Friday, 6 November 2009


Vangelis Vlahos
Grey Zones

The project consists of two sets of photographs, which have reference to two cases of Greek initiatives of utilization of the Aegean Sea in the 1970s. The first set of images involves the “Wodeco” ship, an American drill-ship that was used for the exploitation of Greece’s oil fields in the Aegean Sea in the mid 1970s while the second involves the “Koyda” ship, a soviet auxiliary vessel that inaugurated the bilateral agreement between Greece and the Soviet Union in late 1970s in order for the Soviet vessels to use the Greek shipyards in Syros Island for repairs. Both sets include only images depicting the actual ships and details of them without any other information related to their actual context. For example the photo set of Koyda includes images of the ship in front of Syros Island, inside the port surrounded by curious locals, in the shipyards, as well as interiors of the ship and snapshots of the crew’s daily routine. The images were found in newspaper photo archives and magazines. The photographs of each set are displayed in a line on a wooden shelf on the wall.

The general title of both series is “Grey Zones”.
Literally the title describes the visual effect of the photograph sets’ presentation. All the photographs are in grey tones and they are displayed one next to the other in a straight line producing a kind of frieze. Conceptually the term “Grey Zones” has a political impact mostly related to issues that deal with the delimitation of Greece and Turkey’s zones of influence in the Aegean Sea. The concept was first introduced by the Turkish authorities after the Imia/Kardak crisis in early 1996, in order to describe the undetermined sovereignty, i.e. of islets in Eastern Aegean the legal status of which it disputes.

Several of the Aegean issues deal with the delimitation of both countries' zones of influence in the air and on the sea around their respective territories. These issues owe their controversy to a geographical peculiarity of the Aegean Sea and its territories. The decades since the 1970s have seen a repeated heightening and abating of political and military tensions over the Aegean. Thus, the “Hora” crisis* of 1976 (after oil was discovered off the island of Thassos) was followed by the Bern Protocol, which provided that negotiations aimed at achieving a delimitation of the continental shelf should continue in a good faith, while the "Sismik I" crisis** of 1987 was followed by a series of negotiations and agreements in Davos and Brussels in 1988. Again, after the Imia/Kardak crisis*** of 1996, there came an agreement over peaceful neighbourly relations reached at a meeting in Madrid in 1997. The period since about 1999 has been marked by a steady improvement of bilateral relations.

About Wodeco: In the aftermath of the 1973 oil crisis, Greece, like many other countries at the time, embarked on a systematic effort to discover and exploit its local energy resources. In the mid 1970s the “Wodeco” drillship of the US oil company Oceanic made its first successful offshore oil strike in the Prinos location a few miles southeast of Thassos at the Northern part of Aegean sea. In the early 1980s local oil production had managed to cover almost 13 percent of the country’s petroleum needs. By the late of 1980s production started to drop without being able to explore for new deposits. Today it seems to be a problematic utility without a prosper future.

About Koyda: In September 1979 Moscow signs an agreement with Greece for repairs of Soviet merchant and naval auxiliary vessels at the Greek-owned Neorion Shipyards on the Aegean island of Syros. “Koyda” was the first Soviet ship that arrived for repairs in the shipyards.

In the late 1960s and 1970s the Soviet naval forces had greatly expanded its presence in the Mediterranean. During this period the Aegean Sea was of vital importance to the Soviets as a passageway for their ships sailing between the Black Sea and the Mediterranean. Neorion Shipyards is strategically located on the island of Syros, in the heart of the Aegean Sea. For the Soviets, the need for a naval presence in this area was an issue of military as well as political importance related to NATO’s policy toward the Mediterranean, Middle East and Northern Africa at that time. Taking also into account the Soviet Union's lack of bases in the region, the agreement of Neorion was considered important for establishing its political influence in the region. The issue provoked the reaction of the United States, NATO and Turkey arguing that this agreement disrupts the military balance in the area. This Soviet Union’s effort to improve its position in the area could be seen as part of the U.S.-Soviet strategic rivalry in the Middle East and Africa. Also one can interpret Greece’s relations with the Soviet Union in the late 1970s and early 1980s as part of an effort to diversify Greek foreign policy and reduce Greek dependence on the United States. In the following decades Neorion shipyards faced many challenges (competition from Southeast Asian companies) that almost led it into going out of business, but managed to survive, diversifying into new fields like the construction of luxury mega-yachts.

*In July 1976 the Turkish research vessel Hora entered the Aegean beyond the Turkish territorial waters. Andreas Papandreou, the leader of the opposition Socialist party at the time, called to sink the vessel (“sink the Hora”). The vessel “Hora” was later renamed Sismik 1.

**In late March 1987, when a Greek-based international consortium, announced that it would start searching oil in international waters east of Thasos Island, Turkey sent the survey ship Sismik 1 into the Aegean, lanked by warships. The Greek Prime Minister of the time, Andreas Papandreou gave the orders to sink the ship, if found within Greek waters. This incident nearly started a war between Greece and Turkey.

***Imia 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. Imia/Kardak was the object of a military crisis and subsequent dispute over sovereignty between Greece and Turkey in 1996.

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