Midilli (Mytilene), Sakız (Chios), Sisam (Samos) and Ahikerya (Nikaria). The Greek military forces in these islands would be limited to the regular contingent called up for military service, which would be trained on the spot, as well as the gendarmerie and police force proportional to the total gendarmerie and police force in the Greek territory.
What do international agreements say
The first paragraph of the 14th article of the Paris Peace Treaty of 10 February 1947, signed between Italy and 20 victorious countries, including Greece, ceded the South Aegean islands — known as the Dodecanese Islands or the Twelve Islands — including the island of Meis to Greece. In its second paragraph, the article provides that “these islands shall be and shall remain demilitarized.”
Greece started to militarize some of these East Aegean islands in the 1960s, first on the island of Rhodes and then Lemnos. Türkiye sent official objections to Greece on 29 June 1964 and 1 July 1969. In response to these notes, Greece stated that it complied with the treaties and did not militarize these islands, therefore, initially respecting the relevant treaties.
Greece’s militarization of the islands
In the 1970s, Greece began openly and officially militarizing the East Aegean Islands, citing a variety of reasons, including the 1974 Cyprus Peace Operation, the establishment of Türkiye’s Aegean Army (4th Army), the Grand National Assembly of Türkiye’s decision on June 8, 1995, empowering the government to take necessary measures to prevent the expansion of territorial waters in the Aegean Sea, and finally some of Türkiye’s activities in the Aegean airspace.
Greece claims that the disarmament clauses have expired, and that Greece has the right to arm the islands in order to “defend the islands against Türkiye” in the sense of right to self-defense. Since then, Türkiye has consistently opposed Greece’s arming of the Eastern Aegean Islands, saying that it is a clear violation of the international treaties.
Eventually, on July 13, 2021, Türkiye sent an official letter to the United Nations stating that Greece is in breach of basic provisions of the treaties under which it acquired sovereignty over the islands, which, from a legal point of view, means that Greece cannot, vis-à-vis Türkiye, rely on its title under the same treaties for a maritime boundary delimitation.
What Türkiye points out here is that Greece’s militarization of the islands constitutes a “material breach” of the provisions of the Treaty of Lausanne to make the sovereignty over these islands a matter to be renegotiated.
Right to self-defense?
They claim that Türkiye’s activities threaten the islands’ security, and therefore, Greece has the right to arm the islands in the context of its right of self-defense which, in fact, does not comply with the UN Charter’s definition of the right to self-defense in Article 51.
The right to self-defense is defined in terms of an existing military attack rather than a future threat. Thus, Greece cannot legitimize its militarization acts on the basis of the right to self-defense as they assume Türkiye’s statements and activities as signs of possible attacks rather than actual ones.
The fact that Türkiye and Greece are members of NATO does not imply that their security and defense systems are integrated. If this was the case, Greece would be unable to refer to any “Turkish threat.” On the contrary, militarized Greek islands, the majority of which are just a few kilometers off the Turkish mainland coasts could pose a threat to Türkiye by providing a base for military wiretapping and digital operations using developing technology.
Türkiye’s rights according to international law
The fact that Türkiye is not a signatory to the 1947 Paris Peace Treaty does not mean it cannot raise the issue against Greece. The 1947 Paris Peace Treaty creates an “objective regime”, which establishes rights and responsibilities for all countries, especially for those whose interests are directly affected, like Türkiye.
Article 60 of the Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties, to which Türkiye and Greece are both parties, states that in the event of a material breach of a multilateral treaty by one of the parties, a party specially affected by the breach may invoke it as a basis for suspending the treaty’s operation in whole or in part in its relations with the defaulting State. A serious breach occurs when a provision fundamental to the achievement of the treaty’s object or purpose is violated.
Demilitarization is a must for a real peace
The disarmament of East Aegean islands ceded to Greece could be considered critical to achieving the intent or purpose of the treaties that established that status. Both the Lausanne Peace Treaty and the 1947 Paris Peace Treaty were signed for the “preservation of peace.” The Turkish delegation, which participated in the Lausanne Peace Treaty negotiations, also emphasized during the Lausanne Conference that the commitment to completely demilitarize the islands is necessary for a general peace.
Greece’s militarization of the islands contradicts the Lausanne Peace Treaty’s object and purpose. Therefore, Türkiye is justified in arguing that Article 12 of the Lausanne Peace Treaty, which governs the title to these islands, might be suspended by Türkiye and renegotiated if the islands are not demilitarized and kept that way. These findings suggest that Greece’s violation of the regulations may entitle Türkiye to suspend the Lausanne Peace Treaty’s article regulating the sovereignty over the islands.