After long six months of diplomatic and military tensions in the eastern Mediterranean, the conflict between Turkey and Greece over maritime boundaries is, probably, coming to a point of diplomatic rationality. The Turkish Ministry of Foreign Affairs announced, on Monday, that the exploratory talks between Turkey and Greece shall resume on January 25th in Istanbul. Amid the military tensions aroused in the Mediterranean, last summer, Turkish and Hellenic militaries had some episodes of technical talks, but they did not lead to any solutions.
The upcoming round of talks is the 61st to discuss the issue of the continental shelf of Turkey and the demarcation of an Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) between Turkey and Greece. Since 2002, the talks have going on in Greek and Turkish cities, alternatively. The last exploratory talks between Greece and Turkey took place in 2016. Greece refused to participate in the talks planned, last year, in Turkey, in protest of Turkey’s deployment of the seismic research ship, Oruç Reis, to the disputed EEZ between Turkey and Greece, in July. For 82 days, Oruç Reis navigated the sea, guarded by warships, submarines, and helicopters affiliated with the Turkish naval forces.
Obviously, Turkey’s goal from using military power to stir up the stagnant waters in the quiet basin of the Mediterranean, was to put pressure on Greece before the planned exploratory talks, last year. But the whole situation backfired on Turkey, afterward. Rather than improving Turkey’s position in the negotiations, the use of military power led to further political complications that made Turkey’s mission to realize the blue homeland (Mavi Vatan) goal, more challenging. Unfortunately, the militarization of foreign policy is an old toxic habit of the Turkish state, that has kept it losing on almost all of its diplomatic battles since the 1920s.
The military tensions aroused in the Mediterranean attracted several foreign powers, including France, Russia, the United States, the United Arab Emirates, and even China, which came to take advantage of the ongoing tragedy. France led a huge campaign to let the European Union and NATO sanction Turkey for harassing Greece. Luckily for Turkey, the EU and NATO, which French President Macron called “brain dead,” refused to listen to Macron’s “Pax Mediterranean” and “red line” warnings, and insisted on moving forward with the face-to-face dialogue between Turkey and Greece.
Meanwhile, massive shifts in the diplomatic interactions between the East Mediterranean countries have happened, in an attempt to deter Turkey. On August 1st, France and Cyprus announced that their “Defense Cooperation Agreement,” signed in April 2017, entered into force. The agreement ensures cooperation on “energy resources, crisis management, counter-terrorism, and maritime security.” The activation of the agreement, at this particular time, came in direct response to Turkey’s military presence in the Mediterranean.
A few days after that, on August 6th, Egypt and Greece signed their own EEZ agreement, in compliance with the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS). The Egypt-Greece EEZ agreement intersects with, and consequently nulls, the flawed maritime agreement signed between Libya’s temporary Government of National Accord (GNA) and Turkey, in November 2019. Then, in mid-September, the EastMed Gas Forum, which was formed by Egypt, Greece, Cyprus, and Israel in January 2020, has been turned into a regional organization, purposefully excluding Turkey.
“Turkey, no more, can ignore the relationship between Greece and Egypt,” said Turkish Minister of National Defense, Hulusi Akar, in November, while presenting the military budget proposal for the year 2021, to the Plan and Budget Committee of the Grand National Assembly of Turkey (TBMM). In the past two decades, every time Greece approached Egypt to sign an EEZ agreement, Egypt used to turn the Greeks’ request down out of respect for Turkey. But, the widening political rift between the Egyptian and the Turkish states, since 2013, left Egypt with no other option but to side with Greece and its European allies, this time.
That being said, Turkey is the country with the longest border (1870 km) in the Mediterranean Sea. In other words, Turkey has rights lost in the Mediterranean, since the signing of the Lausanne Agreement in 1922. The international community must listen to Turkey’s pleas not to be confined to its borders, because of a biased agreement that was signed a century ago under the fog of war.
One can hardly be optimistic that the prospected resumption of exploratory talks between Turkey and Greece, on January 25th, may lead to any tangible progress on the issue. The mission requires sharp diplomatic skills, and Turkey suffers from chronic feebleness in its diplomatic bureau. Ironically, Hulusi Akar, the Defense Minister, is way more skilled in using and applying diplomatic rhetoric and tactics, than Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu, the Foreign Minister. Needless to mention the injudicious statements that President Erdogan makes, now and then, and their extremely negative influence on Turkey’s foreign affairs, in general.
For Turkey to succeed in realizing its legitimate rights lost in the Mediterranean, three things need to happen. First, President Erdogan has to stop making provocative fiery statements about the Greek-Turkey conflict. Second, the Turkish state has to improve its diplomatic skills and adopt a more open foreign policy towards all East Mediterranean nations, especially Egypt. Third, Turkey needs to stop flexing its military muscles every time it gets impatient with the slow-by-nature diplomatic endeavors.