If you want to confront your enemy, you first need to understand how he thinks. This does not mean adapting to the enemy’s way of thinking, of stepping into his shoes. There has been a lot of talk recently about Turkey’s purported frustration a) with the EastMed gas pipeline, b) with the trilateral cooperation schemes involving Greece, Cyprus, Israel and Egypt, and c) with Cyprus’ hydrocarbon exploration.
Many analysts claim that Turkey’s overreaction, including its decision to sign a maritime boundaries agreement with Libya’s Tripoli-based government, was a reaction to the aforementioned developments. A pragmatic response, the argument goes, would be for Greece to withdraw from these partnerships which irritate Turkey and instead sit down to talk through our differences.
The irritation indeed exists. Turkey feels – and in fact is – isolated from developments in the Eastern Mediterranean. But what is it that has annoyed Turkey? EastMed would be a technically ambitious project carrying natural gas from a gas field south of Cyprus to Europe. When and if the pipeline is in place, it would not pose a threat to Turkey’s absolute primacy in natural gas transfer from the east to Europe. Two Russian, one Iranian and one Azeri pipeline currently run through Turkish territory. Furthermore, the EastMed project was first conceived in 2011-12. A techno-economic feasibility study was presented in April 2012.
On the other hand, the plans behind Turkey’s absurd maritime border delineation with Libya (as well as with Egypt, Israel and Lebanon) go back as early as 2010. As foreign minister, Ahmet Davutoglu had already toured states in the region with the maps at hand back in 2011. In addition, the maps had already been published in a semi-official journal issued by the Turkish Foreign Ministry in December 2011. In other words, the claim that Turkey is annoyed at the prospect of the EastMed pipeline is spurious.
The trilateral cooperation schemes in the Eastern Mediterranean involve political cooperation and do not pose a military threat to Turkey. They exist as a result of Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s decision to clash with Israel in May 2010 and to undermine the Egyptian government by providing financial and intelligence support to the Muslim Brotherhood, which has been banned in Egypt.
Turkey’s nonparticipation in Cyprus’ delineation agreements with neighboring states was due to an objective factor, namely geography. Furthermore, the blocks that were designated by Nicosia as available for exploration and development all lie in areas south of the island’s coastline that had already been delineated with neighboring states.
During the delineation process, Nicosia avoided any areas that might be claimed by Turkey. Another argument is that Cyprus fails to consider the rights of the Turkish-Cypriot community. However, the fact is that Turkey is claiming about half of the Cypriot blocks for itself, not for its Turkish-Cypriot kin. The reasoning is no less extreme and contrary to international law and geography than the existence of Turkish rights within Crete’s continental shelf.
Finally, Greece is the only state that has all but given up its rights, as laid out by international law, for fear of upsetting Turkey. This passive stance has gone unappreciated by Ankara – in fact the Turkey-Libya agreement was exclusively directed against Greece.
The explanation as to what is taking place in our wider region lies with Erdogan’s neo-Ottomanism, a concept that has evolved over the years. From the beginning, Erdogan showed that he wanted to exercise influence outside his country’s borders. Neo-Ottomanism provided the ideological underpinnings for this policy. Neo-Ottomanism was initially detected in cultural areas. It traced the leftovers of the Ottoman past among Muslim populations living in the Balkans.
In 2011 neo-Ottomanism evolved using Muslim Brotherhood movements that operate in many Sunni Arab states. Through the Arab Spring movements (which we now know were funded by Qatar and instigated by Turkey’s top intelligence agency MIT), Erdogan tried to install Muslim brotherhoods in charge of states that lie on territory of the former Ottoman Empire.
After the Arab Spring failed, neo-Ottomanism entered a new stage known as “Blue Homeland.” Turkey has determined the Eastern Mediterranean as its Lebensraum. The idea is that it will here be able to exercise its influence in an absolute way, treating international law as it sees fit and depending on circumstance. Turkey understands Greece to be part of this Blue Homeland policy.
Angelos Syrigos is a New Democracy MP and associate professor of international law and foreign policy at Athens’ Panteion University.