Article 22 of the Draft Peace Treaty with Italy stipulates:
“Italy recognizes that the Island of Saseno is part of the territory of Albania and renounces all claims thereto.”
The Greek Delegation wishes to draw the attention of the Conference to the following considerations:
I. The Island of Saseno is quite a small inhabited island lying west of Valoria. During the 18th and 19th centuries it was, from the geographical and political point of view, considered as belonging to the Ionian Islands.
The Treaty of Campo Formio of 17th October, 1797, under which the Ionian Islands were ceded to France, established the principle of the geographical and political unity of this island group by stipulating that Corfu, Zante, Cephalonia, Leucas, Cythera and, in general, the former Venetian positions in Albania, situated south of the Gulf of Drino, should be included in the territory to be transferred to the sovereignty of France.
Similarly, the Treaty of Constantinople, concluded on 21st March 1800, between Russia and Turkey, provided for the inclusion of the seven Ionian Islands into the territory administered by the Ottoman Government:
“All islands, large or small, inhabited or uninhabited, facing the Peloponnesus, which were detached from the Republic of Venice and recently conquered.”
The Treaty of Paris of 17th November, 1815, specified that the authority of the Ionian Government, which was placed under British protection, should extend to the large islands “with their dependencies as enumerated in the Treaty of 21st March, 1800, concluded between Russia and Turkey.”
In addition to the international instruments here mentioned, the two Constitutional Charters of the Government of the Seven Ionian Islands, dated respectively 30th November 1883, and 28th August, 1817, explicity state that “the Government of the Seven Islands” is comprised of all islands, large or small, inhabited or uninhabited, until recently belonging to the Venetian Government and facing the coast of the Peloponnesus and Albania …”
II. It follows from this explanation that the Island of Saseno, being geographically a part of the Ionian Islands, shared the same fate with them during the last two centuries. When, under the terms of the Treaty which was signed in London on 24th March, 1864, Great Britain ceded the Ionian Islands to Greece, the Island of Saseno passed to Greek sovereignty. It remained in this State until 1914.
In order to prevent any misunderstandings as to its intentions, the Greek Government refrained during the whole of this period from sending even an ordinary garrison to this island. Not until 1914, i.e. after the occupation of the island by the Italians, was it transformed into a real fortress.
III. On 13th February 1914, in a note addressed to the Greek Government, the Great Powers made the award of the islands of the Aegean to Greece dependent on the withdrawal of Greek troops from any territory situated outside the line recommended by the Protocol of Florence. Since this line was intended to define the frontier of Albania, the Island of Saseno was included in the area which was to be evacuated.
The Greek Government felt obliged to comply with this proposal and ordered the Greek troops to evacuate Northern Epirus and the Island of Saseno which, since the Balkan Wars, was occupied by a detachment of Greek Marines.
The initiative in this manœuvre of coercion belonged to Italy which aimed at paving the way for her penetration of the Balkans via Albania. She was later supported by Austro-Hungary which was hatching similar plans of conquest. By forcing Greece out of territories which formed key positions to the Balkans and the Eastern Mediterranean, the democratic Powers played into the hands of Italian and Austro-Hungarian imperialism.
A grave injustice and, at the same time, an even graver error was thus committed.[Page 698]
IV. In December 1914, profiting by the international situation resulting from the First World War which had already begun and by the chaos caused in Albania after the departure of the Prince of Wied and the insurrection organised by Essad Pasha, Italy occupied the Island of Saseno.
The island has remained under Italian occupation ever since that date. It should be noted that the Treaty which was signed by Italy and Albania at Tirana on 2nd September 1920, provided for the evacuation by the Italian Army of the entire territory of Albania with the exception of the Island of Saseno.
Italy established herself there and, as already mentioned, converted the island into a veritable fortress. The United Nations engaged in fighting Fascism in the Eastern Mediterranean and the Adriatic paid dearly for this, and Greece, which was not even responsible for abandoning the island, paid even dearer.
V. What is the present international status of the Island of Saseno? A distinction must be drawn between the de jure position and the de facto position.
- So far as the de jure position is concerned, it requires some effort to recall that the Conference of Ambassadors which assembled in London in 1913 had decided to include the Island of Saseno within the southern frontier of Albania. A communication dated 8th September, 1913, and addressed by the Great Powers to Greece stated that “the coast line stretching as far as Ftoia and including the Island of Saseno is an integral part of Albania …” but this international award in favour of Albania was never applied in practice. Albania never exercised sovereignty over the Island of Saseno. In actual practice this island was for more than thirty years subject to Italian authority, and Albania implicitly agreed to this state of affairs in virtue of the Treaty of Tirana of 1920 already referred to. In any case Albania could not avail herself of a right which had lapsed and proved to be null and void. Such a right no longer exists.
- It cannot, on the other hand, be agreed that the Italian occupation of the Island of Saseno confers on Italy any kind of legal right. This occupation constitutes a de facto situation which has not been recognised by any other State except Albania.
The Ambassadors Conference which, in 1921, was entrusted with the study of the problem of the frontiers of Albania, merely confirmed the decisions arrived at during the London Conference of 1913. It declined to recognise the de facto situation created in the island by the Italian occupation. Furthermore, this de facto situation which, in any case, cannot constitute a de facto situation, ceased to exist as a result of the events of the war.[Page 699]
VI. Considering the fundamental importance of this question, both from international and from the Greek point of view, the Greek Government requests the return of the Island of Saseno to Greece. It adduces the following arguments in support of this proposal:
- The Treaty of 1864, on the strength of which the Ionian Islands, including the Island of Saseno, were awarded to Greece, is still in force, whereas the decisions of the Ambassadors Conference of 1913, awarding this island to Albania, were never applied. The Italian occupation of the island confers no rights on her.
- Greece’s claim appears even more legitimate if it is set against the lapsed and inoperative nominal right of Albania and the de facto situation forcibly created by Italian imperialism.
- Considerations of strategic security demand the return of the Island of Saseno to Greece. It must not be forgotten that the Italian intervention in Albania began on the day when the Island of Saseno was occupied by Italian troops. On that day Italy established herself at Albania’s very door and has since been a perpetual menace to her. Dependent as she thus was on Italian goodwill, Albania was never really independent.
- The events of this war are still too fresh in everybody’s mind to require a reminder of the need for Greece to insist on the security of her defences in the west. But no such security is possible while the Island of Saseno remains in Albanian hands.
- Since the Island of Saseno occupies a paramount strategic situation in the Eastern Mediterranean, Albania is incapable of controlling such a key-position. Leaving the Island of Saseno in the hands of the Albanians means making an irreparable breach in the western defences of the Balkan Peninsula. Non-Balkan influences could penetrate through this breach into the Balkans and once more cause a catastrophe.
- In Greek hands, Saseno would not constitute a menace to anyone. Greece has no intention of using the island for a military base. She has neither any desire nor any means to do this. She would however demilitarize it and see that this demilitarization was maintained, eventually with the assistance and under the control of the U.N.O.
- Not having any coast line on the Adriatic, Greece is only interested in the maintenance of the international regulations governing freedom of navigation of the Adriatic and free access to that sea for all nations. In this respect the interests of the community of nations are identical with her own.
- The Greek Government regards the return to Greece of the Island of Saseno as an indispensable guarantee of Greek, Balkan and international security. She does not claim Saseno in a spirit of conquest; she only demands the return of what belonged to her. Her sovereignty [Page 700] over this small island will only be a means of avoiding dangerous complications in the future.
- For the reasons above stated, the Greek Delegation requests
that Article 22 of the Peace Treaty be replaced by the following
formula to be inserted in the same Treaty in the Section dealing
“The Island of Saseno, which was occupied by Italy until the cessation of hostilities, shall be returned to Greece. The Greek Government agrees to ensure, under the control of the U.N.O. the demilitarisation of the island.”