Turkey is maintaining its firm stance on the Eastern Mediterranean as the seismic research vessel Oruç Reis continues its operations in the region, while Ankara's feud with Athens on the issue has escalated.
Turkish warships are protecting the Oruç Reis in the Eastern Mediterranean, the Turkish Ministry of National Defense announced Monday.
"Accompaniment and protection is provided for Turkey's MTA ORUC REIS seismic vessel which conducts seismic research activity in Turkey's maritime jurisdiction areas in the Eastern Mediterranean," the ministry said on Twitter. "The Turkish Armed Forces have taken all necessary measures within the framework of their determination to protect our rights and interests arising from international law in our maritime jurisdiction areas."
Despite criticisms and constant confrontation from the Greek side, Turkish authorities continue to underline that the country's actions in the area are legitimate while still keeping a door open for dialogue.
Turkey will continue to implement its own plans in the field and in diplomacy until common sense prevails on the Eastern Mediterranean issue, President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan said Monday.
"We are always here and ready to resolve conflicts through dialogue on an equitable basis," Erdoğan said.
The president called on the Mediterranean countries to cooperate in finding "an acceptable formula that protects the rights of all."
"There is no way Turkey would consent to any initiative trying to lock the country to its shores, ignoring the vast Turkish territory," he said.
Similarly, Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu said yesterday that Turkey continues to support the rights of both Turkey and Turkish Cypriots in the Eastern Mediterranean.
“Turkey will issue a license for the western part of its continental shelf in the Eastern Mediterranean and will continue drilling work,” he said during a joint news conference with Azerbaijani Foreign Minister Jeyhun Bayramov.
“No one can claim Turkey has had malintent in the Eastern Mediterranean. Those who want to see a country with malintent should look to Greece,” the foreign minister further underlined.
Last month, after Athens objected to Ankara’s seismic survey in an area south of the island of Kastellorizo (Megisti-Meis), German diplomatic efforts helped defuse tensions between Turkey and Greece. Athens’ controversial move last week to sign a maritime delimitation agreement with Egypt, which Turkey says violates its continental shelf and maritime rights, however, has further sparked tensions between the two neighbors.
Turkey announced on Friday that the Oruç Reis will continue to conduct research in the region until Aug. 23.
After the announcement, Oruç Reis reached the southwest shores of Cyprus, and a Turkish warship dropped anchor in southern Antalya province’s Kaş district. Greece, as a countermove, sent a similar vessel to Kastellorizo island.
Ankara accuses Athens of pursuing maximalist policies in the Eastern Mediterranean and underlines that its maritime claims violate Turkey’s sovereign rights.
Turkey has long contested the Greek Cypriot administration’s unilateral drilling in the Eastern Mediterranean, asserting that the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus (TRNC) also has rights to the resources in the area.
In order to clarify the country’s movement in the region, Turkey’s Foreign Ministry shared a map Monday showing the offshore survey activity of Oruç Reis within the continental shelf and borders of its exclusive economic zone (EEZ) in the Eastern Mediterranean.
“The Oruç Reis launched its offshore survey activity today on the Turkish Continental Shelf, which has been declared to the U.N. Greece is making a big fuss over this activity,” said Çağatay Erciyes, a senior Turkish Foreign Ministry official.
He said on Twitter that Greece is creating problems because Kastellorizo lies 2 kilometers (1.24 miles) away from the Turkish mainland and 580 kilometers (360 miles) from the Greek mainland. He went on to say that Athens claims 40,000 square km (15,444 square miles) of maritime jurisdiction due to the tiny island and is attempting to stop the Oruç Reis and block Turkey in the Eastern Mediterranean – an action that is incompatible with international law as it is against the principle of equity. Erciyes also says that Greece is asking the European Union and the U.S. to support this claim and put pressure on Turkey to cease its legitimate offshore activities. “This is not acceptable or reasonable,” he added.
He stressed that these countries should instead ask Greece to stop its unjust, inequitable and absurd claims. “It is Greece, not Turkey, who creates tensions in the area due to such maximalist claims,” he said.
Erciyes in his Twitter post also shared information on the maritime jurisdiction areas and how they should be delimited based on the principle of equity.
Athens ‘ready’ to confront Ankara
Athens released a series of statements Monday, criticizing Turkey’s move in the region. The Greek military was placed on alert, while Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis convened the government’s national security council.
“Greece will not accept any blackmail. It will defend its sovereignty and sovereign rights,” Greece’s Foreign Ministry said in a statement. “We call on Turkey to immediately end its illegal actions that undermine peace and security in the region,” it stated.
The ministry said Monday’s navigational telex (NAVTEX), an international automated system for seafaring alerts, “combined with the observed broad mobilization of units of the Turkish Navy, constitutes a new serious escalation.” Turkey is acting in a way that is destabilizing and threatening peace, it further claimed. Greek Minister of State Giorgos Gerapetritis also said that the Oruç Reis was being monitored by the Greek navy.
“We are at full political and operational readiness,” he said on state television channel ERT.
“The majority of the fleet is ready at this moment to go out wherever is needed,” he added when asked to elaborate.
“Our ships that are sailing in crucial areas were already in place days ago. If necessary, there will be a greater development of the fleet,” he continued.
Gerapetritis said that “it is clear that we are not seeking any tension in the region. On the other hand, our determination is given.”
Greece also issued its own maritime safety message saying the Turkish NAVTEX had been issued by an “unauthorized station” and calling it “unauthorized and illegal activity in an area that overlaps the Greek continental shelf.”
As a response to Greece’s criticisms, the Turkish Foreign Ministry released a message Monday, saying that Ankara has the capacity and capability of destroying evil alliances formed against it in the Mediterranean Sea.
“It is no business of anyone to try to exclude our country from the Mediterranean, which has been under Turkish rule for centuries,” the statement said.
Last year, Turkey signed a similar deal with the United Nations-backed Libyan government in Tripoli, sparking outrage in Greece, the Greek Cypriot administration and Egypt, which all said the agreement infringed on their economic rights in the Mediterranean. The EU claimed that the deal was a violation of intentional law that threatens stability in the region.
EU, NATO pressured by Greece
Despite acting in accordance with international law, however, Turkey’s move also raised eyebrows among European countries. German Foreign Ministry spokesperson Christofer Burger said Monday about the issue that Berlin had “taken note with concern” of Turkey’s decision to conduct seismic exploration. He said Foreign Minister Heiko Maas “has repeatedly said that international law must be respected and that we need steps toward deescalation in the Eastern Mediterranean. And in view of this, further seismic exploration is certainly the wrong signal at this time.”
Turkey’s move “further burdens its relationship with the EU,” Burger added. He called on both sides “to resolve all open questions through negotiations and to begin a bilateral dialogue between Athens and Ankara as planned.”
Mitsotakis also spoke Monday with European Council President Charles Michel and NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg, urging both to take action against Turkey.
After the call, Stoltenberg tweeted that “the situation must be resolved in a spirit of Allied solidarity and in accordance with international law.” Greece wants the European Union to hold an emergency foreign ministers’ meeting, the prime ministers’ office also said yesterday. “The foreign minister (will) request an emergency meeting of the European Union foreign affairs council,” the office of Mitsotakis said.