From Aeolus to Ares: Wins of War Stir in the Eastern Aegean

From Aeolus to Ares: Wins of War Stir in the Eastern Aegean

Jacob Vander Weit

Accounts of hostility and contention between Greece and Turkey over the Aegean Sea have been recorded since the dawn of western literature.[1] Recent tensions between these two powers are once again rising, with both countries threatening the possibility of war.[2] Among many, one controversy of the most recent dispute regards Greece’s contested legal right to militarize the Eastern Aegean islands.[3] Turkey asserts Greece’s actions violate international treaties; Greece argues they have full legal authority to deploy military forces on those islands.[4]


Turkey claims that Greece’s militarization efforts violate several international treaties that require the Eastern Aegean islands to maintain a non-military status.[5] The main islands at issue include Lesbos, Chios, Samos, and a chain of islands known as the Dodecanese.[6] Greek militarization of these islands is particularly relevant for Turkey because of the islands’ proximity to the Turkish mainland; Lesbos and Samos, for example, are both less than 5 nautical miles from the Turkish coast.[7] Turkey claims that Greece’s military build-up violates Article 13 of the 1923 Treaty of Lausanne, a provision which granted Greece sovereignty of Lesbos, Chios, and Samos to Greece with the caveat that no naval base or fortification be constructed.[8] Turkey further claims that Greece has violated Article 14 of the 1947 Treaty of Paris between Italy and the Allied Powers, in which Italy granted Greek sovereignty over the Dodecanese islands but also stipulated they remain de-militarized in perpetuity.[9] Despite the stipulations in these treaties, Greece has been building up military fortifications in the eastern Aegean since the 1960s.[10]


Greece states that the obligation of demilitarization created by the Treaty of Lausanne was later abolished by the 1936 Montreux Convention Regarding the Regime of Turkish Straits.[11] Notably, the 1936 Convention makes no specific mention of releasing the Eastern Aegean islands from their non-military obligations.[12] However, the Turkish foreign minister at the time reportedly told Athens that Turkey would consider the Lausanne Treaty effectively abolished by the Montreux Convention, a notion that is explicitly stated in the Montreux Treaty’s preamble.[13]


Regarding the Dodecanese islands, Greece states that Turkey was not a signatory party to the 1947 treaty, thus the matter is res inter alios acta (“an issue pertaining to others.”)[14] Greece points to Article 34 of the Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties, which states third parties have no rights or obligations under treaties they have not signed.[15] Greece has further claimed that any obligation for demilitarization does not supersede its right to respond to national security issues and points to the build-up of Turkish military forces in the Aegean as justification.[16] Greece’s claims are not without some merit. Turkey has deployed the largest naval landing group of any country in the region and maintains a full-size army in the Aegean.[17] Additionally, despite being NATO allies, Turkish President Recep Erdogan has made several threats of war against Greece, even going so far as pledging to attack Athens with missiles.[18]


Today this dispute remains unresolved, though both countries have begun to take steps towards de-escalation and resolution.[19]

[1] John C.K. Daly, Referee and Goalkeeper of the Turkish Straits: The Relevance and Strategic Implications of the Montreux Convention for Conflict in the Black Sea, Jamestown foundation (May 10, 2022, 10:59 A.M.),

[2] Greece slams Turkey’s ‘repeated threats of war’, Associated Press (Dec. 7, 2022, 9:30 A.M.),

[3] Id.

[4] Militarization of Eastern Aegean Islands Contrary to the Provisions of International Agreements, Republic of turk. foreign aff’s (2022), [Hereinafter: Republic of Turkiye]; Turkish claims regarding the demilitarization of islands in the Aegean Sea, Hellenic Republic Ministry of foreign aff’s (last updated June 14, 2018), [Hereinafter: Hellenic Republic].

[5] Republic of Turkiye, supra note 2.

[6] Tevik Durul, Greek militarization of Eastern Aegean islands in 5 questions, Anadolu Agency (June 18, 2022),

[7] Turkey protests US, Greece over ‘violating non-military status’ of Aegean Greek Islands, Al-Monitor (Sept. 26, 2022),

[8] Republic of Turkiye, supra note 2; see generally XXVIII L.N.T.S. 701 (1923).

[9] Republic of Turkiye, supra note 2; see generally 49 U.N.T.S. 747.

[10] Michael N. Schmidt, Aegean Angst: The Greek-Turkish Dispute, 49 Naval War Coll. Rev. 42, 47 (1996).

[11] Hellenic Republic, supra note 2; see generally CLXXIII L.N.T.S. 4015 (1936-1937).

[12] CLXXIII L.N.T.S. 4015 (1936-1937).

[13] Hellenic Republic, supra note 2.

[14] Id.

[15]Id., see generally 1155 U.N.T.S. 331.

[16] Hellenic Republic, supra note 2.

[17] Andrew Wilks, Tensions rises as Turkey, Greece voice festering grievances, Associated Press (Sept. 6, 2022, 3:11 P.M.),

[18] Turkey again threatens Greece for arming Aegean Islands, Associated Press (Dec. 6, 2022, 1:59 P.M.),; Elena Becatores & Suza Fraser, Greek foreign minister slams Turkish leader’s missile threat, Associated Press (Dec. 12, 2022, 8:07 A.M.),

[19] Susan Fraser, Turkey and Greece agree to revive talks and seek ‘new approaches’ to resolve decades-old disputes, Associated Press (Sept. 5, 2023, 8:53 A.M.),; Ezgi Akin, Turkey, Greece agree on confidence-building measures as Ankara eyes F-16s, Al-Monitor (Nov. 13, 2023),