Hope for diplo­macy in Eastern Mediter­ranean

Daily Sabah (Turkey) - - Opinion - Nage­han Alçı

The ten­sions be­tween Tur­key and Greece seem to be de­creas­ing af­ter Athens de­cided to be part of a log­i­cal di­a­logue. An­other sig­nif­i­cant devel­op­ment took place Tues­day when Pres­i­dent Re­cep Tayyip Erdoğan and French Pres­i­dent Em­manuel Macron spoke on the phone. It was the first con­ver­sa­tion since Ankara and Paris found them­selves in the Eastern Mediter­ranean tur­moil to­gether.

Af­ter their talk, the Turk­ish side an­nounced that Erdoğan em­pha­sized the need for us­ing diplo­matic op­por­tu­ni­ties to de-es­ca­late the sit­u­a­tion, while the French side stated that they are hop­ing for di­a­logue be­tween Tur­key and Greece. Here, it is worth re­it­er­at­ing that just two weeks ago, Macron claimed that there is a sep­a­ra­tion be­tween Erdoğan and the Turk­ish public. What’s more, he used in­cen­di­ary and threat­en­ing lan­guage to­ward Tur­key. The French pres­i­dent thus faced a uni­fied re­ac­tion from both the Turk­ish govern­ment and its op­po­si­tion. The in­ci­dents brought back mem­o­ries of the Greek in­va­sion be­fore the foun­da­tion of the repub­lic, and the re­sult­ing anger was voiced against Europe.

In my opin­ion, Macron and other Euro­pean lead­ers should not for­get that ex­ter­nal in­ter­ven­tions unite Turk­ish so­ci­ety, awaken na­tion­al­ist sen­ti­ments and lead the na­tion to be more in­ward-look­ing, which harms Tur­key-Euro­pean Union re­la­tions.

There­fore, in or­der to keep the mem­ber­ship ideal alive, EU lead­ers should not de­liver these types of mes­sages, which can be un­der­stood as in­ter­fer­ence in do­mes­tic af­fairs.

Since the be­gin­ning of the cri­sis, Ankara has called for all to con­trib­ute to a diplo­matic so­lu­tion. Thus, the cur­rent pos­i­tive de­vel­op­ments for a po­lit­i­cal out­come make Tur­key happy.

Briefly speak­ing, Tur­key has the Mediter­ranean’s long­est coast­line and can­not be de­nied ac­cess to the wa­ters that sur­round it. This is why Tur­key has sent drill­ships to ex­plore en­ergy on its con­ti­nen­tal shelf.

To sum up, I can say that the re­cent ten­sions in the Eastern Mediter­ranean have mul­ti­ple drivers. There is a race for the ex­ploita­tion of en­ergy re­sources, there are mar­itime dis­putes stem­ming from the past and there is geopo­lit­i­cal com­pe­ti­tion be­tween re­gional pow­ers.

Athens is bas­ing its claims on the 1982 United Na­tions Con­ven­tion on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), which sees the Aegean Sea as a Greek lake. Tur­key, how­ever, is not a sig­na­tory to this con­ven­tion and has long de­clared such an in­ten­tion as a cause for war. In ad­di­tion, there is a prob­lem with the is­land of Cyprus. The Greek Cypriot ad­min­is­tra­tion is a mem­ber of the EU, which com­pli­cates mar­itime dis­putes be­tween the two neigh­bors.

The dis­putes over gas ex­plo­ration should be con­sid­ered along with these prob­lems.

Greece wants its is­lands along the Turk­ish coast to be en­ti­tled to their own ex­clu­sive eco­nomic zone (EEZ), which would limit Tur­key’s mar­itime ter­ri­tory to about 1 nau­ti­cal mile around its coast­line and make the Aegean a Greek sea.

For those of you un­fa­mil­iar with the geog­ra­phy of the re­gion, we are talk­ing about small is­lands and rocks that are so close to the Turk­ish coast that they are only a 20-minute swim away.

Kastel­lorizo (Megisti-Meis) is­land, for ex­am­ple, is hun­dreds of miles from Greece but only 2 kilo­me­ters (1.2 miles) from Kaş on Tur­key’s main­land. Imag­ine the dif­fi­cul­ties those is­lan­ders face as they should be sup­ported by their far­away na­tion but in­stead their pop­u­la­tion has dwin­dled to around 500 in­hab­i­tants.

It can be said that the is­sue stems from his­tor­i­cal agree­ments that are dis­putable and the con­ven­tion that Tur­key did not sign. It is a long-term prob­lem. There seems to be no in­trin­sic so­lu­tion un­less the con­tent of the agree­ments changes. The best thing for the par­ties to do is ease the ten­sion and go back to diplo­macy.

A Turk­ish coast guard ves­sel ap­proaches a life raft car­ry­ing mi­grants in the Aegean Sea, be­tween Tur­key and Greece, Sept. 12, 2020.

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