Two interesting developments in Turkey’s foreign relations
Problems in Turkey’s foreign relations are not limited to those sourcing from the Syrian civil war or the multi-layered rifts with its major ally, the U.S. Those problems are the biggest ones and Ankara hopes that the upcoming June 4 meeting between Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu and his U.S. host Mike Pompeo will bring some ease to them.
But there are two interesting developments that may have an influence in the coming days and weeks. The first is about quiet but building tension in the Mediterranean regarding oil and gas exploration around Cyprus. The second is tension building in the Aegean.
Cyprus has been divided since the Turkish intervention to the ethnic conflict in 1974. Today, the Turkish Cypriot government and the Turkish government are disturbed by the Greek Cypriot government’s arrangements with both international companies and other Mediterranean countries such as Egypt and Israel to produce oil and gas, claiming the entire economic zone around the island.
Similar problems apply in the Aegean amid the ongoing discrepancy between Turkey and Greece over the limits of territorial waters. If the territorial waters are recognized as being 12 miles (as the Greeks want, because of islands and islets very close to the Turkish mainland), then the whole of the Aegean Sea will be closed to Turkish use.
There were a couple of notable developments on the Mediterranean issue on May 31. Firstly, Energy Minister Berat Albayrak set sail to Turkey’s new deep sea exploration ship renamed as “Fatih” (the Conqueror). The ship, with an exploration capacity of 12 km, will search for oil and gas beds in the Mediterranean between Cyprus and mainland Turkey, escorted by the Turkish navy. A few hours later, Defense Minister Nurettin Canikli took a helicopter to land on board the TC Giresun frigate, which was on its Mediterranean patrol duty. On the ship, Canikli (wearing military outfit) vowed that Turkey would not allow “new Byzantium-style fait accomplices” against its maritime interests.
Without forgetting that it is election time in Turkey, another interesting development was the visit by Muharrem İnce, the popular presidential candidate of the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP), to meet Turkish-origin citizens in Greece and Bulgaria. İnce traveled to Komotini (Gümülcine) in Greece and Kirdzali (Kircali) in Bulgaria, both near the border with Turkey.
In his speeches delivered in Greece and Bulgaria, İnce praised the importance of “living in harmony” and of being good citizens of their own countries, integrating and getting involved in politics there, rather than getting involved in Turkey’s domestic politics. He also said he was committed to the “peace at home, peace in the world” foreign policy motto of Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, the founder of the Republic of Turkey.