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The Balkans

As the principal successor state to the Ottoman Empire, which controlled the Balkans for centuries until its defeat in the Balkan Wars of 1912-13, Turkey retains a keen interest in the fate of the Muslims of Bosnia and Herzegovina, the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM--the name under which independent Macedonia was recognized by the United Nations in 1993), and Albania. Turkey opposed the dissolution of Yugoslavia, fearing the resulting instability could create broader regional conflict. With the outbreak of war in Bosnia in 1992 and Serbian human rights violations, Turkey advocated Western military measures to contain the Serbs. It pressed for an end to the UN arms embargo to enable Bosnian Muslims to defend themselves more effectively against Serbian attack. Turkey contributed ships to the NATO naval force blockading Serbia and Montenegro and dispatched a squadron of eighteen F-16 aircraft to Italy to help enforce the no-fly zone over Bosnia. Unilateral Turkish military aid to Bosnia was impractical because of the interposition of Greek and Bulgarian territory in between. A Turkish offer of troops to the UN Protection Force in Bosnia was at first rejected by the UN Security Council because of Ankara's strong sympathies for the Bosnian Muslims and memories of the Ottoman role in the Balkans. In April 1994, however, after experiencing difficulties in obtaining force commitments, the UN accepted a Turkish deployment of about 1,500 soldiers in spite of objections by the Bosnian Serbs, Serbia, Greece, and Bulgaria.

Albania also is receiving attention from Turkey. Once Albania ended its long isolation as a Stalinist state, Turkey proposed military cooperation accords that included officer training. The possibility of Serbian action against FYROM, whose independence Turkey recognized, and against Kosovo, a Serbian province largely populated by Albanians, is a concern of both Albania and Turkey. It seems unlikely, however, that Turkish military help will be forthcoming if the conflict in former Yugoslavia widens to Kosovo and FYROM.

Mutual distrust has long characterized Turkey's relations with Bulgaria, which, like Greece, has a short but strategically significant border with Turkish Thrace, the European region of Turkey. A major cause of friction was the Balkanization program instituted by the communist government of Bulgaria, which caused a mass migration of Bulgarian Turks to Turkey in the spring of 1989. After the communists fell in late 1989, Turkey moved to improve its security ties to Bulgaria's new government. A series of agreements were reached on formal notification of military movements, exchanges of military visits, and the establishment of a military security zone extending sixty to eighty kilometers on each side of the common border. Talks were also held in 1993 on cooperating in the production of military equipment, and the two countries conducted a joint military exercise with Romania.

Greece and Cyprus

In their first foreign combat operations since the Korean War, Turkish troops intervened in Cyprus in 1974 with the professed aim of protecting the Turkish minority population after a Greek-inspired coup brought a threat of union of the island with Greece. Against determined resistance by the lightly armed Greek Cypriot National Guard, the Turkish troops occupied the northern third of the island. The Turkish intervention force, which consisted of about 40,000 soldiers and 200 tanks, subsequently was reduced to a garrison of 30,000 troops. It greatly outnumbers the contingent of Greek national forces on the island, which is supplemented by the Greek Cypriot National Guard. Air reinforcement of the Turkish troops can be effected, if necessary, within hours.

Ankara does not consider Cyprus one of its most pressing security issues because of Turkey's military superiority over Greece and the more serious strategic problems posed in the east. Nevertheless, the unresolved dispute over Cyprus complicates Turkish participation in NATO and remains an obstacle to NATO's effectiveness in the region. In addition, the question of the rights of 120,000 Muslims of Turkish ancestry in Grecian Thrace arouses Turkish sympathies, contributing to long-standing distrust between Greece and Turkey.

Other differences between the two NATO members contribute to contention. Greece, basing its claim on the Convention on the Law of the Sea passed by the UN in November 1994, which extends territorial waters from six to twelve nautical miles, seeks to claim this limit around each of the more than 2,000 Greek islands in the Aegean Sea. Such a claim, if implemented, would give Greece about 70 percent of the Aegean Sea. Greece also claims a ten-nautical-mile airspace around each island. Turkish military aircraft and ships do not respect these claims. In addition, Turkey claims an Exclusive Economic Zone that is disputed by Greece.

Turkey maintains the Aegean Army, a force separate from its NATO-committed troops, ostensibly to defend the southwestern coastal areas. The force is a response to Greece's militarization of its islands close to the Turkish coast, which Turkey asserts violates the 1923 Treaty of Lausanne that set Turkey's present borders. The Aegean Army is considered a largely symbolic force; most of the troops assigned to it are kept in training status.

Data as of January 1995

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