ANKARA

Turkey’s recent announcements at frequent intervals of a Navtex for seismic research activities in the Eastern Mediterranean are a sign of its resoluteness, according to an expert. 

“Turkey wants the Aegean issues to be resolved, particularly the delimitation of the continental shelf and exclusive economic zone, primarily through bilateral negotiations, so diplomacy,” said Tarik Oguzlu, an international relations professor at Antalya Bilim University.

“It [Turkey] does not hesitate to use elements of military power in the field to strengthen its hand at the diplomatic table. The Navtex announcements at frequent intervals are actually an indication of its resolute stance,” Oguzlu added.

A Navtex, or Navigational Telex, is a maritime communications system that allows ships to inform other vessels about their presence in an area as well as other information.

Oguzlu said Turkey supports Germany’s mediation efforts to isolate the Greek Cypriot administration, Greece, and France within the EU.

“Turkey is aware that there is no single view within the EU,” he noted, adding that many EU countries are uncomfortable due to the “blackmailing policies of the Greek Cypriots”.

Ankara also sees that Germany does not support France’s geopolitical ambitions and wants to maintain relations with Turkey on a sound basis, he stressed.

“We know that neither the EU nor the US wants a possible Turkish-Greek conflict in the Aegean and the Eastern Mediterranean,” he added.

Oguzlu said the main problem for Turkey is that some countries such as Israel, Egypt, and the United Arab Emirates have taken a stance against Ankara in recent years so they support Greece in the Aegean and the Eastern Mediterranean.

“In fact, this is not because they support the Greek thesis, but because they want to hurt Turkey. Improvements in relations with these countries would reduce the stress on Turkey,” Oguzlu also said.

Turkey is a guarantor nation for the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus (TRNC) and has consistently contested the Greek Cypriot administration’s unilateral drilling activities in the Eastern Mediterranean, asserting that the TRNC also has rights to the resources in the area.

In 1974, following a coup aimed at the annexation of Cyprus by Greece and amid ethnic violence against Turkish Cypriots, Ankara had to intervene as a guarantor power. In 1983, the TRNC was founded.

The decades since have seen several attempts to resolve the Cyprus dispute, all ending in failure. The latest, held with the participation of the guarantor countries – Turkey, Greece and the UK – came to an end without any progress in 2017 in Switzerland.

Turkey’s recent Navtex alerts

In May this year, Turkish-flagged drill ships began drilling operations in areas off the island of Cyprus. The areas fell entirely within the Turkish continental shelf registered with the UN and in permit licenses that the Turkish government in previous years granted to the Turkish Petroleum, the country’s national oil company.

Turkey sees energy as an incentive for political resolution on the island and peace in the wider Mediterranean basin, not a catalyst for further tensions.

As part of the country’s hydrocarbon exploration activities, Turkey announced the start of seismic research activity with the MTA Oruc Reis vessel in the Eastern Mediterranean through a Navtex on July 21.

Using a small islet a few miles from Turkey’s coast as justification, the Greek Foreign Ministry alleged the Oruc Reis had violated its rights in the Eastern Mediterranean continental shelf.

Turkey rejected these unjustified assertions.

“This maximalist continental shelf claim of Greece is contrary to international law, jurisprudence and court decisions,” said Foreign Ministry spokesman Hami Aksoy in a statement on July 22.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel asked for reconciliation between the two countries.

On July 30, Turkey issued another alert announcing that its seismic research vessel Barbaros Hayreddin Pasa would continue its work exploring for energy resources off the island of Cyprus until Sept.18.

Not long after that, Greece announced on Aug. 6 that it had signed a restrictive maritime jurisdiction agreement with Egypt.

The agreement was designed to cut off the maritime jurisdiction corridor established between Turkey and Libya.

After describing this deal as “null and void” and resuming its activities in the region, Ankara decided that the Oruc Reis should continue its research.

On Aug. 10, Turkey issued a Navtex announcing that the Oruc Reis would continue its activities in the Eastern Mediterranean with the vessels Cengiz Han and Ataman until Aug. 23.

Turkey’s decision raised alarms in Greece which responded with its own notice, placing its navy on alert.

Following Turkey’s Navtex on exploration, the Greek Foreign Ministry issued a statement urging Turkey to end its activities south of the Turkish district of Kas on the Mediterranean coast, and Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis convened the government’s National Security Council.

Meanwhile, citing military sources, some Greek media outlets reported that the Greek army was on high alert and had canceled leave for soldiers.

On Aug. 13, the Greek frigate Limnos, which had moved to harass the Oruc Reis, was blocked by the Turkish frigate Kemal Reis.

The event showed how natural it is for Turkey to secure seismic research activities in the Eastern Mediterranean using military prowess.

Greece also announced a joint military exercise with France in the Eastern Mediterranean on the day of the conflict.

Ankara, meanwhile, stressed that Turkey’s presence in the Eastern Mediterranean with its navy is not to start a military conflict.

On Aug. 15, Turkey issued a new alert announcing that its drill ship Yavuz would continue its work exploring for energy resources off the island of Cyprus on Aug. 18-Sept. 15.

Following the Navtex, the Greek Cypriot administration of Southern Cyprus published a “counter-Navtex”.

Turkey issued another Navtex for an extension to the Oruc Reis’s research activities with the Cengiz Han and Ataman until Aug. 27.

Greece criticized the alert and the next day issued a competing Navtex for maritime drills, in the process raising tensions in the region.

Later, Turkey issued five more Navtex alerts for the Oruc Reis and again extended its energy exploration in the Eastern Mediterranean until Nov. 4.

Ankara also issued another two alerts for its drill ship Barbaros Hayreddin Pasa, saying the ship will continue its work exploring for energy resources until Nov. 9.

On Oct. 3, Greece issued two more Navtex alerts covering a wide-ranging area, including Turkey’s area of responsibility, triggering new tensions between the two countries.

As Turkey continued to make necessary efforts to resolve issues in the Aegean and Eastern Mediterranean through dialogue, Greece issued navigational alerts for the purpose of a military exercise.

Shortly after Greece’s move, Turkey’s Antalya Navtex station issued an alert restating that the area is in fact Turkey’s area of responsibility.

On Sept. 8, ahead of new technical talks between Turkey and Greece to reduce tensions in the Eastern Mediterranean, Greece issued another alert that it would hold maritime shooting drills on a Turkish national holiday, what seemed to be a deliberate provocation.

After Greece issued a Navtex alert for Oct. 29, Turkey’s Republic Day, Turkey in response issued its own Navtex alert for shooting drills for a day prior, Oct. 28.

Later, Turkey and Greece mutually cancelled the military drills.

Both countries’ decisions came following a proposal by Turkish National Defense Minister Hulusi Akar at a meeting of NATO defense ministers on Oct. 23.

Akar said Turkey was in favor of dialogue, negotiations, international law, and good neighborly relations.

But Turkey is determined to defend the country’s rights and interests, he added.

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