BY SÜMER ESİN ŞENYURT
The Aegean Sea plays an important role in bilateral relations between Turkey and Greece. The Aegean Sea issue came back to the agenda with the Kardak crisis in 1995 and caused the Turkish foreign policy to take shape. This process began with the strike of the cargo ship Figen Akad on the rocks called ‘Imia’ by the Greeks and ‘Kardak’ by the Turks on 25 December 1995. Turkey and Greece, two neighbouring countries in the Aegean, have come to the brink of war over claims that the rocks belong to them. Greece and Turkey are two countries that do not have friendly feelings towards each other because of some events in the past, and this crisis has caused relations to become tenser. Turkey has followed various strategies in the crisis process and has made efforts to bring the crisis to a solution. In my writing, I will evaluate the steps of Turkey and in doing so “If I am a decision-maker, what policy would I follow?” I’ll try to find an answer to this question.
First of all, I would like to see clearly the steps taken before making my assessment starting from the summary of the Kardak crisis. The 1990s were a period when global and regional relations were reorganized with the end of the Cold War. The Kardak crisis between Turkey and Greece coincided with this period. These two countries have been able to overcome the crisis between them with US intervention. ‘’Therefore, it is necessary to consider that the Kardak crisis occurred under the control of the international system while the two neighboring countries were on the brink of war’’ (Sunar, 2009: 239). At the onset of the crisis, the Turkish freighter Figen Akat ran aground on the rocks of Kardak (Imia), and this incident once again caused problems for the Aegean Sea between Turkey and Greece. According to Güzel, ‘’ The Kardak crisis between the two countries, as a result of a naval accident, sparked a small spark and was perceived by the two countries as a violation of their sovereignty rights and caused the crisis to escalate to the point of war’’ (Güzel, 2007:4). After the ship ran aground, Greece wanted to intervene, claiming that the area was within its territorial waters. In the face of this attitude, the captain of the ship refused the offer of assistance, arguing that the region belonged to Turkish territorial waters, not Greek. The captain of Figen Akat asked Turkey for help and thus the first step in starting the crisis was taken. According to Al and Balcı: ‘’As a result of mutual diplomatic negotiations between Turkish political officials and Ankara Greek Embassy officials, Figen Akat ship was rescued and towed to Güllük Port on 26 December 1995.’’ (Al and Balcı, 2018:30). On the other hand, according to Şıhmantepe: ‘’ After these incidents, the question of the sovereignty of the Kardak (Imia) rocks between the two countries became official and played an active role in determining the politics of the period.’’ (Şıhmantepe, 2013: 127). The first attack came from Greece, the Greeks (clergyman, Mayor, two journalists and police commissioner of Kalymnos island) reaching the rock and planting the Greek flag here increased the tension. In the face of this incident, two representatives of Hürriyet Newspaper went to the Kardak (Imia) rocks and lowered the Greek flag and hung the Turkish flag. According to Aksu’s views, ‘’After the images were published in the Turkish media, the diplomatic struggle between the two countries intensified and the pressure of the people on the issue intensified’’ (Aksu, 2003: 111). The Turkish government acted with the idea that the Greek military and the flag should be removed from the Kardak (Imia) rocks. During the crisis phase, the United States acted as a mediator and helped to ease the problem. Thus, the Turkish-Greek armed forces were withdrawn from the rocks and a period of calm was provided.
During the Kardak crisis, Tansu Çiller served as prime minister. President Suleyman Demirel played an active role in the management of the Kardak crisis and was in direct communication with U.S. President Bill Clinton. The Kardak crisis was a sudden and unexpected one, and during this crisis, decision-makers had to make decisions and create policy quickly. After the Kardak Rocky crisis, the conflict was momentarily resolved by U.S. intervention, but the tension experienced years ago has yet to be fully resolved. In fact, the issue here was not a piece of Rock, The Rocks were just a symbol. I connect these events with the Constructivism theory of international relations. According to constructivism, past events shape foreign policy. According to Kramer: ‘’When one examines the relations between Turkey and Greece, the surplus in the number of negative experiences is remarkable’’ (Kramer, 2001:243). After Greece declared its independence, it established its foreign policy on taking territory from the Ottoman State. In the opinion of Alexander Wendt, who is one of the most important figures who brought the constructivism approach to the international relations discipline, identity is a very important factor for determining the interests of actors. According to Wendt, ‘’ The determination of identity and interests occurs in a process, which is called “socialization” ’’ (Wendt, 1999:170). I think that in Greece when determining its identity from the past, it has identified a non-sharing, unfair, and selfish identity towards Turkey. Greece; 12 Of The Treaty Of Lausanne. based on the article, it argues that the rocks do not belong to Turkey. Yet, the name Kardak rocks are not in any of the international agreements. In addition, Kardak rocks in other agreements and there is no definite provision regarding the sovereignty of other similar cliffs in the Aegean. The point here is not a rock. The main thing is to impose thoughts and dominance on the other side and the world. Also according to constructivists, people create order, and people’s thoughts shape the international system. Greece tried to impose the idea that the Kardak rocks belonged to him. The attitude of Turkey is very important here because the slightest concession will cause Greece to claim rights in the Aegean Sea, except for the cliffs and Greece could ask for more. The main issue here is to use the Kardak cliffs in order to claim more about the Aegean Sea. The fact that Greece put troops on the rocks and Turkey reacted the same moved this situation from diplomatic dimension to military dimension. If I were a decision-maker, I would not respond to Greece’s behavior in the same way. I think Turkey should have kept calm and continued to pursue the diplomatic policy. A sudden reaction by Turkey could lead to an unfair situation in the international arena. I don’t think it was the right decision for Turkey to plant a flag on the other Cliff. By remaining calm, Turkey could rally other states as parties and put Greece in an unfair position in the eyes of other states. Moreover, Turkey’s military response could bring the already critical situation into a total war. The first point for Turkish decision-makers should be not to retaliate against Greece, but to determine to whom the rocks belong. President of the period Süleyman Demirel and Prime Minister Tansu Çiller had different views on this issue. According to President Süleyman Demirel, there are many islets in the Aegean like these rocky islets, it is not clear who they belong to, there is no need to go to war immediately, the problem should be resolved peacefully. According to Prime Minister Tansu Çiller, Kardak rocks are Turkish soil. The Greek flag should be lowered from the cliffs and Greek soldiers should be hoisted. I found Tansu Çiller’s attitude impulsive and aggressive. If it were me, I would act like Süleyman Demirel. If it were me, I would try to find a solution by not giving up sovereign rights and preventing unnecessary conflict. This problem has been solved with the intervention of the United States, but I think this solution is to save the day. One proof of this is that the Chief of Staff, General Hulusi Akar, wanted to visit the Kardak cliffs 21 years later and tried to block the entrance of the Greek boat. It is still unclear who owns the Kardak cliffs today, and this may pose a problem in the future. Kardak rocks are twin rocks. If I were a decision-maker, I would make a compromise by offering Greece one rock and Turkey the other rock. If adopted, it would also be a precaution for future problems via official documents.
To sum up, any problem that has not been fully resolved in the past is likely to recur in the future. Therefore, the events should go to the search for a final solution. The current Eastern Mediterranean tension is similar to the Kardak crisis. At the bottom of this question lies the question of where to cross the maritime borders, how to draw those borders. Turkey had two options in the face of the crisis: to act with an aggressive crisis management strategy or with a defensive crisis management strategy. If the first option was applied, options such as menace, pressure, and attrition would be made. Like the Turkish government, I would not have chosen this option. I think this crisis management style will bring hostility. Turkey has tried to turn the situation in its favor by responding to the attacks with defense in Kardak crisis. Lastly, ‘’According to poststructuralism, international relations map the world as a discipline’’ (Campbell, 2010:242). I think that most of the fights between countries are caused by the inability to share maps.
Aksu, F. (2003). Türk-Yunan İlişkilerinde Güvenlik ve Güven Artırma Çabaları, Soğuk Savaş Sonrasında Avrupa ve Türkiye, Ankara: Ayraç Yayınevi.
Al, A. & Balcı, M. (2018). Uluslararası İlişkilerde Güncel Çalışmalar I, Kütahya: Academia Yayınevi
Campbell, D. (2010). “Poststructuralism,” in Tim Dunne, Milja Kurki, and Steve Smith, eds., International Relations Th eory, Oxford and New York: Oxford University Press
Denk, E. (1999); Egemenliği Tartışmalı Adalar, Mülkiyetler Birliği Vakfı yay., Ankara
Güzel, M. (2007). Kardak Krizi Sorunu Kapsamında Türk-Yunan İlişkileri, Dokuz Eylül Üniversitesi, İzmir
Heinz K. (2001), Avrupa ve Amerika Karşısında Değişen Türkiye, Timaş yay., İstanbul,
Sunar, B. (2009). Türk Dış Politikasında Bir Karar Alma Organı Olarak Medyanın Rolü: Kardak Krizi Örneği, SOBİAD II. Ulusal Yönetim ve Ekonomi Bilimleri Konferansı, İzmir
Şıhmantepe, A. (2013). Kardak Krizi Sürecinin Kriz Yönetim Prensipleri Açısından İncelenmesi, Güvenlik Stratejileri Dergisi, C. 9
Wendt, A. (1999). Social Theory of International Politics, Cambridge University Press
 Flag War: “Greeks, yesterday in Bodrum Kardak rocks, They dared to sew their flags. Hürriyet team immediately climbed to the cliffs, lowered the Greek flag and replaced the Turkish flag ” (Hürriyet, 28 January 1996).
 Erdem Denk, Egemenliği Tartışmalı Adalar, Mülkiyetler Birliği Vakfı yay., Ankara, 1999, p. 52.
 ‘’Kardak crisis after 21 years in the Aegean: Army Chief General Hulusi Akar visited the Kardak cliffs, which were on the brink of war with Greece 21 years ago, on the anniversary of the crisis. During the visit, the Greek boat tried to prevent its chief of staff, Hulusi Akar, from entering Kardak, and there were tense moments.’’ (Sözcü, 30 January, 2017)