And the whole sea is not enough

Turkey challenges Europe. Why does Erdogan  fuel conflict in the Mediterranean?  

And the whole sea is not enough
Recep Erdogan
Photo: Yiannis Kourtoglou / Reuters

Turkish President R. T. Erdogan is not afraid to do what he needs. In his political games, the Turkish leader regularly outplayes both internal and external opponents. At the same time, finding himself in the center of another international scandal or conflict, he invariably comes out of it with a profit – whether it is new territories, the strengthening of Turkish influence or the next concessions of partners and competitors. What is the secret of political luck of Erdogan and what game he is up, fueling the conflict in the eastern Mediterranean – read here.

Lord of the Mediterranean

Ankara will defend its interests no matter how, even despite the “hostile actions of some states.” These words, which are already familiar to modern Turkey, uttered during a meeting of the country’s National Security Council, renewed a series of fierce disputes. This time, Ankara came into conflict over drilling rights on the Cyprus continental shelf.  

In the summer of 2020, Greece entered into agreements with Italy and Egypt on the delimitation of sea zones, which confirm the right of the Greek islands to an exclusive economic zone. Turkey refused to recognize the treaty and sent a vessel to conduct seismic surveys on the Greek sea shelf – it was accompanied by warships. The situation quickly escalated when Athens brought its armed forces on alert. Ankara was given an ultimatum: either it stops exploration on a foreign sea shelf, or the Greek side resorts to extreme measures. To make it more convincing, a demonstration exercise based on offensive methods was held in the municipality of Evros . The Greek media wrote: the reason for the maneuvers was “Turkish provocation.”

And the whole sea is not enough
Offshore drilling rig near the Cyprus city of Limassol
Photo: Petros Karadjias / AP

Erdogan did nothing to defuse the situation. On the contrary, Ankara began to rattle its weapons in the same demonstrative manner, making it clear that neither military exercises nor groans about the violation of sovereignty would help Athens. Indeed, Greece soon turned to a third party: its NATO allies . But these same countries, however, are at the same time allies of Turkey – she entered the alliance back in 1952, just along with Greece.   

Authoritative members of the alliance seemed to accept the position of Greece: perhaps they were convinced by the argument that the conflict in the Eastern Mediterranean concerns not only NATO, but also the entire European Union (which Turkey does not belong to). France was the first to respond: in August, Paris sent military equipment – fighters Rafale and frigate Lafayette – to the disputed region. The country has promised to maximize its presence in the Mediterranean in order to “protect Greece from the aggressive actions of Turkey.” Ankara’s response was not long in coming.  

We urge our interlocutors to calm down and stay away from mistakes that will lead them to destruction. Turkey is not a country whose patience is worth testing. If we say that we intend to do something, then we will do it, and we are ready for the consequences.

Recep Tayyip Erdogan
Turkish President

Ankara promised to continue seismic exploration in the Mediterranean – and indeed sent another ship into Greek waters.

Greece’s ratification of the maritime border agreement with Egypt has changed absolutely nothing. Even the negotiations at NATO headquarters did not help, as a result of which Athens and Ankara established hot lines of communication – they should allow a prompt response to incidents at sea. 

While members of the North Atlantic Alliance and the European Union tried to reach Erdogan in official statements, France decided to resort to drastic measures. On October 24, Paris recalled its ambassador from Turkey for consultations. We mention that this happened a couple of days after Ankara decided to extend exploration. Moreover, there has been a conflict flared up between the countries because of the cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad.

Erdogan was given two months to resolve the Eastern Mediterranean problem and settle disputes with Athens. Turkey reacted immediately to France’s statements – only differently than expected in Paris. A few days later, Ankara announced that they decided to continue exploration of the shelf until  4 November. 

A natural disaster helped to reduce the degree of confrontation between the parties at least for a while – on October 30, an earthquake with a magnitude of 6.7 occurred in the Aegean Sea. It was felt in both capitals – Athens and Ankara. Despite the fact that only two people died in Greece, and over 100 in Turkey, the latter declared its readiness to help its neighbor. However, already on November 11 it became known that the work of the Turkish research vessel in the Greek economic zone was extended until November 23. And it is not a fact that after that they will end.

And the whole sea is not enough
Emmanuel Macron
Photo: Ludovic Marin / Reuters

Homeland is calling

The division of exclusive economic zones and gas production on the Greek shelf are far from all the problems of the eastern Mediterranean, one way or another connected with Turkey. Ankara and Erdogan personally have been repeatedly condemned for their policy towards Cyprus.

The island is divided between the Greek and Turkish communities after Turkey’s armed invasion in 1974. In 1983, the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus (TRNC) was proclaimed in its northern part (37 percent of the total area), which only Ankara recognizes. All attempts by the international community to solve the problem, including numerous UN Security Council resolutions , have failed. 

They wanted to undertake another round of negotiations after the presidential elections in the TRNC in October 2020: their outcome could determine whether attempts to reunite Cyprus will be crowned with success. Contrary to the hopes of the international community, the new leader of the Turkish Cypriots has become an opponent of the idea of ​​uniting the island – nationalist Ersin Tatar, who is considered to be Ankara’s henchman.

As part of the election program, he advocated the coexistence of two sovereign states and the economic development of the TRNC. At the same time, the new leader of the self-proclaimed republic decided to act “as usual” and agreed to meet with the President of Cyprus Nikos Anastasiades . “I extend a hand of peace, a hand of friendship to the Greek-Cypriot people. I am ready to sit down at the negotiating table and put an end to the Cyprus problem, ”Tatar said.

However, the newly elected president understands that the solution to the issue depends not so much on him as on his colleagues from Athens and Ankara. It was not for nothing that he hoped immediately after the election that relations between Turkey and Greece would develop along with the solution of the Cyprus problem – they would have the last word on the issue.

The new leader of the TRNC will rather play only the role of a mediator: he himself has repeatedly said that he fully supports Turkey’s policy in the region. Soon after the election of the Tatars, he even thanked “Motherland Turkey” and Erdogan in particular for their help. He, in turn, promised to protect the interests of the Turks in Northern Cyprus.

By the way, Athens refrained from congratulations. Government spokesman Stelios Petsas only hoped that the Tatars would really sit down at the negotiating table.

And the whole sea is not enough
Ersin Tatar after winning the elections
Photo: Harun Ucar / Reuters

“West is West, East is East”

The problem of migrants complicates Turkey’s relations not only with Greece, but also with France, which can already be considered a third party to the conflict in the Aegean Sea. This question takes on rather bizarre forms and constantly influences relations between Paris and Ankara. This happened in the case of the murder of the historian Samuel Pati – he was beheaded by a Chechen refugee Abdulakh Anzorov, a native of Russia, after Pati showed his disciples with cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad. Chechens with Turkey are not united by anything except faith – the killer was a Muslim.

The problem of radicals, especially among refugees, can be considered one of the most important that France faces. Therefore, at the funeral of the teacher, Macron made an unusually passionate speech. “He was killed because the Islamists want to take our future,” the French leader said and promised that the country will not give up full freedom of speech and press.

Paris was immediately attacked with criticism – he was even accused of “responding with extremism to extremism.” At the same time, the Elysee Palace did not take real strong measures. The French authorities closed a mosque in the Panten area for only six months and ordered an investigation into the country’s 51 Muslim associations.  

And the whole sea is not enough
Demonstration in memory of the murdered history teacher Samuel Pati
Photo: Pascal Rossignol / Reuters

However, Macron’s actions still caused a violent reaction not only from the liberal public in the United States, but also from Muslims from various countries. And, of course, for Erdogan : he wants to see himself in the role of the main champion of the world’s Muslims.

What is the problem of a man named Macron with Islam and Muslims? He needs treatment for mental disorders

Recep Tayyip Erdogan
Turkish President

The reaction followed quickly: Macron criticized the Turkish colleague for being rude and called on him to “change the political course, dangerous in all respects.” The Elysee Palace noted with displeasure that Ankara did not even receive condolences after the murder of the teacher.

At the same time, France recalled its ambassador to Turkey, giving Ankara an ultimatum: in the next two months, it must deal with the problem of the Eastern Mediterranean. Perhaps this is the only way that Macron could respond to harsh criticism of Erdogan . The French leader already understood that he was wrong: someone needs to stop provoking a reaction and go into a calm conversation.

The French president could have succeeded if he continued the previous course of “secularizing and liberalizing” the country. For example, a few weeks ago, Macron made a thoughtful and balanced speech about the fight against Islamic extremists and separatists using non-radical methods. However, the fiery speech of the French leader at the historian’s funeral changed the course of the game, and now he is several steps behind his Turkish rival.

While Erdogan is reminded of the conflict in the Eastern Mediterranean, he is using his resources to divert attention from the region and turn it to the ” Islamophobe ” Macron . There is nothing to oppose to the latter: the calls of the Turkish president to abandon French goods are more effective than the attempts of Paris to restore justice in the Aegean Sea.

Ten year siege

“For the last 10 years we have been under siege from the Caucasus to the Eastern Mediterranean, from the Balkans to Syria,” Erdogan made such a remark , which went almost unnoticed, on the sidelines of negotiations on the issue of Greece and Cyprus. It can become the key to understanding the president’s policy, and his temperament in general: the Turkish leader often seems corny crazy.

Erdogan may look insane, but in fact, the degree of insanity is maintained until the president gets what he needs. And he gets it, it seems, everything: Turkey in recent years has declared itself as a strong player in the region and continues to control the situation in Syria, influence what is happening in Libya, and also does not give up its positions in Iraq. In addition, Ankara is now actually participating in the settlement in Karabakh.

The deal, which was concluded on November 9 by the leaders of Russia, Azerbaijan and Armenia, provides for the creation of a joint Russian-Turkish center to control the ceasefire, as well as a peacekeeping mission. According to the agreements, it will consist only of Russian soldiers. However, Baku and Ankara periodically receive statements about the participation of the Turkish military in the mission. In this regard, the agency Bloomberg considered a deal on Karabakh strategic triumph for Erdogan “in Russia’s backyard.”     

It is hardly possible to call all this a new era of the Ottoman Empire – if one makes comparisons with history, it is better to use a term in the spirit of ” post-neo-Ottomanism .” The real reason for Erdogan’s actions is not imperial ambitions, but nationalism. And here it is of decisive importance: in this respect, Islam for the Turkish president is more a means than an end. Take the same transformation of the Hagia Sophia into a mosque, where the head of the country personally read the first call to prayer in 86 years: an event that is certainly significant for many Turkish Muslims can hardly be considered a matter of faith for Erdogan . For him, ” Great Aya- Sophia” is another instrument of domestic and foreign policy. It is unlikely that the mourning ringing that sounded in the cathedrals in Greece and Cyprus came as a surprise to the Turkish president , and it is unlikely that he reacted to this, except with a mocking grin.   

And the whole sea is not enough
Recep Tayyip Erdogan
Photo: Reuters

The issue of the Muslim communities in Cyprus or France, the problem of gas fields and the dispatch of troops to different countries is not an attempt to “restore” the Ottoman Empire. Erdogan simply does not need it – he already has his own empire, stretching from Tripoli to Istanbul. And therefore, the president will not back down on the issues of the Eastern Mediterranean, Cyprus, much less from protecting the Muslim community.

He will use different methods: increase the degree of madness of his statements, threaten with missile launchers and maneuver between the great powers, armed with the trust of his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin and the indifference to many external things on the part of Donald Trump . Of course, Erdogan will likely find it more difficult to behave in this way with the coming to power in the United States of Democrat Joe Biden , who advocates the restoration of full-fledged relations with the EU and NATO. However, so far he is playing for high stakes and does not do so because it is the duty of a Muslim or a president. He behaves so simply because he can.    

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