Turkey on Aegean oil crisis with Turkey (1987)

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)

Case Summary:

This case study looks into Turkish reactions to the Aegean oil crisis with Greece in March 1987. A crisis over the demarcation of oil-search and oil-drilling rights in offshore waters between the Greek islands of the north-eastern Aegean and the Turkish coast line  has been simmering since at least November 1973. Additionally, in a border clash in December 1986, two Turkish and one Greek guard are killed. The March 1987 crisis is caused by a dispute over oil-drilling rights in the North Aegean, off the island of Thassos, where a Greek-based international consortium is planning to start drilling. The Turkish government claims that these operations contravene the Berne Agreement of 1976 between the two countries.[i] The two countries agree in 1976, in a secret meeting in Bern, Switzerland, on a formula to deal with disputes arising over the Aegean, but Greek Prime Minister Andreas Papandreou renounces that agreement, using an international legal loophole known as force majeure. Essentially, the term means that an earlier contract or treaty has been rendered invalid by outside conditions not foreseen at the time the treaty was signed.[ii] Turkey's National Security Council, headed by President Kenan Evren and dominated by soldiers, orders the oil exploration vessel Sismik-1 to sail through the Dardanelles, under naval escort. In Greece, Papandreou vows to stop Sismik-1 by force. PM Turgut Özal warns, “If the Greeks intervene against our ship we will intervene in exactly the same way. This may be cause of a war which we do not at all want.”[iii] Eventually, PM Özal who is on his way home from a heart operation in Texas, cancels Sismik-1operations and diffuses the crisis after securing an assurance from the Greek government that it will also refrain from drilling in disputed areas.[iv] In a full text search for keywords “Greece” and “Turkey and “crisis,” Lexis/ Nexis produces 45 results for the period 3/1/1987- 4/1/1987 (under category European News Sources).

Case Study Features:

Effectiveness of Offensive Policies : 1

Does Turkey have any offensive capabilities? Being a larger country, with a stronger army, Turkey has an advantage, especially if it moves first. In addition, Turkey has an undisputed advantage in Cyprus, where its troops can easily occupy a large segment of the island. Its effectiveness in the Aegean or Cyprus depends largely on acting quickly, and before Greece.

Offensive vs. Defensive Signals Indistinguishable: 1

This is a classic case of indistiguishability of offensive from defensive action, which is recognized also by third parties. According to the New York Times, there is little readiness on either side to read the other's signals. The Greek government wants to take control of a Canadian consortium to prevent it from causing an international incident by drilling oil in disputed waters, 11 miles east of the Greek island of Thassos. Turkish officials, however, interpret the Greek move as evidence of Athens's intention to drill. So when Turkey issues licenses to its own state oil company to explore in disputed waters, Ankara depicts its action as a response to the Greek ones, while the Greeks project it as aggression.[v] Finally, Greek rejection of the Berne agreement and increasing anti-Turkish rhetoric play a part in the perception of Greek actions as offensive.

Domestic Challenge: 1

There is talk about imminent elections, which take place in November 1987.[vi]  During the crisis, the Turkish Generals and hardliners on the National Security Council take charge in the absence of Mr. Özal. The Turkish PM’s health problems and his physical absence from Turkey contribute to the worsening of the domestic political setting.

Enduring Rivalries: 1

There is an element of “enduring rivalries” between Greece and Turkey, resulting from the events of 1974, the unilateral declaration of TRNC in 1983, and the failure of Cyprus negotiations to produce a settlement.

Confrontational Policies: 1

Turkey makes a confrontational move by threatening a war in the Aegean. The case confirms the predictions of the diversionary theory and the security dilemma. 


[i] Robert Mauthner,More Obliging To Friends Now”, Financial Times, April 6, 1987, p. 19.

[ii] Jim Anderson, “How war was avoided between Greece and Turkey,” UPI Spot News Weekender April 5, 1987.

[iii] , “War feared as Turkish, Greek forces go on alert”, The Toronto Star March 28, 1987, p.1.

[iv] “Greece and Turkey: A Nasty Squall in the Aegean”, The Economist, April 4, 1987, p. 50.

[v] Alan Cowell, “Greek Leader’s Gambit”, The New York Times, March 30, 1987, p.2

[vi] John Roberts, “Turkey in Ozal's Second Term”, Defense & Foreign Affairs, February, 1988, p. 8.