Turkey touts past maritime conquests ahead of dispute talks | Greece


As Turkey and Greece prepare for talks to calm a bitter maritime conflict, Ankara this week released a video glorifying a 16th-century naval victory that led the Ottoman Empire to take control of the Mediterranean.The video, shared on Twitter by the Presidential Communications Department and viewed nearly half a million times, mixes accounts of ancient naval battles with footage of modern Turkish warships, sending a message that Turkey must defend its interests in offshore waters.

This doctrine, called “Blue Homeland” in the video and accompanying song, has been championed by the government of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan as it challenges Greek and Cypriot maritime claims that confine Turkey to narrow bands. of Aegean and Mediterranean coastal waters.

The policy, which reflects Turkey’s assertive military interventions on land in Syria and Libya, has gained prominence over the past year – more than 10 years after its emergence – and is fueling the Mediterranean dispute. eastern.

Retired Rear Admiral Cihat Yayci, who played a major role in the development of doctrine, said Turkey’s maritime policy was reinforced by the “aggressive positions” of Greece and Cyprus, which have signed a series of agreements delimiting an exclusive economic zone in the eastern Mediterranean since 2003.

“They didn’t want to share the seas with Turkey, they wanted to seize the seas of Turkey. Turkey has achieved this, ”Yayci said.

The dispute resurfaced last November when Turkey signed a maritime border agreement with Libya, which Yayci had referred to a decade earlier but which Athens said cut off its own claims.

In the wake of the deal with Libya, tensions with Greece escalated in August when Ankara sent the Oruc Reis study vessel to the eastern Mediterranean to explore for hydrocarbons.

They eased off after Ankara brought Oruc Reis back to port, but Cyprus demanded EU sanctions against Turkey. EU leaders are expected to discuss the dispute at their summit from Thursday.

Fight the Crusaders

In an interview, Yayci traced the roots of the Blue Fatherland to a 16th century Ottoman admiral celebrated in the government video.

“The real founder of the Blue Homeland concept is Barbarossa Hayrettin Pasha, who said that ‘whoever controls the seas controls the world,” Yayci told Bahcesehir University in Istanbul, where he heads a maritime research center.

The video shows Ottoman sailors fighting crusaders, interspersed with images of modern warships and sailors from Turkey. A song evoking the blue homeland and a nationalist poem read by Erdogan accompanies it.

The historical parallels extend to Turkish gas exploration. A seismic survey vessel operating off the coast of Cyprus is named Barbarossa, while two drilling vessels are named after powerful Ottoman sultans.

‘Not a threat’

Despite all the patriotic fervor, Erdogan’s spokesman Ibrahim Kalin said this week that he believed there would be “good progress very soon” in negotiations with Greece, which are expected to resume after a hiatus. of four years.

Asked about Greek concerns about the Blue Homeland, Kalin said it was not a threat to any other country.

“It is the idea of ​​transforming this maritime land, the vast maritime land of the Mediterranean, into an opportunity rather than a source of tension and friction between Mediterranean countries”, he declared.

“Of course, we are open to dialogue and negotiation to agree on an inclusive, fair model, based on the sharing of the resources at our disposal.”

The Greek Foreign Ministry declined to comment directly on Blue Homeland.

But he rejects Turkey’s claims in the Aegean and Eastern Mediterranean, saying Ankara has not signed the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), which gives the islands sovereign rights over a continental shelf up to 320 km (200 miles).

“I hope that Turkey will adopt this logic in a coherent and long term way, abandoning its illegal actions and provocations and making dialogue its priority,” Greek Foreign Minister Nikos Dendias said last week.

A hint of the approaching storm came a year ago when Erdogan posed in a military ceremony in front of a map showing the Blue Homeland, covering an area of ​​around 462,000 square kilometers (178,379 square miles) – more half the size of Turkey – across the Aegean Sea, the Eastern Mediterranean and the Black Sea.

The image was splashed in Greek newspapers and Dendias said Turkey was becoming a “troublemaker”.

As the two sides have agreed to resume talks that broke down in 2016, the big difference between this map and Greece’s maritime claims illustrates the chasm both sides must cross to find a compromise.


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