ISTANBUL – The father of Turkey’s controversial new maritime doctrine told AFP that France’s decision to send warships to aid Greece in its Mediterranean standoff with Ankara added “fuel to the fire “.
Although he may be retired, the vision of the “blue homeland” that Rear Admiral Cem Gurdeniz helped shape over a decade ago is being realized by Turkish President Recep. Tayyip Erdogan today.
62-year-old Francophone and Francophile, Gurdeniz received AFP in a magnificent wooden summer house on one of the Princes’ Islands of Istanbul in the Sea of Marmara.
As warships from France, Greece and Turkey converged on a controversial area in the eastern Mediterranean Sea, Gurdeniz appeared at ease while criticizing French President Emmanuel Macron.
“I’m fed up with Macron’s daily verbal threats,” Gurdeniz said in English.
“For many Turks now, France acts like a ‘enfant terrible’. Can you imagine they are threatening Turkey? ” He asked.
“If France continues with such provocative actions… which would not serve regional peace and stability – it would fuel the fire and France should avoid this.” ”
The discovery of large deposits of natural gas in the waters around Cyprus and the Greek island of Crete sparked a rush for energy riches and rekindled old regional rivalries.
The greatest tensions are between Turkey and Greece, historically worried NATO allies, which almost went to war over some uninhabited islets in the Aegean Sea in 1996.
These are getting more serious as Erdogan claims waters designed to make Turkey the sea power that Gurdeniz envisioned from the start.
EU foreign ministers held an emergency videoconference last week after Greek and Turkish warships collided in highly controversial circumstances.
“If Greece pulls the trigger it will be the end of NATO,” Gurdeniz said, hinting that Turkey would then withdraw from the Cold War-era military alliance.
“European countries should put pressure on Greece to give up” some of its maritime claims, he said.
– ‘Cold blood’ –
Erdogan tempered his fiery rhetoric with calls for talks, which were launched with sporadic success by German Chancellor Angela Merkel.
Gurdeniz agreed, saying, “We should think calmly, soberly, carefully. ”
But he did not see the need for external mediation, suggesting that hostilities will only end when the Greeks and Turks sit down and speak candidly about their problems.
Gurdeniz overwhelmingly endorses Edrogan’s hard line, but also regrets Turkey’s growing diplomatic isolation in an increasingly unstable region.
He called Turkey’s decision to sever relations with Egypt after the military ouster of Islamist President Mohamed Morsi in 2013 a “mistake”.
“Turkey could have won over Egypt. Moreover, starting with Egypt, we could have made gains with Israel too, ”said Gurdeniz.
But his eyes lit up and his easy smile widened when he spoke of “the growing interest of young people” in Turkey’s maritime claims.
“I do a lot of interviews with YouTubers,” the retired admiral said, noting that the annual enrollment of new cadets in naval schools is steadily increasing.
He also stressed that the Mediterranean only represents “1%” of the world’s oceans and seas.
“I always stress that Turkey should go beyond that 1 percent: the Red Sea, the Arabian Sea and the Atlantic,” Gurdeniz said.
“Turkey should have a presence there. It is a reflection of growing power. “