Why did they not fight? A Study on the Kardak-Imia Crisis 1995-1996 between Greece and Turkey

Term Paper (Advanced seminar) 2009 33 Pages

Politics - International Politics - Region: Near East, Near Orient



1. Introduction

2. The Disputes over the Aegean (Inter-related Issues)
2.1. Continental Shelf Rights
2.2. Territorial Waters
2.3. The status of the Kardak / Imia Rocks
2.3.1. Athens’ Position
2.3.2. Ankara’s Position

3. The Theory of Democratic Peace and the Kardak /Imia Crisis
3.1. The Normative Model
3.2. The Instiutional /Structural Model
3.3. The Role of the International Institutions and Democratic Peace

4. Conclusion

5. Bibliography

6. Appendix

Why they did not fight? A study on the Imia / Kardak Crisis (1995- 1996) between Greece and Turkey

1. Introduction

In this pa per, it is a rgued that the value of the Kardak / Imia Rocks to Gre ece and Turkey is more symbolic than material. The Imia / Kardak Crisis in 1995-1996 was a symbolic breaking point of the continuing disputes in the Aegean. This crisis showed us how sudden and fast the escalation can appear in the Aegean, between two countries.

The dispute over the soverei gnty o f the Ae gean unpredictabl y b roke t he surfac e when a Turkish cargo vessel (F igen Akat) ran a ground on the Imia / Kardak rock s1, on 25 Decem ber 1995. After the incident had occu rred, th e c aptain appealed to Turkish c oast guard fo r help. While the Turkish captain was demanding to be rescued by a Turkish tug, a Greek tug arrived first. The Turkish captain flatly refused the help of the Greek tug, claiming that the vessel was aground on Turkish territory.

The Greek captain insisted on towing because of the salva ge fees (Arapoglou 2002: 15), and finally the Turkish cargo vessel was taken to the nearest Turkish port b y Greek tug. But the Turkish captain refused to pay the salvage fees. He argued that the cargo vessel had been in Turkish territory and was waiting for Turkish tug.

The inc ident wa s follow ed b y a sile nt dispute be tween G reek and Turki sh a uthorities. The Greek captain followed a routine, asking the Turkish Ministry of Foreign Affairs to whom the rocky isle t ac tually belonged. Three da ys l ater, the Turkish Ministry of F oreign Affa irs contacted t he Em bassy of Gree ce, quest ioning t he st atus of t he rock y i slet. Accordi ng t o Turkish Ministr y, the isle t c onstitutes a pa rt of Turkish te rritory (H adjidimos 1999: 8). The Greek Embass y answ ered to the Tu rkish Ministr y o f F oreign A ffairs on J anuary 1996, claiming that Turkey had already recognized by the virtue of the bilateral agreements the that Imia/Kardak isle ts be long to Gree ce. The di spute had remained as a silent diplomac y, between the experts, until the Greek TV sta tion ANT1 aired the diplomatic notes, after four week (Hadjidimos 1999: 8), raisin g nationalist questions on the Gre ek sovereignty over islets (Arapoglou 2002: 16).

The following da y, on Januar y 25, 1996, the ma jor of the Greek Island Kalymnos planted a Greek flag on the Imia / Kardak Rocks. An answer from Turkish side came immediately, on 28th of January; a group of Turkish journalists and photog raphers2 flew to the islet to re place the Greek flag with a Turkish one. After this move Turkish Ne wspapers published the whole event triumphantly on the front pages (See picture 3- 4).

On 29th of J anuary, 12 Greek Commandos repl aced the fla g a gain. Turk ey re-contacted the Greek Embassy, clearly declaring that the islet belong to Turkish territory. As a result of these diplomatic notes and “T urkish-Greek Rambo J ournalism3 (Tunç 2006: 1) ” the silent Imia / Kardak dispute esc alated unpredictabl y fast by 30/31 January 1996 an d consequentl y the Greek and Turkish nav al forc es we re positi oned opposite one another (j ust a f ew hundr ed meters apart) to each other, in the Aegean.

At this point, two declarations came from opposite sides. The Turkish Prime Minister Tansu Çiller ma de the most a ggressive a nd impulsive e xpression in he r poli tical c areer, re marking “this flag (Greek one) will come down, the se soldiers (Greek soldiers) will g o!4 ” which was found very significant (positively) by the most of the Turkish public . On t he other hand, the Greek Prime Minister Constantinos Simitis declared, “The islets of Imia are and will remain Greek5 ” whi ch was m eant t o i ndicate t hat Turk ey could not i ntimidate Gre ece with t hat attitude.

According to all incontestable sources, t he mediation between Greece and Turkey was m ade by the the n U.S. Pre sident B ill Clinton a nd a po ssible inte r-state wa r w as pre vented. In the end, both sides turned back to the “status quo” without any solution.

The then President Bill Clinton underlines the topic in his auto-biography, On J anuary 30, …, I sp oke to Pres ident Suley man De mirel a nd Prime Minister Tansu Çiller of Turke y. The y told me t hat Turke y and Greece were on the brink of military confrontation and implored me to intervene to stop it. The y we re about to g o to wa r ove r two tin y A egean islets called Imia b y the Greeks and Ka rdak b y the Turks. B oth countri es claimed t he i slets, but Greec e app arently had acquired t hem i n a t reaty with Italy in 1947. Turk ey denied the validit y of the Greek claim. There were no pe ople living there, though Turks ofte n sailed to the larger islet for picnics. The crisis was triggered when some Turkish journalists had torn down a Greek flag and put up a Turkish one.

It was unthinkable that two great c ountries wi th a re al dispute ov er Cyprus would actually go to war ov er ten acres of rock islets inhabited by onl y a c ouple of d ozen she ep, but I could te ll tha t Çille r wa s genuinely afraid it co uld happen . I inter rupted the Chernom yrdin meeting to get brie fed, and the n pla ced a s eries of c alls, first to G reek Prime Minister Konstandinos Simitis then to De mirel and Çiller again. After all the talk back and forth, the two sides agreed to hold the ir fire, and Dick Holbrooke, who was already working on Cyprus, stayed up all night to ge t the pa rties to a gree to re solve the proble m throug h diplomacy. I couldn’t help laughing to m yself at the thoug ht that whether or not I succeeded in makin g peace in th e Middle E ast, Bosnia, or Northe rn Ireland, at least I had saved some Aegean she ep (Clinton 2004: 1053- 1054).

On the 1st of February, The Turkish government flattered itself on its successes because of the withdrawal of t he Gre ek Arm ed Forc es. M oreover, the Turkish Arme d F orces of ficially declared that their plann ed commando a ction for ced Greece to withdra wal. Furthermore, the Çiller Government portrayed the Turkish Aeg ean Policy as a triumph. Çiller declared that “We e xpressed our dec isiveness ve ry clearly. W e sa id tha t this flag will c ome down, the se soldiers will go. There was no other solution. And we achieved our aims”.

On the other side of the Ae gean, the Greek Pr ime Minister Constantin os Simit is declared, “Turkey f ailed i n i ts effort t o force Gre ece t o n egotiate t he l egal st atus of t he i slets… Th e islets of Imia a re a nd will re main Gree k…”. Althoug h the Gre ek g overnment viewed the withdrawal as a victory, the decisions of the government were criticized very hard by most of the Greece public and particularly by the political opposition (Arapoglou 2002: 18).

As this examples demonstrated; although two countries were on the brink, Turkey and Greece did not wage war. So, what kept both sides away from inter-state violence? According to Bill Clinton, he saved the regional status quo alone, b y making a couple of phone calls. So, what motivated the leaders in order not to exercise inter-state violence and t o be rec eptive to U.S. mediation?

To answer these questions, this pa per is divide d into two ma in parts, name ly, the first p art includes the inter-related deep motives of the Kardak / Imia Crisis, such as the disputes over the “territorial waters”, “continental shelf” and “the statue of the Aegean Islands”, which will be helpful when de aling with / appl ying the relevant theory in the se cond part. In the second part, I combine st ated e xplanations wi th t he International Re lations Th eory of Democratic Peace [DP].

The argument I put forth is that in case of the Imia / Kardak Crisis the political leaders of both sides found themselves in a cat ch 22 b etween intimidation and apprehe nsion. The popula r media dominated public opinion and consequen tly put pressu re on poli ticians, creatin g a continual threat and sil encing the non -nationalist (libe ral) voi ces. Publ ic opinion bec ame suggestible bec ause of the long -term disputes and the perception of a continual threat. Depending on these inputs, governments overreacted in order to satisfy their public.

On the other hand, the high military and economic capacities are the main deterrence between two de mocracies. In case of the l ack o f n ormative c ommonalities, the una voidable implications of a war and accordingly the leader’s fear on “loss of power” deter the leaders to fight and en gage with U.S. mediation. More over, the Clinton- Medi ation was not understood as a realistic, hegemonic rule of the U.S., but a prompt answer to the “call for help” from the Turkish and Gre ek lead ers. I noticed that U. S. m ediation compensated th e problem solving function of NATO, which was not functioning in 1990s, between Turkey and Greece.

2. The Disputes over the Aegean (Inter-related Issues)

It is hard to sa y that Turkey and Gr eece were on g ood terms with each other until the end of 1995. There we re already series of long term disputes over the soverei gnty of the A egean. In my opinion, the Imia / Kardak Crisis was onl y a symbolic trigger. In this part, I would like to underline the main disputes between two countries which were inter-related to the crisis issue, namely: “C ontinental sh elf ri ghts”, “territorial w aters” and “t he st atus of t he Kardak / Imia Rocks6 ". It should also b e mentioned that th ese disputes caused a massive armaments race over the years and as a result of this, the stability of the region is continuously at risk.

2.1. Continental Shelf Rights

The dispute over continental shelf rights in the Aegean is connected to the development of the international legal status of the continental shelf issue. A continental shelf can be described as an underse a ex tension of a continent. Coastal states have asse rted l and rig hts to their associated continental shelf. As we know, the c ontinental shelf is rich in natural recourses (especially oil and gas reserves). However, this issue was not discussed until the end of World War II, because offshore exploitation of oil and gas on a commercial scale had not begin until this time.

The le gal stor y of conti nental shelf ri ghts be gins in 1945. The then U. S. President, Ha rry Truman, extended U.S. jurisdiction on c ontinental shelf unilaterally, b ecause of the U.S.’s domestic oil inte rests (Churchill, Lowe 1983: 112). This wa s the first major c hallenge to the then known do ctrines. Consequentl y other countries followed this approa ch7. The development of o ffshore (oil and gas) exploitation technolog y was im proved f aster than expected.8 This new field began to arouse the attention of many coastal countries.

Although, in 1958, the UN tried to re gulate th e continental shelf deb ate b y me ans of a convention9, b y th e 1960 s, it became obvious tha t the disputes over conti nental shelf ri ghts and the other sovereignty issues were escalating10. Malta’s Ambassador to the United Nations, Arvid P ardo argued t hat, "An ef fective i nternational re gime ov er t he se abed an d t he o cean floor be yond a cl early d efined national jurisdictio n", " it is the onl y alte rnative b y which we can hope to a void the e scalating te nsion tha t w ill be ine vitable if the pre sent situation is allowed to continue" (Pardo 1967: 14- 15). As a result of this idea, the th ird United Nations Conference on the Law of Se a [ UNCLOS III] took plac e f rom 1973 through 1982. The conference ended with a convention which replaces to the previous convention (UNCLOS I in 1958).

The dispute between Greece and Turke y on t he continental shelf issue had becom e app arent by the 1970s. Esp ecially after Greece dis covered oil near the Island of T hassos. After this incident, in 1973, the T urkish g overnment publi shed a map, which und erlined the Tu rkish reading on the limits of her continental shelf (See Figure 5 a nd 6). The Turkish position was that the Aeg ean must be shared equall y (Pratt, Schofield 1996: 63) between the parties. This known Turkish assumption is based on a geographical argument, which claims “much of the Aegean is a prolongation of the Anatolian la ndmass” (Heinegg 1989: 167-170). That is wh y, according to Ankara, the eastern Aegean islands do not possess t heir own area of continental shelf (Catranis 1999: 51).

On 29 May 1974, Turkey commissioned a survey ship (the Çandarlı) to make magneto-metric studies i n t he Ae gean, accompanied b y t hirty t wo warshi ps, a long the w estern limits of the Turkish claim in Aegean (Wilson 1984: 93). This action was obviously intended to intimidate the Gr eek Government and t o und erline t he T urkish position on conti nental shelf issue. Consequently, the government of Gree ce11 prote sted the c laimed c ontinental she lf limits of Turkey but Turkey rejected the protests.

The Greek position was founded on th e 1958 G eneva Convention on th e Continental Shelf (under UNCLOS I), which was signed and ratified by Greece (but not by Turkey). Article 1 of the convention indicates that, “the term continental shelf is used as referring (a) to the seabed and subsoil of t he submarine areas adjacent to the coast but outside the area of t he territorial sea, to a depth of 200 metres or, beyond that limit, to where the depth of the superacent waters admits of the e xploitation of the na tural re sources of t he sai d areas; (b) t o t he seabed and subsoil of simila r subm arine areas adjacent to the c oasts of isla nds”. And Article 2 / 1 underlines that “the coas tal State exercises over the continental shelf sov ereign rights for the purpose of ex ploring it and ex ploiting its natural resourc es”12. Obviously, Athens argued that according t o t he i ntent of Art icle 1/ b, Turki sh r ights t o t he cont inental shelf ar e rest ricted, because of t he cont inental shel f ri ghts of t he Gre ek i slands, whi ch l ie l ess t han 12 m iles off the Anatolian coast. Against this a rgument, Ankara noted that Turkey was not a party to this convention, and was therefor e not formall y boun d b y it. Moreove r, Turkish concerns about the Aegean i ssue wer e bri efly ex plained b y t he t hen Turki sh P rime Minister S üleyman Demirel, in 1975, as follows:

In this case it is enough to look at the map. Many Greek islands lie less than twe lve mile s from the Turkish c oast. Ac cording to inte rnational law, Gre ek sover eignty would ex tend to the Turkish coast and Turks would need passports to bathe in the sea (Riemer 2000: 115).

In 1976, Turk ey announced another ship (Sismik I) which spent three d ays on the Gr eek- claimed continental shelf, ex actly west of th e Island of Lesbos (Pratt, Schofield 1996: 64). This action brou ght Tu rkey and Greece close to a n arme d conflict. Th is te nsion wa s d e- escalated by NATO mediation. Furthermore, in the following years, Greece insisted that the case m ust be di scussed by t he International C ourt of Justice [ ICJ], but e ventually t he ICJ decided on J anuary 1979 that it lacked the jurisd iction to rule in the Ae gean Sea Continental Shelf Case (Hickok 1998: 41). Moreover, the I CJ charact erised the Aegean as “a rea of dispute”13. This re sult was very positive for the Turkish authorities, because Turkey argued that the case could only solved by political dialog, not by international law.


1 T he t wo rocky is lets have a n area of approx imately 40. 000 sq uare metres, with no in habitants. T he islet lie s 3.7 nautical miles (7.0 km) from the T urkish We st C oast an d 5.5 nautical miles (10. 2 km) f rom t he Greek Island Kalymnos. (See: picture 1 and 2)

2 T hese J ournalists were members of Hü rriyet Ne wspaper, which i s one of the wide ci rculating newspapers i n Turkey.

3 T he term “Rambo- Journalism” is used to define a kind of journalism which led loose of the o bjectivity on a patriotic, jingoist, partial purpose.

4 Hürriyet, 30.01.1996

5 Athens News Agency, 29.01.1996

6 T here ar e tw o more inter -related issue s, “De-militarisation of th e i slands” in t he Aegean a nd “Airs pace Jurisdiction”. Although these are very important issues, I would like to preclude these two continuous disputes as separate sub-titles to not to digress from the main discussion.

7 In October 1946, A rgentina claimed its shelf and the continental sea above it. In 1947, C hile and Peru and in 1950, Ecuador claimed sovereign rights over a 200 n autical-mile “to limit the access of distant-water fishing fleets a nd to con trol t he depletion o f fish stocks i n their adj acent s eas”. For more de tails, See : a historical perspective, the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea

8 According to Chu rchill a nd Lowe, i n 1981, of fshore oil produ ction accoun ted for al most a q uarter of world total oil production, and offshore gas was more than fifteen percent of world gas production (Churchill and Lowe 1983: 110).

9 The UN C onvention on t he Continental Shelf: This convention was one of the four connecting agreements of the United Nations’ first Conference on the Law of the Sea [UNCLOS I] at Geneva. UNCLOS I resulted in four treaties s igned in 1958: C onvention on th e T erritorial S ea an d C ontiguous Zone (1964), C onvention on t he Continental Shelf, Convention on the High Seas, Convention on Fishing and Conservation of Living Resources of the High Seas.

10 S uch as , th e o ffshore oil dis pute in Nort h S ea. In 1964, t he dis pute took place bet ween UK, Ger many an d Denmark on how to carve up the continental shelf, with its rich oil resources.

11 It m ust b e u nderlined th at b oth Greece an d T urkey were ruled b y t he military j unta, in 1 973. Greece: "The Regime of the Colonels" (1967- 1974), Turkey: “12 March Junta” (1971- 1973).

12 See: The United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS I), 29.04.1958

13 See: In ternational Court o f J ustice, 19.12.197 8, C ases: Aegean Sea C ontinental S helf ( Greece v s. T urkey), Jurisdiction of the Court.


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Kardak Rocks Imia Rocks Greece Turkey Kardak-Imia Crisis



Title: Why did they not fight? A Study on the Kardak-Imia Crisis 1995-1996 between Greece and Turkey