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Turkey has a legitimate presence in the Mediterranean Sea

A view of Turkish General Directorate of Mineral research and Exploration's (MTA) Oruc Reis seismic research vessel docked at Haydarpasa port, which searches for hydrocarbon, oil, natural gas and coal reserves at sea, on 23 August 2019 [OZAN KOSE/AFP via Getty Images]
A view of Turkish General Directorate of Mineral research and Exploration's (MTA) Oruc Reis seismic research vessel docked at Haydarpasa port on 23 August 2019 [OZAN KOSE/AFP via Getty Images]

The Turkish ship Oruc Reis set off from the port of Antalya and reached its destination on Monday morning where it is to carry out seismic surveys after Ankara issued a warning on Sunday evening regarding an area located within its territorial waters. However, Greece claims that the area in which the vessel is going to work falls within its own territorial waters as demarcated by an agreement signed recently with Egypt.

Turkey does not recognise the border demarcation agreement between Egypt and Greece. Indeed, it will challenge it, either through diplomatic efforts or its naval presence in the Mediterranean Sea, as well as its exploration work in areas located within its territorial waters based on an agreement with Libya. The government in Ankara asserts that there are no maritime borders between Egypt and Greece in the Mediterranean, and it is fair to say that sending the Oruc Reis to conduct the seismic survey in the area in question is the first practical Turkish response to the Egypt-Greece move.

The Turkish position on deciding the areas of influence in the Mediterranean is based on several factors, the first of which is that the division that Greece seeks to impose on Turkey is totally unfair. You do not need to be an expert to see this; it is sufficient to look at the map published by the Greeks after signing the agreement with Egypt. Turkey’s maritime influence cannot be confined to a very narrow area, as it has one of the longest coastlines anywhere in the Mediterranean. Greece is giving itself vast areas of influence, despite it being six times smaller than Turkey.

The division on which Greece’s allegations depend is inconsistent with international law, which says that determining the area of territorial waters, the continental shelf and the maritime borders is negotiated between neighbouring countries if the space between them is narrow. Based on this rule, Turkey refuses to extend Greece’s territorial waters to 12 nautical miles and considers it as a reason for declaring war. Greece also relies on drawing its maritime borders on the basis of the island of Kastellorizo, which is 580 km from the Greek coast, but less than 3 km from Turkey.

Turkey’s MTA Oruc Reis seismic vessel, which is escorted by Turkish navy, is seen offshores of Eastern Mediterranean on August 10, 2020. ( Ministry of National Defense – Anadolu Agency )

The term “continental shelf”, which was first mentioned by US President Harry S Truman in 1945, means the natural extension of the coastal state’s land into the sea or ocean. Greece claims that the island of Kastellorizo has an area of influence 4,000 times greater than the size of the island itself, which is irrational. Hence, Athens did not stick to its claims about the island’s areas of influence during its negotiations with Rome, but signed a naval demarcation agreement between Greece and Italy which ignored the Greek islands in the Ionian Sea. In addition, there are decisions by the International Criminal Court in similar cases that support the Turkish position.

Ankara prefers dialogue and negotiation to resolve its differences with Greece and others in the Mediterranean Sea. When German Chancellor Angela Merkel asked Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan to stop drilling work to ease tension and allow negotiations, Turkey welcomed her request. However, Greece took advantage of Turkey’s goodwill to rush to Egypt to sign the maritime border agreement, with the aim of cutting the path to any negotiated solution. Despite this, Ankara insists on remaining rational and using dialogue to spare the region from escalation and armed confrontation. Perhaps the biggest proof of this is Erdogan’s call for a meeting of the countries bordering the Mediterranean Sea to find a formula they can agree upon for fair divisions that protect the rights of everyone.

The Oruc Reis continues its work in the Mediterranean Sea under the protection of warships and aircraft because Turkey does not believe that life is one long round of negotiations and is determined to protect its rights and interests in the Mediterranean at all costs; it will certainly take all necessary measures to do so. If diplomatic efforts fail, and Greece and the forces supporting it try to impose a fait accompli, leaving no room for anything but a military solution, then Turkey is prepared for the confrontation and willing to defend its rights and interests. No one should expect Ankara to succumb to pressure and simply accept its exclusion from the Mediterranean Sea. It has a legitimate presence there.

This article first appeared in Arabic on Arabi21 on 12 August 2020

READ: ‘We will not let anybody harm Turkey’s interests’

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.

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