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.

The military crisis

While several other aspects of sovereignty rights in the Aegean had been a hotly disputed topic between the two countries for decades, conflicts over the possession of actual territory in the area were unknown until the end of 1995. The dispute over Imia/Kardak arose on the occasion of a naval accident on 25 December, 1995, when the Turkish cargo ship "Figen Akat" ran ashore on the islets and had to be salvaged.

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.

Legal status of the islets

The crucial point of reference for the assessment of the legal status of the islets, acknowledged as such by both sides, is the Peace Treaty of Lausanne of 1923. With this peace treaty, Turkey confirmed large cessions of former Ottoman territory to Greece and Italy, most of which had factually been in effect since 1911 or 1913. The chain of the Dodecanese islands, which includes the islands neighbouring Imia/Kardak, were ceded to Italy. Later the rights to these islands were ceded by Italy to Greece with the 1947 Treaty of Paris. However, the Treaty of Lausanne does not mention every single small island by name, but treats them summarily. Accordingly, at the heart of the legal issue of Imia/Kardak is the question whether these islands, by virtue of their geographic situation, fall under the scope of the renunciation of sovereignty and the cession to Italy as defined by certain articles of the Treaty of Lausanne. There are also issues relating to the interpretation of a later protocol signed between Italy and Turkey in 1932; regarding certain diplomatic exchanges made between the three parties at various times between 1932 and 1996; and regarding the relevance of actual practice (the factual exercise of sovereignty by either party) prior to 1996.

The Treaty of Lausanne

The provisions in the Treaty of Lausanne that are relevant to the Imia/Kardak and the related "grey-zones" issue, are the following:

  • Article 12

"[...] Except where a provision to the contrary is contained in the present Treaty, the islands situated at less than three miles from the Asiatic coast remain under Turkish sovereignty."

  • Article 15

"Turkey renounces in favour of Italy all rights and title over the following islands: [here follows an enumeration of the 13 largest islands in the Dodecannese area, by name], and the islets dependent thereon [...]"

  • Article 16

"Turkey hereby renounces all rights and title whatsoever over or respecting the territories situated outside the frontiers laid down in the present Treaty and the islands other than those over which her sovereignty is recognised by the said Treaty, the future of these territories and islands being settled or to be settled by the parties concerned. [...]"

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.

The Treaty of Ankara and protocol of 1932

Border Protocol of 1932
Demarcation line
Geographical points
Turkish side
Point Name in text Modern name
A Mordala I.
B Kara Ada Kara Ada
C Guirejik I. Gürecik Adası
D Utchian I. Kargı Adası
E Arkialla Pt.
F Hussein Pt. Hüseyin Burnu
G Lodo Yassıada
H Atsaki Topan Adası / Zouka
I Kato I. Çavuş Adası
J Pondikusa Büyükkiremit Adası
K Sandama Peninsula İnce Burnu
L C. Monodendri Tekeağaç
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
E Vasiliki Pt. Vasiliki
F Karapsili Pt. Akr. Atsipas
G Kardak (Rks) Imia/Kardak
H Kalolimno Kalolimnos
I Agia Kiriaki Ag. Kiriaki
J Pharmako Farmakonisi
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.

Later diplomatic relations

After the 1996 crisis, the Turkish and Greek governments have made various claims that certain diplomatic exchanges between Turkey and Italy after 1932, and between Turkey and Greece after 1947, provided proof that the respective opponents at that time held legal opinions different from what they claim today, making their present stance inconsistent and untenable. Thus, Turkey has claimed that both the Italian government during the 1930s and the Greek government between 1947 and the 1950s had shown itself to be well aware that the 1932 protocol did not provide legal grounds for an exact delimitation of the boundary. Conversely, Greece claims that Turkey, already during the 1930s, had explicitly confirmed to Italy that it considered the 1932 protocol valid and binding. However, most of this evidence is contained in diplomatic exchanges that have never been disclosed to the public by either of the two parties.

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.

Factual exercise of sovereignty

As is commonly the case in sovereignty disputes over marginal or outlying territories, some importance is attached to the question of which side had actually been exercising factual sovereignty over the territory before the dispute arose, and whether the other side ever voiced concerns over that display of sovereignty or else acquisced to it. This question is even more difficult to answer in the case of Imia/Kardak than in many comparable cases, because the islets are geographically and socio-economically so insignificant that neither of the two parties ever had much occasion for displaying acts of sovereignty over them, or indeed for noticing any such acts in the case that the other side should have done so. The islets hold no man-made constructions and have only been used as feeding ground for a few goats that belong to Greek shepherds from Kalymnos.

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.)

Cartographic evidence

During and after the crisis of 1996, both sides put a lot of emphasis on previously published maps, which were cited as evidence purportedly showing that their respective views were shared by third parties, or had even been shared by the opposite side. Indeed, the Turkish Ministry of Defence sponsored tourist map, published just before the crisis, shows Imia (Limnia) as Greek sovereign territory. There are other Turkish maps of before 1996 that show Imia/Kardak as Greek.

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.

Reactions by third countries

After 1996, most foreign countries have carefully avoided taking an unequivocal stand on the Imia/Kardak issue in favour of either side. However, both Greek and Turkish public opinion has been eager to observe the stance of foreign governments on the issue, as evidenced through details such as the cartographic treatment of Imia/Kardak in maps published by state agencies. Particular close attention has been paid in this context to maps published by US government agencies. Shortly after the 1996 crisis, the US National Imaging and Mapping Agency (NIMA) removed the Greek name Vrakhoi Imia from its maps, adding instead a note saying "Sovereignty undetermined", but in a new edition a few months later, in October 1996, it again reverted that move and returned to the Greek name.

See also


Further reading

  • Kemal Başlar (2001): Two facets of the Aegean Sea dispute: 'de lege lata' and 'de lege ferenda'. In: K. Başlar (ed.), Turkey and international law. Ankara.
  • Lucas Cadena (1998): Greek-Turkish tensions. Conflict between Turkey and Greece over Cyprus and other territorial issues threaten both the NATO alliance and regional peace. Princeton Journal of Foreign Affairs.
  • Yüksel İnan, Sertaç Başeren (1997): Status of Kardak Rocks. Kardak Kayalıklarının statüsü. Ankara. (ISBN 975-96281-0-4).
  • Ali Kurumahmut, Sertaç Başeren (2004): The twilight zones in the Aegean: (Un)forgotten Turkish islands. Ege'de gri bölgeler: Unutul(may)an Türk adaları. Ankara: Türk Tarih Kurumu. (ISBN 975-16-1740-5).
  • Ali Kurumahmut (1998): Ege'de temel sorun: Egemenliği tartışmalı adalar. Ankara: Türk Tarih Kurumu. (ISBN 975-16-0954-2).
  • Dimitrios Lucas (2005): Greece's Shifting Position on Turkish Accession to the EU Before and After Helsinki 1999. MA thesis, Catholic University of Leuven.

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