The Great Game: The Mediterranean Sea Project in spite of Turkey

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Whilst the global economic balance of power changes rapidly, the world powers continue their works to exclude Turkey from the game, particularly, “restriction of maritime authority” debates that came to the fore with the issue of Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) in the Mediterranean Sea, solaces new alliances. Whilst there are navies of many countries including the Russian Federation and the United States of America (the USA) in the Mediterranean Sea, Turkey’s seismic research vessel “Barbarossa Hayrettin Pasha” has been perceived as a threat by Greece; and has caused tensions between Turkish and Greek maritime components in the previous months. Likewise, the single-acting drillings by the Greek Cypriot Administration of Southern Cyprus (GCASC) have led to Ankara’s harsh response and in return, Turkey has announced that it will begin drilling operations in the region.

In this context, Ankara Centre for Crisis and Policy Studies (ANKASAM) opens the question of; “Could a project to be carried out in the Mediterranean Sea in spite of Turkey?” to discussion and presents the opinions of the leading experts and academicians of the field.

Professor Hasan KÖNİ (İstanbul Culture University-Law)

Professor Hasan Köni said that the European Union (EU) has supported the Greek Cypriot side’s researches on the Cyprus coast. Köni emphasised that Cyprus does not have enough capacity in oil exploration activities by stating that; “Cypriots do not know about the presence of oil resources in an area that goes from their own waters beginning in front of Israel.”

Köni said “It is Israel that can find such inputs, that is, the Americans from Israel. Several years ago, the agreement was also made between Egypt, Israel and Southern Cyprus about the use of Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ), except Syria. On the other hand, Turkey recognises the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus (TRNC); the EU considers Cyprus as a whole. Europe can do the researches in this context, by saying that, Cyprus has made sovereign and independent agreements in its own waters and economic zone. Only the element of power can solve this systematic. The place where the law ends is where the power is used.” Köni pointed out that when it is considered from the perspective of Turkey, the effects of these reserves on the energy systematic of the country are important. On the other hand, he said the United States wants to block Russia’s North Stream Project. Despite that, he pointed out the effect of “Orthodoxy” in bilateral relations by reminding Russia’s investments in Southern Cyprus. Köni argued that Turkey is dealing with the US in the Syrian and Iraqı fronts on the one hand, and has a problematic friendship with Russia, Iran and Syria on Idlib issue, on the other hand. In addition, he argued that Ankara has confronted the US by not being sure to follow or not follow the embargo against Iran.

On the other hand, Köni commented on Greece’s entry into some provocative activities in the Aegean line and noted that the fate of the controversial points on the rocks is uncertain. Köni remarked that Turkey has a disagreement with the USA about the issue YPG/PKK on the one hand, it can be entered into a dangerous situation with Russians on the other hand; “Turkey is also dealing with Greece in the sea and this is not only the Southern Cyprus problem, but also the problem of being surrounded by the Greek Islands. Turkey should take careful steps at this point, he said. In the following words, Köni added “It is necessary to question whether the states that will invest here on the way to the European recession has the economic support to make this project done.” And pointed out that the use of gas and oil has been decreasing gradually and climate has been changing, and in this context, the review of the issue and feasibility should be done with the long-term financial analyses.

Professor Toğrul İSMAYIL (Kahramanmaraş Sütçü İmam University-International Relations)

Professor Toğrul İsmayıl stated that currently, there are different variables in the Mediterranean Sea and the tensions have started to increase, and that it is difficult to predict the future.

İsmayıl stated that the countries have begun to influence the Eastern Mediterranean Sea even on non-regional issues and said that “One of the most important issues is Turkey’s determination of its own course and willingness to make a serious research here. I think Turkey would be so successful if the Greek Cypriot Administration of Southern Cyprus (GCASC) is left alone in research it wants to do in the region.”

İsmayıl considers that is not likely of carrying out a project despite Turkey and he emphasised the Russian Navy, which continuously increases its power in the Mediterranean Sea, is not a threat now and will not take part in an alliance as other countries do as he notes this development may cause a crisis. İsmayıl noted “Ankara should make clear what it wants and that will not make concessions to. It is important to remember the interests and political advantages of the countries. Turkey must precede the policies implemented by these countries in order to not let Israel, Egypt and GCASC come together.” as he refers Turkey should prevent a possible cooperation by producing its own projects and making suggestions to some states. İsmayıl stated “If Greece expands the sea area, there will be a serious problem and the issue will change completely. Countries are testing the capacity of Turkey to see what it can do.” as reiterating the remarks by Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras. In terms of energy geopolitics, İsmayıl highlighted Ankara needs to provide İsrael’s energy routes to be passing through Turkey.

Professor Sencer İMER (Chief Advisor of ANKASAM)

Regarding Greece’s policy towards Turkey, Professor Sencer İmer said “After the First World War, the Greeks embarked on an adventure and invaded Anatolia. It was revealed in later statements that the nation had become a pawn of the British and was eventually expelled from Anatolia. After the Republic of Turkey was founded. Even Greek Prime Minister Eleftherios Venizelos stated that by getting closer to Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, the interests of Athens were to get along well with Ankara in the long term. The same scenario is being repeated at this time. The United Kingdom is replaced by the United States. We can see that as a repetition of the post-World War I.” İmer expressed Turkey insists that it would not accept the 6-mile and 12-mile territorial waters issue and reminded that otherwise, this was a cause of war as indicating the Aegean Sea will be a Greek sea. İmer said that Athens ignores the interests of Ankara and tries to take away the rights of Turkey in the eastern Mediterranean by unjustly invading some islands. İmer indicated that the regional countries have denied the existence of the TRNC as an independent state and tried to imprison bringing Turkey into the Gulf of Antalya as turning into Cyprus as a “Greek island” and said “They are both strategically trying to prevent our exit to the Mediterranean Sea and to confiscate the underground wealth. This is a piracy and Turkey is not able to accept it.” Emphasising that these developments will create a situation against Greece in the long term, İmer said that it is not acceptable of that Athens predicted to take against Turkey and the Turkic World and the initiatives of Greece to partition the Mediterranean Sea with Egypt, Israel and Southern Cyprus as taking advantage of the Ankara-Cairo conflict. Saying that “Turkey should explain the Exclusive Economic Zone as immediate as possible.”, İmer highlighted “Both the United Nations and the European Union have nothing to do here. Turkey is a sovereign country and it will use the rights in terms of the law of the sea.”


Pointing out that the opening of the submarine wealth and the Mediterranean Sea within the scope of the EEZ are the national interests, İmer said, “These problems are also a matter of future generations.”

Associate Professor Birol ERTAN (Political Science)

Associate Professor Birol Ertan stated that the Greeks had previously resorted to different methods to bring the Cyprus problem to the international arena and the current issue is a matter related to the EEZ. Saying that “The Greeks are trying to use all the natural resources of Cyprus for themselves.”, Ertan mentioned as the main source of the problem of that the GCASC to become a member of the EU and to be known as the name of the island as Cyprus by many countries. Ertan stated that there was not only Greece on the Greek side but also an agreement with Egypt on the EEZ debates and added “The Greeks had previously agreed with Israel. This is an effort to bring the Cyprus problem to the world agenda rather than the issue of natural resource. Pointing out that is impossible to remain silent by Turkey and the Turkish Cypriots about the activities towards the region, Ertan stressed that this process will continue in the same way until the Cyprus problem is resolved as saying “this issue has many interlocutors, but the most concrete solution was the Annan Plan. Now they are trying to see the Greek part as an EU member and accordingly as the owner of Cyprus. Turkey’s acceptance of this fait accompli is not possible. Hulusi Akar, The Minister of National Defense, has shown this in his visit to Cyprus.” Ertan said that the dual of the Greek Cypriot and Greece had made similar moves in the European Union before and he made evaluations as stating these words “Turkey has shown its commitment towards the world. There is ample evidence of our eligibility and the important thing is to try to solve the problem through diplomatic methods. But if there are people who try to solve them in other ways, they should not be afraid of the show of force.

Aydın NURHAN (Ret. Ambassador)

Retired Ambassador Aydın Nurhan said “The issue of the territorial waters and the basin are the potential sources of the trouble all of which are held for the use when the day comes. The matter of the Aegean islands, if desired, can be used against Turkey in the first stage as that is intended to create tension between the two countries.” Nurhan stressed that the troubles in the region were caused by other reasons as saying “As a matter of fact, our search for oil in the Eastern Mediterranean is not a big problem. It is ordinary for ships to hustle and airplanes to make a dogfight.

On the other hand, Nurhan noted that the studies on the potential of oil and gas to be produced in the Eastern Mediterranean were carried out by Israel and the US and he said “Now if there is a reserve to feed the world such as the Gulf States and Saudi Arabia, it is not the business of Turkey and Greece. It is the business of the world and in such this case, they will not leave us on our own.” Lastly, Nurhan said Turkey could change the balance in the Eastern Mediterranean if it is bent on doing this.