Turkey’s Vice President Fuat Oktay sat down Saturday in an exclusive interview with Anadolu Agency to discuss the latest developments in Eastern Mediterranean, regional and international issues, and the country’s foreign policy.
He stressed that Ankara “expects fairness [from the EU]. Nobody should expect Turkey to pull back in line with this fairness.”
AA: When Turkey resumes exploration in the Eastern Mediterranean, do you have different goals there? Do you plan to do something else? Why does Europe react so actively?
FO: Unfortunately, we do not remember Europe supporting Turkey for any issues in favor of Ankara, standing by Turkey and Turkish people, but it [Europe] rather reacted to such issues.
In other words, it [the EU] is for long used to giving scornful reactions to anything in favor of us and our nation as it [the EU] sees itself as an international court and a mechanism determining who is right and wrong, positions itself where it has no right and place, and approaches everything from its point of view, from its interests.
The EU is not an international court nor a mechanism to determine who is right and wrong. We also do not consider the EU that way. The EU is a structure that has members, providing — trying to provide — regional, political, and economic unity. It is an extremely cumbersome structure and tired of the impertinence of some of its members like Greece — this needs to be clearly expressed — but not able to do anything about it.
As [German Chancellor Angela] Merkel told the press today [Saturday] “We, as members, [must support] Greece,” it is not like supporting but more like considering it, and saying: “We have no other choice.”
But in every meeting with her [Merkel], our president [Recep Tayyip Erdogan] expresses everything openly: How we act in each issue and why we do it, [laying out] the justifications, and Turkey’s stance. We do not see any opposition in face-to-face meetings, but in an institutional dimension, you see a stone-deaf EU.
Therefore, we follow the latest developments in the Eastern Mediterranean in terms of our interests. We have territorial waters and a continental shelf in the Eastern Mediterranean and we currently have an Exclusive Economic Zone agreement with Libya there. In this framework, there will be further cooperation and agreements with the countries that are willing to cooperate in the future.
There are two important topics as were previously expressed clearly by our president. There is a map drawn 100 years ago, called [1920 Treaty of] Sevres. I don’t even want to call it an agreement because there are two sides to an agreement. I am talking about a structure that was aimed at destroying a nation and recklessly crowded upon a nation like carrion crows 100 years ago.
Hence, we will mark Victory Day on Sunday, the period when a nation regained its independence and was reborn from the ashes of an empire without having nothing left, tearing off that map after a struggle for independence. One hundred years later, the actors are almost the same. There are even more of them, like Germany, England, and France.
Now, there is a structure that is aimed to draw the map on the seas that we torn off then on the land, and the EU as an instrument to it, as well as Greece and the Greek Cypriot administration. It is understood that they did not know the Turkish nation well enough 100 years ago as well.
Our nation has a feature when it comes to independence and freedom — nothing stops it. Paying off a price is nothing.
We also saw on July 15 [the attempted coup in 2016] that the spirit of 100 years ago was still alive. We saw that in the spirit in Canakkale [Land Battles], in 1453 [the conquest of Istanbul], and 1071 [Battle of Manzikert], was still alive.
Therefore, they aim to draw the same map on the seas for us today and they have been at it for 100 years. They say: “I have already drawn you this map.” But, Turkey is not the same country when that map was drawn.
Will the Republic of Turkey and the nation accept it? The EU says this, the world says that — is it possible? We will tear up this map and those who would think of this map and crush them when necessary.
In the Eastern Mediterranean, we can carry out our normal economic activities within our continental shelf. When the UK, France, Italy, US, Russia, China, and other countries carry out their activities within their continental shelf, there is no voice raised.
But when Turkey explores its resources in the Eastern Mediterranean within its continental shelf with its own drill ships, [they] make a row which is not understandable.
[The debate on] Meis Island came up. What is Meis Island? We are talking about the Eastern Mediterranean. I express this because there are the same impertinence and the same injustice on all the islands.
We’re talking about 12 islands, especially Chios, Lesbos, Rhodes … first were given to the Italians with Lausanne, and later given to Greece by Italy with the Paris Agreement in 1947.
Whose property are you giving to whom? And despite agreements among themselves that those islands right beside Turkey would be “demilitarized” …,[you] will arm them step by step in 100 years and then will Turkey say “Yes, you can help yourself?”
Today, Turkey stood up [against this issue]. Together with its nation, state and leader, the country calls a stop to it. And the country says: “If you don’t stop, we’ll pay if there is a price for it, and we’ll get it paid.”
That spot is a 10-square-kilometer (6-square-mile) piece of an island, an islet. What does Greece want? It says: “I have a continental shelf 4,000 times bigger than that.” … Right under our nose. Openly, you are here every morning, every night 24/7.
Afterward, you say: “I have a continental shelf in an area of 40,000 square kilometers (24,854 square miles). There are many islands here, you can see these islets. Similar things are said for all of them.
Do you know what this means? It’s not just the Eastern Mediterranean. We are not talking about the Mediterranean here, we’re talking about a mindset that wants to convert the Aegean islands to a Greek lake for Turkey.
‘We do not cause an accident, we do what is necessary’
You know the issue that says “We extend [Greek territorial waters] to 12 miles” And we say: “Come on, extend it if you can. When you increase it to 12 miles — our parliament has an authority that it is a cause of war. It is a structure that we stand behind today and this authority is still valid today.
What does it mean to extend it to 12 miles? There are open seas, that is, out of territorial waters. Currently, Greece has 6-mile territorial water. Three miles from the Turkey side but generally, there is something called the perpendicular bisector in maritime law. Islands falling on the east or west side of it.
There is such a structure that says: “No, this is not enough for me.” So what will happen if it will not be enough for you? “We have to draw this [line] from somewhere here.”
They already drew this in Lausanne, 3 miles. Now, [they] say: “I won’t be satisfied with that either.” What are you going to do? “I will increase it to 12 miles.” What will happen when you extend it? Turkey will not be able to pass down from this [line].
It means that your ships will not be able to cross to the open seas from the Aegean, your boats if you are a tourist, your fishing boats if you are a fisherman, or the ships passing through the Black Sea or Marmara if you are doing business.
Are you expecting us to accept this? If this will not be a reason for war, what else would be? Our president also reiterated that. There is no accident. They say “by accident or something,” but we will do what is necessary.
Here, as the Turkish nation, if we are not going to do what is necessary here, where else will we do it? If we are not going to do what is necessary if we will not seek our rights, where will we claim [our rights]?
Turkey argues that “You are already right under my nose, there is a continental shelf for each country, but these islets might have territorial waters — we act fairly again — [the islets] cannot have a continental shelf. They can not have an Exclusive Economic Zone. We cannot accept that. We pay the price for it, but we get it paid first.
The EU will oppose this, it is about Cyprus, or about that. We say the 1960 Agreement, France comes and lands planes there. What plane are you bringing? What warships are you trying to bring? Who are you? Hey France, who are you? Hey [French President Emmanuel] Macron, who are you? You do not know the Turkish nation and Turkey. You [France] are not a guarantor country. Guarantor countries are certain: Turkey, Greece, and the UK. The EU is not neutral. So is Merkel’s statement today.
How are we going to sit down and talk about these now? Turkey must pose a clear stance. And so we are doing that. This is what our president does and says.
AA: After Merkel’s statements, what does Turkey want from Europe, what is your message to Europe?
FO: What we are telling Europe is that Turkey does not and will never give up its rights on the Eastern Mediterranean and the Aegean. We want the EU to reconsider the attitudes of member Greece and The Greek Cypriot administration — which became a member with various tricks — evaluate the islands in fairness as well as the rights and arguments of Turkey instead of paying off whatever the price is and standing by an impertinent member. Otherwise, serious risks will occur in the future, whatever the price.
AA: Behind closed doors?
FO: Behind closed doors, the EU is also sick and tired but ultimately used [issues] for its own benefit. They are heading towards the conclusion — without being aware of it — that the price will be paid by the Greek people. Greek people must ask their government to account for that.
About Oruc Reis [seismic research vessel], we can take a look at the current issues. What are we doing? We have been holding our economic activities within our own continental shelf as it is the case at the Black Sea.
What are we going to do with 320 billion cubic meters [of natural gas]? It will be reflected in the welfare of our citizens. It will mean prosperity for our industrialists and be respected by our nation and country as a wealth.
As a matter of fact, this is also a contribution to peace. That one country is getting wealthier leads to regional prosperity, starting with the nearest neighbors in the first place. It does not mean getting poorer. It means that peace will prosper and larger projects will be realized. That is the way we, Turkey, view it.
So, what is Oruc Reis doing? It is conducting activities within our own continental shelf, which is also recognized as part of the international law, an area stretching up to 200 kilometers [124 miles] from our territorial waters.
Here, in this region, we said: “We are going to search the region with Oruc Reis.” We had also issued the NAVTEX, in this regard, made a notification for all vehicles in the sea. But, some say they are going to conduct military drills here.
Should we turn a blind eye to this? If you have such a desire, do it another time. What about the things we are told? “How about you do not bother Greece?” So, what we should do? “How about you conduct these activities in your uncontested territories?” Well, how about you did not recognize this map? What is in your mind? What are you trying to say?
No offense, but that Oruc Reis resuming seismic research here means tearing up this map. It will resume its seismic research. Whether it be natural gas, oil, or anything else, Oruc Reis will search it. Regardless of its success [of finding valuable sources], this is a matter of independence for Turkey. Where? In its seas, shores, and continental shelf. Nobody can say anything about that.
Cyprus comes to mind whenever the Eastern Mediterranean is uttered. We made a treaty in 1960. An agreement based on two communities. We founded the Republic of Cyprus where both communities had equal rights.
Then, we encountered a structure that openly committed genocide which tried to wipe out the Turkish nation and was willing to dominate everything. We were face to face with the Greek Cypriots, its supporter Greece, the impertinent kid of Europe.
Was the Turkish nation supposed to let that happen? Thus, the 1974 Cyprus Operation was carried out and the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus was established. Now, the Greek Cypriot administration says: “Everywhere here belongs to me, so I can forge exclusive economic zone agreements with Egypt, Israel, and other countries.
I have already explored very rich reserves here. About this reserve, I can extract all of it at my will and do not share it with the Turkish community and Turkish Cypriots living on the island. I declare it null and void — I’m saying this in a practical sense — and follow my path.”
Are we going to accept that as Turkey and citizens of the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus, as Turkish Cypriots? That is not happening. Were we supposed to let them commit genocide in Cyprus just like they blatantly did against Muslims in Crete? We did not allow it in 1974, and will not allow it today, as well. We will also not let this happen today in the economic sense, either.
Turkey is going to protect its rights at any cost. It will also protect the rights of Turkish Cypriots in Cyprus and surrounding territorial waters. The same goes for every square meter of the Eastern Mediterranean and every cubic meter of these waters.
Turkey pays off the price, and make others pay off. While using this phrase, we do not mean that we are a country threatening whoever it encounters. We have this stance against those seeking to violate our rights. In other words, we are not at a position where we are laying claim to the rights of members of the EU or in the EU region or regions of any other country.
We shout that we will not allow anyone to violate our rights. In the field of diplomacy, we voice that at all meetings, at the leaders level by our president, and [through] the Foreign Ministry, National Defense Ministry, related ministries and establishments. Maybe, this is the final stage of communication.
AA: You expect fairness?
FO: We expect fairness. Nobody should expect Turkey to pull back in line with this fairness. We want this to be respected.
* Writing by Erdogan Cagatay Zontur, Handan Kazanci and Ali Murat Ahlas
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