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AHI Sends Letter to Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice Regarding the Fatal Incident Between Greek and Turkish F-16 Jets Over the Aegean Sea
June 1, 2006—No. 53 (202) 785-8430

AHI Sends Letter to Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice Regarding the Fatal Incident Between Greek and Turkish F-16 Jets Over the Aegean Sea

WASHINGTON, DC—On June 1, 2006, AHI President Gene Rossides sent a letter to Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice regarding the fatal incident that took place over the Aegean Sea, when Greek and Turkish F-16 jets collided. The text of the letter follows:

June 1, 2006

The Honorable 
Condoleezza Rice 
Secretary of State 
Department of State 
2201 C Street, N.W. 
Washington, DC 20520

Dear Secretary Rice:

As you know, on May 23, 2006, a fatal incident took place over the Aegean Sea, near the island of Karpathos, when Greek and Turkish F-16 jets collided. Greece sent the F-16 to intercept the Turkish aircraft which entered into the Athens Flight Information Region (FIR) without having previously submitted flight plans to the appropriate Greek authorities. The Turkish fighter ultimately moved towards the northern part of the island of Crete, thus infringing on the Air Traffic Rules.

In accordance with International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) procedures governing the safety of international air navigation, a Greek formation of two F-16 jets flew into the area in order to identify the unknown plane. During this procedure, the Greek fighter and Turkish fighters collided resulting in the death of the Greek pilot and forcing the Turkish pilot to eject whereby he was rescued soon after.

Most troubling is that international commercial aviation is also threatened over the Aegean whenever Turkish fighter jets incur into the Athens FIR unannounced and Greece has to dispatch planes to intercept the intruder. It is reported that an Air Egypt passenger plane witnessed the explosion as the two planes collided. You can understand how this tragedy could have been much worse.

International air traffic is regulated by the provisions of the Chicago Convention of 1944, which also created the ICAO to monitor the enforcement of international flight safety and traffic regulations. International airspace on a global level was assigned to a country based on areas of responsibility known as Flight Information Regions.

Greece is responsible for ensuring flight safety and respect for international air traffic regulations within the area known as the Athens Flight Information Region. This area was established in a Regional conference with the full agreement of Turkey in 1950 and was confirmed in 1952 and 1958.

The Chicago Convention contains rules, which aim not at constraining the freedom of flights but at protecting the interests of the international community. The coordination of flights, both civil and state aircraft, including military aircraft, over the high seas is essential, to avert accidents and the loss of life. The coordination consists of any exchange of information concerning the safe conduct of civil and state flights. The registration of flight information under the form of a flight plan is the basic rule of ICAO and fulfills the obligation for state flights to have “due regard for the safety of navigation of civil aircraft” of article 3 (d) of the convention.

This of course is not the first time that Turkish military aircraft have violated Greek airspace without filing a flight plan. This has gone on routinely, almost on a daily basis for the past 30 years openly challenging and threatening Greece’s territorial integrity! In the first three months of 2006 there have been 434 violations of Greek national airspace and 406 infringements of the Athens FIR by Turkish fighter planes. During the same time period there have been 6 violations of Greek territorial waters by Turkish warships and Coast Guard vessels.

At a time when Turkey is aspiring to join the EU, we find her attitude incomprehensible, not only regarding how she continues to violate the territorial integrity of a fellow EU and NATO member, but of course in her continued intransigence as it relates to Cyprus. Turkey is once again proving to be a difficult neighbor and partner as it relates to U.S. interests in the Southeastern Mediterranean.

On May 24, 2006, a day after the incident, State Department Spokesman Sean McCormack stated, “…Look, the Aegean is a small region and we are all aware of the differences existing between Greece and Turkey on this issue…we would like to see these two NATO allies cooperating so that such incidents are not repeated…And what we are hoping for and what we would encourage is that the two countries will cooperate so that it does not happen again.”

The continued appeasement of Turkey’s military aircraft actions in the Aegean and the failure of the U.S. to meet its treaty and international law obligations regarding the maritime boundary in the Aegean Sea has led to this tragic incident.

The longer we delay in recognizing the maritime boundary in the Aegean Sea as established by treaties, the more we contribute to Turkey’s intransigence regarding Turkish military aircraft flights violations in the Aegean. This continued appeasement of Turkey has contributed directly to Turkey’s violations of the Athens FIR.

Madam Secretary, the law regarding the maritime boundary in the Aegean Sea is clear and unambiguous. For the record, Greece obtained its legal title to and sovereignty over the land and waters of the Aegean Sea, not through military conquest or some vague historical claim, but through the Treaties. Under international law, legal title to territory that is obtained through treaty has been deemed the strongest form of legal title. The Treaty Regimes that govern the Northern Islands and the Dodecanese, respectively, differ from one another. The Treaty of Lausanne contains the boundary regime for the Northern Islands of the Aegean Sea. The Treaty of Paris contains the boundary regime for the Dodecanese.

A. The Northern Islands and the Treaty of Lausanne

Between 1878 and 1913 Greece seized the islands of Limnos, Lesbos, Chios, Samos & Ikaria from the declining Ottoman Empire through a series of military actions premised primarily on the existence of substantial Greek populations on those islands. By 1913, Greece exercisedde facto control over these islands. However, Greece did not have legal title to the islands because it came to possess the islands through military conquest. The Treaty of Lausanne ended the First World War in the east and as well as the post-War hostilities between Greece and the newly-formed Republic of Turkey.

The Treaty of Lausanne granted legal title to Greece over the islands over which Greece had exercised de facto control for about 10 years. In deciding which small islands and islets located around the Northern Islands were to be under Greek sovereignty and which of those small islands and islets were to be under Turkish sovereignty, the drafters of the Treaty simply confirmed the situation that had existed for the preceding 10 years. Rather than draw a geometric maritime boundary, the drafters simply declared that islands that were less than 3 miles from the “Asiatic coast” shall be under Turkish sovereignty. The 3-mile area is measured from the coastline and not from any coastal islands.

B. The Dodecanese and the Treaty of Paris

Unlike the Northern islands, Greece never had exercised either de facto control or sovereignty over the Dodecanese in modern times. Italy took de facto control of the Dodecanese from the Ottoman Empire in 1912 following a short armed conflict referred to in history as the Italo-Turkish War. During negotiations for the Treaty of Lausanne, Greece actively sought possession of the Dodecanese based on the existence of a substantial Greek majority in the population of those islands. In 1920, the Senate of the United States passed a resolution calling on the peace conference to award the Dodecanese to Greece. However, Italy rather than Greece was ultimately granted legal title to the Dodecanese in the final version of Treaty of Lausanne. The Dodecanese remained under Italian sovereignty until they were ceded to Greece by Italy under the Treaty of Paris, which ended the Second World War between the Allies and Italy. The United States is a party to the Treaty of Paris.

Turkey apparently raises three legal issues with respect to the Treaty Regimes: (1) Greece obtained sovereignty only over those islands specifically named in the Treaties, (2) The maritime boundary between the Dodecanese Islands and Turkey is not legally binding because the instrument setting that boundary was not registered as required by the League of Nations (3) because Greece militarized the Northern Islands and the Dodecanese in violation of the de-militarization provisions of the Treaties, Turkey may suspend or terminate the Treaties.

Turkey has asserted that the Treaty Regimes are dated and do not reflect current circumstances so that the Treaty Regimes should be discarded and the issues resolved through bilateral negotiations. Greece responds that the Treaty Regimes have been in effect for decades and are settled international law so that if Turkey disagrees with the legal effect of the Treaty Regimes, it should submit its complaints to the International Court of Justice.

American policymakers must recognize that the United States has a legal obligation and a legal duty to preserve and perpetuate the integrity and stability of the Treaty Regimes as well as a substantial national interest. If the Treaty Regimes in the Aegean can be ignored or undermined by anachronistic and tactical legal arguments, then any one of the many treaty regimes that establish maritime boundaries to which the United States is a party can also be ignored or undermined. Moreover, because the United States is a signatory to the Treaty of Paris of 1947, that Treaty Regime is American law. Ultimately, as long as Turkey continues to challenge the Treaty Regimes other issues involving the Aegean such as the intercontinental shelf and the flight information region cannot be resolved.

The U.S. has important interests in Southeast Europe and the Eastern Mediterranean. To the North of Greece are the Balkans, Eastern Europe and Russia, to the East the Middle East and to the South are North Africa and the Suez Canal. Significant communication links for commerce and energy sources pass through the region. The projection of U.S. interests in the region depends heavily on the stability of the region. Therefore, the U.S. has an important stake in fostering good relations between two NATO allies, Greece and Turkey.

A key to stability in the region is for Greece and Turkey to have good relations with each other, promote democratic ideals and principles, and maintain growing economies. However, Turkey’s continuing occupation of Cyprus, its intransigence in solving the Cyprus problem, its refusal to recognize Cyprus as a member of the European Union, its continuing violations of Greece’s territorial integrity in the Aegean and human rights violations in Turkey, threatens and prevents this stability, and by extension U.S. interests.

Finally, the U.S. should immediately urge Turkey to submit all of its disputes relating to the Aegean Sea to the International Court of Justice at the Hague.


Gene Rossides

cc: Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld 
Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs R. Nicholas Burns 
Under Secretary for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs Karen Hughes 
Chief of Staff to the President Joshua B. Bolten 
National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley 
Assistant Secretary of State for Europe and Eurasia Daniel Fried 
Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Europe and Eurasia Matthew Bryza 
Director of Southern European Affairs Douglas Silliman 
U.S. Ambassador to Greece Charles P. Ries 
U.S. Ambassador to Turkey Ross Wilson 
Greek Desk Officer Joseph Parente 
Turkey Desk Officer Andrew Morrison 
The Congress


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