Turkey 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). Prime Minister Çiller pledges to do whatever is necessary to defend Turkish interests.[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 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 to defend their national territory while the other country is attacking them. International media and third governments find it difficult to take a definite position. Most sources initially talk about a crisis over an obscure uninhabited islet;[iii] some indicate primary Turkish responsibility, but do so weeks after the incident takes place. [iv]

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.” The Turkish side has an incentive to place troops on a nearby islet once Greece does so. In addition to geography, Turkey has a military advantage over Greece.

Domestic Challenge: 1

Prime Minister Tansu Çiller resorts to confrontational policies to maintain his fading popular support. The December 1995 general elections are seen as a massive protest vote against established parties, especially the DYP, which is held responsible for the country's serious economic situation (the 1994 Turkish lira crisis causes a 6.1% contraction of the economy).  Ciller’s conservative DYP party ends up with only 135 seats, 33 fewer than in the 1991 parliament. The Islamist Refah wins a major victory, but falls short of becoming a majority in the parliament. Thus, after the elections of 1995, Turkey enters a period of political instability with the deeply divided Kemalist parties trying to create weak coalitions to exclude the Islamists.  At the time of the Imia/Kardak crisis, negotiations take place between various parties for the formation of a new center-right coalition.[v]

Enduring Ethnic Rivalries: 1

There are enduring rivalries with Greece resulting from crises in Cyprus, Thrace, and the Aegean as well as the support Turkey claims Greece has given PKK.

Confrontational Policies: 1

Turkey follows confrontational policies during the crisis by using the threat of war against Greece. Both the security dilemma and the diversionary theory of war are confirmed. 


[i] “Ciller says Turkey will not tolerate a foreign flag on its soil,”  Agence France Presse, January 30, 1996.

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

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

[iv] “Ms. Ciller Troubles the Waters”, The New York Times, February 17, 1996, p. 22.

[v] , “Yilmaz, Ciller sign Turkey coalition protocol”, Deutsche Presse-Agentur March 3, 1996.