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The Aegean Geography

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    The Aegean Geography

    The Aegean Sea is an offshoot or branch of the Mediterranean Sea. The Aegean Sea is located between Greece and Turkey(1). The Aegean Sea is located on the East of Greece. The Aegean Sea is vast covering about 610km in length and 300km wide(2). It is linked to the Black sea by the straits of Dardanelles, the Bosporous connect and the sea of Marmara, located on the south east of Europe, the Aegean sea is dotted with 1,415 Islands of which 1,395 are controlled by Greece and include, Evvoia, the Cyclades, Samos, Lesbos, Dodecanese, Thasos and Sporades. The islands of Crete and Rhodes are the southern most and of the Aegean Sea. The greфatest sea fathom is 11,600 feet to the East of the Crete island(3). Characteristic islands that dot the Aegean Sea are extensions of the mountains on the mainland. Three notable chains of the islands exist one extending across the sea to Chios, another extends across Eurobea to Samos and the third extends across the Peloponnese and Crete to Rhodes, dividing the Aegean sea from the Mediterranean(4). The harbours and bays of most of these islands are safe but navigating through the Aegean sea is difficult. The nature of most islands is that they are volcanic, containing iron and marble elements, through the larger islands have plains and very fertile valleys(5). Turkey owns two islands on the Aegean Sea Bozcaada and Gokceada. The outstanding bays in gulfs include the Sauda, Chania, Almyros, Mirabelli bays or gulfs, the Myrtoan sea to the west, the Saronic gulf northwestward, the Petalies gulf that connect with the south Euboic sea, the pagasetic gulf that connect with the North Euboic sea, the Thermian gulf northwestward, the Chalkidiki peninsula including the Cassandra and signitic gulfs, northward the Strymonian gulf and the gulf of Kauala and the rest are in Turkey, Saras gulf, Edremit gulf, Dikiki Gulf, Candarli Gulf, Izmir Gulf, Kusadasi Gulf, Gokosa Gulf and Gulluk Gulf(6).

    The status in the Aegean with respect to maritime areas Territorial sea.

    The ideal of the limit of control of the sea, control of the sea, Territorial sea, has been linked to two basic problems. The first is the capacity and hence determination of Juridical rights over the territorial sea, those of both Turkey and Greece and others.

    The other problem is the limit to which coastal states could exercise their territorial sea rights(7). Earlier on, ideas and state system with view of concept were varied, showing two different solutions(8). On one hand, a belt of sea was and regarded as the property of the coastal state if it was adjacent to the coast. On the other hand it was an area over which coastal states could only exercise certain jurisdiction on matters like fisheries or punitive powers over certain matters like piracy and offences related to security of navigation(9).

    However, at later international conferences held during the twentieth century on the law of the sea, it was established that coastal states had rule of law, ‘Sovereignty’ over the territorial waters (10). The restrictions placed by sovereign nations to protect the freedoms that other states would enjoy were of prime significance in these 20th century discussions of territorial seas. The Hague conference draft article of the early 1930’s dictated that sovereignty be exercised subject to conditions imposed in the article and by other rules of international law (11). Draft article I of the ILC, predecessor organization to UON, stated that sovereignty of a state extends to a belt of sea adjacent to its coast, described as the territorial sea. This sovereignty is exercised subject to the conditions prescribed in these articles and other rules of international law (12). This draft was adopted by the Geneva conference but amended. To mark the territorial sea therefore for the Aegean coastal states the following law applies. Where the coasts of two states are opposite or adjacent to each other, neither or the two stores is entitled, failing agreement between them to the contrary, to extend its territorial sea beyond the meridian line every point of which is equidistant from the nearest points on the baselines from which the breadth of the territorial seas of each of the two states is measured. The provisions of this paragraph shall however not apply, where it is necessary by reason of historic title or other special circumstances to delimit the territorial seas of two states in a way which is at variance with its provision (14).

    The breadth of territorial sea

    The Lausanne treaty of 1912, between Italy and the Ottoman Empire signed in Ouchy, gave the Italian nation the Aegean Islands to Greece (15). The assumption during the handover being that the territorial waters would have a breadth of 3 miles and would be free of military installations. However Greece unilaterally increased the breadth of her territorial waters from 3 to 6 miles, embarking on establishing military bases on the islands in extreme contravention of international agreements (16). Today Greece still seeks to increase the territorial waters to a breath of 12 miles, a move Turkey opposes and considers reason for strife with Greece (17). Out of this 43.5% of the Aegean Sea belongs to Greece, 7.5% to Turkey and the remaining 49% being high seas. Significantly, aggression by Greece involves the 10 mile airspace over territorial waters of six miles, which is abuse of FIR responsibility, which requests flight plans from state aircraft and alleges violations of Athens FIR (18). Publications by the Turkish ministry of foreign affairs are a pointer to the issue on breadth, Onyxes G. in his article the Aegean issue says ‘it is clear that if one of the littoral states, unilaterally extends its jurisdiction in the Aegean and deprives the other coastal state from exercising its existing rights, it is no longer possible to speak of the Lausanne balance in the Aegean (19).

    The Baselines

    By 1936, Greece’s law 230 provided that the Greek adopted the system of normal baseline leaves, wider high seas and international navigation (20). Even in the absence of international law, Greece, in 1972 became party to the convention on continental shelf and made a reservation according to which it worked (21). Dr. Yucer Acer in his article, The Aegean sea in its contemporary context says, ‘The fact that Greece has interests in the preservation of free navigation was a way that seemed to have played a major role in its preference on normal baseline systems’ Dr. Yucer A. continues ‘The system of normal baseline has more recently been confirmed for the Greek coast with regard to closing lines across Gulfs and bays, Greece seems to be concerned most by navigation. Greek law does not indicate which coastal indentations should be regarded as bays in legal terms (22). Without such a definition, Greece however favours the view that indentations whose mouths do not exceed 10 miles could be closed with a straight baseline whereas wider bays will be closed where the distance is 10 miles across (23). The closing line for bays and the system of straight baselines though lacking in Greek law is allowed by both the 1958 convention on Territorial sea contiguous zone and later by the 1982 law of the convention (24). The criticism is that, Greece benefits from this system of straight baselines as a party to the 1982 convention because it stands to gain considerable maritime areas as its coasts are fringed and surrounded by many Islands and Islets in close vicinity (25).

    Turkey, on the other hand, has no such navigation issues preferring unlike Greece, to keep its baselines favorable to the wider open seas. The Aegean Turkey is deeply indented and fringed with some small islands and rocks. As the map indicates, straight lines have been drawn to connect the foremost points of these features (26). About seven bays have been closed with straight lines.

    The mouth of the canakkale straight is also closed by straight lines that pass on the foremost points of the Turkish Islands of Gokceada, Bozcaad leading to the Rabbit Islands in the mouth of the strait (27). As seen, Greece and Turkey, currently apply different baseline systems in the Aegean and such baselines have the potential to affect both the measurement and delimitation of the maritime set up (28). The difference in system of baseline in the Aegean Sea is therefore something that should be considered for settlement of maritime issues (29).

    Delimitation of sea boundaries in the Aegean.

    The mainland coasts of Greece and Turkey border the Aegean Sea on both sides and represent roughly equal shares of its total coastline, the overwhelming number of islands however belong to the nation of Greece (30). The chain of islands lined up along the Turkish west coast that include Dodecanese, Chios, Lesbos and Samos are partly in close proximity to the mainland (31). For Turkey, these Islands out of large parts of it from the open sea and they block it from extending its zones of influence beyond a few miles of its coastline (32).

    The fear is that, Turkey is concerned that Greece might attempt to extend its zone of influence to such a degree that it would turn the Aegean effectively into a ‘Greek lake’ on the other hand the Greek are concerned that the Turks might try to ‘occupy half of the Aegean’ (33).

    Delimitation of seas as between opposite coasts.

    Dr. Yucer Acer, U.S.A.K, in his article maritime Delimitation in the Aegean Sea postulates that the delimitation of the continental shelf is the actual delimitation issue in the Aegean conflict. Presently none of the states has declared exclusive economic zones, EEZ, however in the foreseeable future declaration is likely (34) . The effect of delimitation of EEZ is likely to cause a dispute just as that of the continental shelf. The concepts of the continental shelf and the EEZ are closely related to each other in a legal way (35). They award the same type of privileged and rights to the coastal states and in general terms have same seaward extent. A single delimitation line is necessary, if the area between the two countries is less than 400 miles, sea bed or floor features fail to justify an extension of the continental shelf of one country or nation beyond 200 miles. A country cannot have an EEZ without corresponding continental shelf rights underneath it (36). John Sililides, in his article dividing the Aegean Sea, analyses the journal on the Greek Turkish Dispute called ‘Aegean Angst’, he notes that among the recommendations was a demarcation line through the Aegean sea drawn along the midpoint of two median lines. One line being drawn along the midpoint of the two countries (Turkey and Greece) and the other line between the Islands baseline and that of the Turkish coast (37). This similarly happened for Britain and France, creating 12 nautical miles of territorial waters around the British channel Islands and awarding all waters beyond those limits to France. The geographical circumstances and coastal relations are divergent in three. Separate Aegean sectors so as to call for the application of different delimitation methods (38). In the first place, unlike either parts of the Aegean Sea, the mainland coasts are adjacent in the north where the land boundary terminates at the sea (39). Their coasts are adjacent to a certain point in the north sector. On the other hand, this part is relatively island – free compared to the southern Aegean Sea. The remaining part of the Aegean sea should be considered as two separate sectors (40). The first is the central Aegean Sea that lies between the 38th and 39th latitudes. The coastal relation of the parties in this sector is perfectly opposite one another, which is disturbed slightly by certain coastal features. Similar to the northern Aegean Sea, there are only a few islands in this region (41). The final sector is the southern Aegean sea that lies southward from the 38th latitude. The coasts of the two states are mostly opposite (42). This however represents a different pattern of coastal relation between the mainlands. The coasts become quasi-adjacent beyond a certain point in this section (43). This region also has many more islands compared to the other sectors.

    In addition, Crete, the biggest Greek island in the Aegean, is located in this sector in an exceptional position so as to mark the border between the Aegean Sea and the rest of the Mediterranean (44).

    Other maritime jurisdiction areas

    Dr. Erdem Denk of the faculty of political science at Ankara University, in the article, two tiny rocks, two modest suggestions, ‘says that the Turkey – Greece contention over the Kardak / Imia Rocks dates to back to an accident at sea in December 1995. ‘in this context, Greece argued that the ‘Imia Rocks’ were first ceded to Italy by Turkey in the 1923 Lausanne Treaty, confirmed later by an ‘agreement’ dated December 1932 that was consistent with a previous treaty and a letter exchange both done on 4th January 1932. Later on Italy ceded the same to Greece courtesy of the Paris peace Treaty in 1947. Turkey however, argued that the ‘Kardak Rocks’ were never ceded by Turkey’. Continues Dr. Erdem Denk, ‘meaning the ‘Kordak Rock’ were and still are part of the Turk jurisdiction as the successor of the Ottoman Empire which, as Greece agrees was the undisputed title owner upto the Lausanne Treaty.’ The opposing parties argue that the ‘relative’ distances of these rocks to their respective nearest undisputed islands or coasts are to be leaked at in order to interpret these very expressions (45). Turkey challenges the legal validity of the 1947 agreement at the Paris Peace Treaty saying that the requisite legal procedures for ratification of this document were not fulfilled especially by Turkey, meaning it did not give its consent to such a cession (46).

    Many other ‘geographic formations’ in the region have similar status as do the Kordak / Imia Rocks (46). Interestingly, both Turkey and Greece agree that international instruments supposed to (un) regulate the status of these two rocks infact relate to dozens of others. Hence any settlement would not only determine the ‘owner’ of Kordak / Imia Rocks but also clarify the status of others (47). Dr. Erdem Denk adds,’ symbolic steps be taken by (both or any of the parties as far as specific maritime disputes over Kardak / Imia rocks are concerned, not to mention the other territorial boundary disputes, proponents of this idea, think that the parties should erect some sort of peace monument or build some sort of tourist attractions on those rocks to the memory of their history. Despite its symbolic nature, such a step is arguably not only one of quite positive effects to the confidence building efforts between the parties, but also provides good example for other parties, but also provides good example for other parties in global disputes. (48) Since the threat for Turkey is the ‘Greek lake’ as aforementioned, both parties before negotiation should agree that such ‘small formations’ should not have effect in determining respective maritime jurisdiction areas (especially territorial seas) of the parties. (49) Also they (Turkey and Greece could agree to create corridors for Turkish navigation as well as militarize some of the geographic formations irrespective of status.

    The Aegean continental shelf

    For the case of the Aegean, the continental shelf refers to the states exclusive right to economic exploitation of resources on and under the sea bed. (50) This covers fishing and drilling for oil. The limits however, for the continental shelf, are within its territorial waters and extending up to the high seas. The dispute between Turkey and Greece is the determination of the Greek and Turkish exclusive Economic zones. (51) The width of the continental shelf commonly defined by international law as not exceeding 200 nautical miles is what Turkey argues for. Contending that distance be measured from the continental mainland, Turkey proposes that the Aegean geographically forms a natural prolongation of the Anatolian land mass. (52) Meaning that Turkey would entitled to economic zones up to the median line of the Aegean, except the territorial waters around the Greek islands in its Eastern half, which remain as Greek enclaves. (53) The Greek government says that the Eastern Islands form a political continuum with the Greek mainland, alleging possible interference with Greece’s internal sea and air communications by Turkey, should the latter have her way. (54) The continental shelf has its own environmental concerns. With the lack of cooperation between the two nations there is the domino effect, the lack of bilateral agreements on pollution control and exploitation of resources is noted. Illegal exploitation is rampant and so is the increased resource depletion. (55) Both nations have embarked on massive troop maneuvers in the islands and continental shelf exposing these natural habitats to extreme conditions that could cause degradation. (56)

    Significance of Aegean sea for Navigation.

    The Aegean Sea provides cheaper system of transport. Per ton kilometer rating for the movement of goods (as import or export) is cheaper compared to railway road or air.

    (57 )Notably the interests of the two nations on the Aegean Sea are similar. (58) The capacity to navigate the Aegean Sea is potential ground for the citizenry to engage in fishing, which is rapidly depleting fish resource as the two nations dispute over the continental shelf. (59)

    The Aegean Sea has got fossil fuel in the form of crude oil and both the nations of Turkey and Greece have dredged holes in an attempt to mine the oil. Navigation, in this case allowed for easy movement of materials and subsequent installation of oil facility at sea. (60)

    The movement of service is also boosted by the navigational capacity of the Aegean Sea. In modern times, it has played a role in moving troops and also for maneuvers that involve security concerns like counterterrorism. Populations in the Greece and Turkey states depend more on Agriculture and Tourism than they do, rely on fisheries. (61) Navigation in this case allows for delivery of manure and other farm inputs at the same time as tourists arrive in yatch and boats they create jobs for the locals and hence improve the local community’s economy. (61)

    The legal framework regarding navigation in the Aegean

    There is the basic goal of dealing with the Aegean dispute using the basis of international law, either between the parties or through a third party such as the International court of justice. Turkey has in many occasions preferred direct negotiations rather than the ICJ. (62) The Turkish Embassy org outlines a legal framework on the Kardak issue. In the website, the Turkish government argues that the Greek base their sovereignty over Kardak rocks and over other similar islets and rocks on the 4th January 1932 and 28th December 1932 Turkish- Italian Documents.(63)  However, the Turks note, the 4th January 1932 Agreement does not mention the Kardak rocks and on the other hand the 28th December 1932 Agreement is rubbished because legal procedures that regard to it were never honored and it never was registered with the league of nations. (64)  Quoting from the predecessor to the United Nations, the Article 18 of the league of nations says ‘No treaty or International Engagement shall be binding until registered’. (65)


    The United Nations is the safeguard body that enshrines the law on sea fairing.(66)  The law of the sea is also called the United Nations Convention on law of the sea (UNCLOS). (67)  The law applies to the seas and oceans of the world, in the convention are the definition of rights and responsibilities of nations on the use of the sea. (68) The convention also has established clear cut guidelines on business at sea, protection of the environment and improves on the management of marine natural resource. In actual fact, the UNCLOS exists in three parts, UNCLOS I, of 1956 conference on law of the sea, which came up with four treaties by 1958 that covered conventions on territorial sea, (69) contiguous zone, continental shelf and convention on high seas. (70) However it failed to sort out the issue of breadth of territorial waters. (71) UNICLOS II was never much a success, as it pitted the USA versus the Soviet union and the rest of the world caught in the middle of the cold war. (72) Then in 197, the UNICLOS III was embarked upon. This is the contemporary law of the sea. (73) It stems from the definition of a baseline. An operating status for navigation in this case. (74) Internal waters cover all water and waterways on the landward side of the baseline, (75) the coastal nation being free to set laws, regulate any use and any resource. Foreign vessels lack right of passage within internal waters. For territorial waters, out of the state is free to set laws and regulate any use of resource too. Vessels were given the right (76)of ‘innocent passage’ through territorial waters, with strategic straits allowing passage of military craft as ‘transit passage’, naval vessels can keep posture that could be illegal in territorial (77)waters. ‘Innocent passage’ is passing through waters in expeditious and continuous manner, that is not ‘prejudicial to the peace, good order or security’ of the coastal state. Fishing polluting, weapon practice, (78) spying are not ‘innocent’. The coastal nations have right to suspend innocent passage, temporarily though, if significant to its security.

    The contiguous zone was defined as nautical miles further than the nautical mile limit, or miles beyond the baseline. (79) In this extent the states could continue to enforce laws that regard activities like illegal immigration and smuggling. Coastal nations also got sole exploration rights extending nautical miles from the baseline. (80) This exclusive economic zones are to reduce heated clashes over fishing rights and to an extent oil drilling. Foreign nations have the freedom of navigation and over flight, (81) may also lay submarine pipes and cables. Archipelagic waters were also defined. (82) They set out the way territorial borders can be drawn. A baseline is drawn between the outermost points of the outermost islands, subject to these points being sufficiently close to one another. (83)All water inside this baseline is described as archipelagic waters and are included as part of the states territory and territorial waters. (84) This baseline is also used to chart its territorial waters 12 nautical miles from baseline and 2 miles for the EEZ. (85) The convention also defined the continental shelf as a natural prolongation of land territory to the continental margins outer edge, or  miles from coastal states baseline, whichever is greater states continental shelf may extend beyond 200 (86) nautical miles till the natural prolongation ends, but it may never exceed 350 nautical miles, or 100 nautical miles beyond 2,500 meter isobath. (87) States have a right to harvest mineral and nonliving materials in the subsoil of its continental shelf to the exclusion of others. (88)

    Essential issues concerning navigation in the Aegean sea in relation to application of principles and rules of international law.

    In the case of territorial sea limits, the nations of Turkey and Greece maintain narrower limits. (90) Due to the complexity of political and geographical situation, the extension beyond the 6 mile limit is still disputed. (91) The Aegean sea application of a median line as provided by Article 15 of the law of the sea convention is politically sensitive since there are too many islands on either side of the median line. (92)

    The Greek government ratified the 1995 law of the sea convention, but Turkey did not. This granted Greece the right to extend its territorial seas in the Aegean from six to twelve miles. (93) The Turkish military may react to such advance, but proposals exist that United Nations can suspend all jurisdiction claims in Aegean sea and employ an international peace keeping force. (94) Article 7 of the law of the sea envisages the use of straight baselines, despite the fact that their use is of technical character, in a state with a long coastline, like Greece, they favor its territorial sea. (95) Since 1964, Turkey has adopted straight baselines in a way favorable at the North East Aegean ‘hooking’ the Turkish continental coast with the Imuros, Tenedos and Lagouses islands, thus shifting the dividing sea boundary at the expense of Greece. (96)

    On the issue of the continental shelf, Turkey presents significant fluctuations, all of them incompatible with existing international law. (97) Turkey, in 1958 opposed the Geneva convention principle that promoted equidistance measures, however, with soviet union support it embarked on equidistance principle at the black sea. (98) In a selective manner, when it comes to the Aegean sea, the principle of equidistance is not an option but it rather chooses the principle of equity for delimitation of the continental shelf, despite the fact that this is a principle product of the law of the sea which, it (Turkey) opposed. (99)

    The unique case of the Aegean preserving the status quo with respect to breadth of territorial sea.

    The 1923 Lausanne peace Treaty established a ‘political balance’ between Greece and Turkey by harmonizing the vital interests of both countries including those in the Aegean. (100)Completely ‘in ignorance’ then! When the Plenipotentiaries convened to sign the Treaty in the summer of 1923, the continental shelf, EEZ, air defence identification, sea bed wealth and archipelagic state concepts were not in their minds. (101) Bilateral Turco-Greek relationship in the Aegean should be based on the following principles to maintain a status quo; The understanding that the Aegean is a common sea between Turkey and Greece. (102) The freedoms of the high seas and of the superjacent air space should not be impaired. Any acquisition of new maritime areas should be based on mutual consent, fairly and equitably. (103)The status quo through the Lussane treaty of 1923 aimed at maintaining the border balance and stemming on possible geopolitical axes of confrontation in the Aegean. (104) Diplomats too have a stake in maintaining the status quo, or allowing change in small and manageable, if not acceptable steps. (105)The difference between dialogue and negotiation is substantial and of critical significance. (106) Between Turkey and Greece, it is imperative that dialogue be conducted in the context of peaceful coexistence and the development of the bilateral relations without any terms and conditions. Caution should be exercised, for the case of Greece as long as Turkey’s casus bellis status is in place against Greece. (107) Because negotiation and the simultaneous threat of use of force are two contradictory notions in the ‘constitutional frame work of the united nations’. (108)

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    The Aegean Geography. (2016, Dec 09). Retrieved from

    Frequently Asked Questions

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    How did geography influence Aegean civilization?
    The geography of the region helped to shape the government and culture of the Ancient Greeks. Geographical formations including mountains, seas, and islands formed natural barriers between the Greek city-states and forced the Greeks to settle along the coast.
    What is the Aegean known for?
    The Aegean Sea lies between the coast of Greece and Asia Minor (modern-day Turkey). It contains over 2,000 islands which were settled by the ancient Greeks; the largest among them being Crete (Kriti) and the best known and most often photographed Santorini (Thera or Thira).

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