As Turkey and Greece prepare for talks to calm a bitter maritime dispute, Ankara this week released a video glorifying a 16th-century naval victory that led the Ottoman Empire to take control of the Mediterranean.
The video, shared on Twitter by the presidential communications department and viewed nearly half a million times, intersperses tales of ancient naval battles with footage of modern Turkish warships, bringing home the message that Turkey must defend its interests in the waters at the wide.
This doctrine, called “Blue Homeland” in the video and accompanying song, was supported by the government of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan as it challenges the Greek and Cypriot maritime claims that limit Turkey to narrow strips of coastal waters of the Aegean and the Mediterranean.
The policy, mirroring Turkey̵
Retired Rear Admiral Cihat Yayci, who played an important role in the development of the doctrine, said Turkey’s maritime policies were exacerbated by the “aggressive positions” of Greece and Cyprus, who signed a series of zone-defining agreements. economic exclusive in the Eastern Mediterranean since 2003.
“They didn’t want to share the seas with Turkey, they wanted to conquer the seas of Turkey. Turkey understood that,” Yayci said.
The dispute resurfaced last November when Turkey signed a maritime border agreement with Libya, which had been discussed by Yayci a decade earlier, but which Athens has said to cut its own claims.
In the wake of the deal with Libya, tensions with Greece increased in August when Ankara sent the Oruc Reis scout ship to the eastern Mediterranean to explore hydrocarbons.
They relaxed after Ankara brought Oruc Reis back into port, but Cyprus called for EU sanctions against Turkey. EU leaders will discuss the dispute at the summit starting on Thursday.
Fighting the Crusaders
In an interview, Yayci traced the roots of the Blue Homeland to a 16th-century Ottoman admiral celebrated in the government video.
“The real founder of the Blue Homeland concept is Barbarossa Hayrettin Pasha, who said that” whoever controls the seas controls the world, “Yayci told Istanbul’s Bahcesehir University, where he runs a maritime research center.
The video shows Ottoman sailors fighting the Crusaders, interspersed with images of modern Turkish warships and sailors. A song that evokes the Blue Fatherland and a nationalist poem read by Erdogan accompanies it.
The historical parallels extend to Turkey’s gas exploration. A seismic reconnaissance ship operating off the coast of Cyprus is named after Barbarossa, while two drill ships are named after powerful Ottoman sultans.
“Not a threat”
Despite all the patriotic fervor, Erdogan spokesman Ibrahim Kalin said this week he believes there will be “good progress very soon” in talks with Greece, which are expected to resume after a four-year hiatus.
Asked about Greece’s concerns about Blue Homeland, Kalin said it posed no threat to any other country.
“It is the idea of transforming this land of the sea, the vast land of the sea in the Mediterranean, into an opportunity rather than a source of tension and friction between the Mediterranean countries,” he said.
“Of course, we are open to dialogue and negotiation to agree on a model that is inclusive, that is fair, based on sharing all the resources we have.”
The Greek Foreign Ministry declined to comment directly on Blue Homeland.
But he rejects Turkey’s claims in the Aegean and Eastern Mediterranean, stating that Ankara has not signed the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), which gives islands sovereign rights over a continental shelf of up to 320 km (200 miles).
“I hope Turkey adopts this logic in a consistent and long-term way, abandoning its illegal actions and provocations and making dialogue its priority,” Greek Foreign Minister Nikos Dendias said last week.
A hint of the oncoming storm came a year ago when Erdogan posed at a military ceremony in front of a map showing the Blue Homeland, covering an area of approximately 462,000 square kilometers (178,379 square miles) – more than half the size. of Turkey – through the Aegean, the Eastern Mediterranean and the Black Sea.
The image was spread in Greek newspapers and Dendias said Turkey was establishing itself as a “troublemaker”.
While the two sides have agreed to resume talks interrupted in 2016, the huge difference between that map and the Greek maritime claims illustrates the gap the two sides must close if they are to find a compromise.