Imia (Ίμια) in Greek, or Kardak in Turkish is a set of two small uninhabited islets in the Aegean Sea, situated between the Greek island chain of the Dodecanese and the southwestern mainland coast of Turkey. They lie 3.8 nautical miles (4.4 miles or about 7 km) west of the coast of Muğla Province, 5.5 nm (6.3 miles or about 10.1 km) east of the Greek island Kalymnos, and 2.5 nm (2.9 miles) southeast of the nearest small Greek islet, Kalolimnos. Their total surface area is 10 acres (about 40,000 m²). The islands are also referred to as Limnia in Greek, or İkizce in Turkish, or as Heipethes in some early-20th century maps. Imia/Kardak was the object of a military crisis and subsequent dispute over sovereignty between Greece and Turkey in 1996.
The Imia-Kardak dispute is part of the larger Aegean dispute, which also comprises disputes over the continental shelf, the territorial waters, the air space, the Flight Information Regions (FIR) and the demilitarization of the Aegean islands. In the aftermath of the Imia/Kardak crisis, the dispute was also widened, as Turkey began to lay parallel claims to a larger number of other islets in the Aegean. These islands, some of them inhabited, are regarded as indisputably Greek by Greece but as grey zones of undetermined sovereignty by Turkey.
It turned out that current maps were showing conflicting attributions of the islets to either Greece and Turkey. This at first resulted in a conflict between the Turkish captain and the Greek authorities over who was responsible for the salvage operation. On 27 December, the Turkish Foreign Ministry first notified the Greek authorities that it believed there was a sovereignty issue, and on 29 December it officially declared it considered the islets Turkish territory. The whole event was hardly reported by the media and it was not widely known to either the Greek or the Turkish public until a month later, on 20 January 1996, when the Greek magazine GRAMMA ran a story, one day after Kostas Simitis was appointed to form the new Greek government as prime minister. The article brought a severe reaction from the Greek press, which was followed by the mayor of Kalymnos and a priest hoisting a Greek flag on the rocks on 26 January. To oppose this, some Turkish TV journalists flew to the islet in a helicopter and raised a Turkish flag, bringing down the Greek one, the whole event being broadcast live on Turkish television. Within 24 hours, the Greek Navy changed the flag (on 30 January), resulting in an exchange of fierce statements by the Turkish Prime Minister Tansu Çiller and the new Greek Prime Minister Kostas Simitis. Turkish and Greek naval forces were alerted and warships of both countries, both NATO members, sailed to the islets. During the crisis, at the night of 28th of January, Greek special forces landed on the east islet without being spotted by the nearby Turkish ships. On 31 of January, at 01:40 Turkish special forces landed on the west islet escalating the tensions, and a Greek helicopter took off at 05:30 from the Greek frigate "Navarino" for reconnaissance. During the mission it crashed over the islets (some speculating due to Turkish fire), but this was concealed by both states to prevent further escalation. Three Greek Officers on the helicopter died (Christodoulos Karathanasis, Panagiotis Vlahakos, and Ektoras Gialopsos).
The immediate military threat was defused primarily by American officials - in particular, US envoy Richard Holbrooke, working by telephone with officials of both sides during the final hours of the crisis. The Greeks and Turks did not speak directly to one another, but were responsive to Washington's assistance as an informal intermediary. Greek and Turkish officials provided assurances to the United States that their military forces on and arrayed around the islets would be removed, with the U.S. monitoring the withdrawal. However, the issue has remained unresolved since that time.
The problem is because Imia/Kardak is situated just outside the three-mile boundary of Article 12, but is also not in an obvious, strict sense geographically "dependent" (Article 15) on the larger Dodecanese islands (being still closer to the Turkish mainland than to the next larger island). Greece considers that the wording of Articles 12 and 16 together precludes any Turkish claim to territories outside the three-mile boundary once and for all, and that the criterion of "dependency" must be understood in a rather wide sense as covering everything in the whole general area of the Dodecanese outside the three-mile limit, in order to give the provisions of the treaty an inherently consistent meaning. Turkey, on the other hand, claims that the criterion of "dependency" must be understood in a narrow sense, and that formations such as Imia/Kardak may therefore constitute "grey zones" that the treaty has left undecided; or indeed that Turkish sovereignty over them still holds.
|Border Protocol of 1932|
|Geographical points |
|Point||Name in text||Modern name|
|B||Kara Ada||Kara Ada|
|C||Guirejik I.||Gürecik Adası|
|D||Utchian I.||Kargı Adası|
|F||Hussein Pt.||Hüseyin Burnu|
|H||Atsaki||Topan Adası / Zouka|
|I||Kato I.||Çavuş Adası|
|K||Sandama Peninsula||İnce Burnu|
|Italian (later Greek) side|
|Point||Name in text||Modern name|
|A||C. Phuka||Ag. Fokas|
|B||Luro Pt||Akr. Psalidi|
|C||Kum Pt.||Akr. Ammoglossa|
|D||C. Russa||Akr. Roussa|
|F||Karapsili Pt.||Akr. Atsipas|
|I||Agia Kiriaki||Ag. Kiriaki|
|Source: Text of the 1932 treaty and border protocol, and modern maps of the area.|
After the Treaty of Lausanne, a dispute arose between Turkey and Italy over some other small islands, not directly related to the area of Imia/Kardak. This dispute was settled through a compromise, which was sealed in a treaty at Ankara in 1932. As an appendix to that treaty, the two governments formally assured each other that they now considered the whole remaining Dodecanese border between them to be uncontroversial, and appointed a bilateral technical committee to trace its exact delimitation cartographically. The committee produced a technical protocol that was signed by envoys of the two foreign ministries in the same year. This protocol mentions Imia explicitly, as being on the Italian (i.e. later Greek) side. The protocol itself does not bear the formal characteristics of an international treaty. The Greek side now holds that it nevertheless constitutes compelling evidence that the Turkish government of the time had made a binding commitment to accepting the delimitation as described in the protocol. The Turkish side holds that the protocol is not binding as an international treaty and therefore has no value whatsoever for the resolution of the present dispute.
Greece also cites as evidence for a former Turkish acceptance of Greek sovereignty the diplomatic procedures around the original delimitation of Flight Information Regions (FIR) within the framework of the ICAO, in 1950. The relevant treaty states that, in the Aegean zone, the boundary between the Athens and Istanbul FIRs was to follow the boundaries of the territorial waters. This implies, according to the Greek view, that both parties at that time were taking for granted that a mutually agreed border did indeed exist, which would contradict the claims of persisting "grey zones" made today by Turkey. The maps of the air zones published after that agreement (e.g. an official map published by Turkey in 1953) do indeed show a line that runs where Greece today claims the territorial boundary should be, with Imia/Kardak on the Greek side. Turkey holds that the agreement about the FIR boundaries was not concerned with determining sovereignty, and thus has no bearing on the issue.
The question becomes of much higher relevance once the Turkish claim of "grey areas" is widened to include a larger number of islets, because in many of these cases the record is overwhelmingly in favour of Greece (with several of the islets in question being permanently inhabited, others carrying visible evidence of permanent exercise of sovereignty, such as lighthouses or other installations.)
However, the cartographic evidence of before 1996 is so mixed that the only safe conclusion one can draw from it is that neither of the two governments ever bothered to enforce a consistent representation of whatever legal opinions they held with respect to these islands, in the work of their cartographic state agencies. It should also be noted that several of the maps cited as evidence by the two governments displayed confusion over what the geographic facts were in the first place (displaying some islets in the wrong places, confusing the names of some islands, or even displaying islands that do not exist) There is also the case of a neighbouring islet, only a few miles from Imia/Kardak, called Zouka, Dzouka or Topan Adası, which was consistently shown as Turkish in Greek naval maps,but as Greek in Greek topographic maps. (When the attention of the Greek government was drawn to this fact in 2004, it was quick to admit that Zouka was in fact Turkish and that the attribution to Greece had been a mere technical mistake, since Zouka in fact lies on the Turkish side of the demarcation line of the 1932 protocol.)
Some of the existing cartographic problems can probably be traced back to a 1946-7 British cartographic survey conducted by the crew of HMS Childers. According to the account of its former naviation officer it is possible that the islets in question were wrongfully charted as belonging to Turkey by his predecessor. The reason was that during the second World War boats of a British Special Boat Service flotilla often evaded German patrols by making fast alongside Turkish fishing boats near the islet and convincing the Germans that they were Turkish fishermen in Turkish territory. Out of this experience one officer of HMS Childers, who had served the special boat flotilla, probably charted the Turkish name of these islets, Kardak, and attributed them to Turkey. It is well possible that when the whole Dodecanese was ceded to Greece in 1948, these islets may not have been included in official maps because of the wartime experience of a British naval officer.
It appears, in short, that contradictory cartographic evidence in this field has been caused either by wartime mistakes, mere inattention or inadvertent proliferation of previous technical mistakes. It does not necessarily reflect consistent legal opinions or policies of either side. The conflicting cartographic evidence may nevertheless be one of the causes for the different sovereignty claims.