Greece on Imia-Kardak islet crisis with Turkey (1996)

Suggested Citation: Neophytos G. Loizides, Greek-Turkish Negotiations and Crises 1983-2003 Dataset , Queen's University Belfast (available online at http://www.qub.ac.uk/research-centres/CentrefortheStudyofEthnicConflict/TeachingResearch/Datasets/Greek-TurkishNegotiationsandCrises1983-2003/#d.en.173636)

In January 1996, Greece and Turkey experience another crisis in the Aegean Sea, this time over the sovereignty of the uninhabited Aegean islet, Imia (Kardak in Turkish). Greece is alarmed by the fact that Turkey claims Greek territory for the first time ever. [i] This crisis that brings the two countries close to war, ends with the withdrawal of both Greek and Turkish troops from the islet. The Greek government claims that Italy ceded Imia to Greece under the 1947 settlement (along with the main Dodecanese islands off the Turkish coast). But Turkey argues that the islet and other similar rocks are not included in the 1947 accord, as they had already been granted by Italy to Turkey under an earlier 1932 convention, which stated that all the Aegean islets within 18 km of the coast belong to the nearest country. [ii] The final status of Imia/Kardak has not been settled since the January 1996 crisis, but the two countries have agreed to apply to the International Court in The Hague for mediation in the future. For the period 1/15/1996 – 2/15/1996, Lexis/Nexis provides 153 results for terms “Greece” and “Turkey” and “crisis” (full text search under European News Sources).

Case Study Features

Indistinguishability of Offensive vs. Defensive Action: 1

Both Greece and Turkey claim that they are defending their national territory while the other country is attacking them. This argument resonates with both publics, even though neither has ever heard of the two islets before. International media and third governments find it difficult to take a definite position, since the conflict over this islet has not occurred in the past, and little is known of the geography of the region. Most sources talk about a crisis over an obscure, uninhabited islet.[iii]

Effectiveness of offense versus the defense :  1

Offensive action is superior to defensive in the Aegean Sea, because either of the two countries can create an accomplished fact by effectively seizing a “disputed islet” first.  The Greek side goes on the offensive by moving first and placing flag and soldiers on Imia. Although Greece does not have a military advantage over Turkey in case of a large-scale of war, it can harm Turkey in the EU politically.

Domestic Challenge: 1

Kostas Simitis is sworn in as Prime Minister on January 22, 1996 replacing Andreas Papandreou, who has been admitted to hospital in late November with lung and kidney problems. On January 18, Simitis is elected by Pasok deputies as party leader and Prime Minister with a narrow majority, while his opponents still control the ministry of defense.  Simitis faces both intra-party and nationwide challenges.[iv] In addition, he has to deal with the criticism of the Greek military for accepting a US-brokered compromise over the plans of the General Staff. [v] His public approval ratings sink from 80 percent to 36 percent after handling the crisis. [vi] 

Enduring Ethnic Rivalries: 1

There are enduring rivalries with Turkey resulting from the crises in Cyprus, Thrace, and the Aegean.

Confrontational Policies: 1

Greece follows a number of confrontational policies after the crisis, such as the use of threat of war against Turkey if it follows similar policies,[vii] the stalling of EU aid package for Ankara,[viii] and the cancellation of US mediation by State Department envoy Richard Holbrooke a month later. [ix]Top of Form The diversionary theory of war is confirmed.


[i] “Greece: Turkish claim hinders relations”, United Press International, January 26, 1996.

[ii] Elizabeth Neuffer, “Greece Struggles in a Sea of Change: Turkish Rivalry a Turning Point,” The Boston Globe, February 13, 1996.

[iii] Financial Times, “Moves to calm Aegean dispute”, January 31, 1996, p.2.

[iv] Agence France Presse, “Papandreou's return creates headaches for Simitis,” May 14, 1996; United Press International, “Greek Socialists move to elect new leader,” June 23, 1996.

[v] Anthee Carassavas, “Defense-leak scandal rocks”, United Press International, February 8, 1996.

[vi] Elizabeth Neuffer, “Greece Struggles in a Sea of Change: Turkish Rivalry a Turning Point,” The Boston Globe, February 13, 1996.

[vii] Elizabeth Neuffer, “Greece Struggles in a Sea of Change Turkish Rivalry a Turning Point,” The Boston Globe, February, 13, 1996; Greece warns Turkey over new island dispute, Agence France-Presse, June 06, 1996.

[viii] “Greece stalls EU aid for Turkey in islet row,” Agence France Presse, February 22, 1996; European Report, “EU/ Turkey: Greece Blocks Customs Union Funding”, February 24, 1996.

[ix] Stephen Weeks, “Greeks vent hurt pride on special envoy Holbrooke,” The Herald (Glasgow), February, 06, 1996, p. 8.