IN DEPTH – Volume 17 Issue 5 – September 2020
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A FRAMEWORK OF TURKEY’S ASPIRED ROLE FOR EASTERN MEDITERRANEAN
This contribution briefly attempts to describe whether and by which means recent developments in Turkey’s policy in the Eastern Mediterranean (having Greece and Cyprus in mind) point to the concept of coercive diplomacy. Then, I will turn to the question of what could be the aim of those Turkish policies and practices.
According to Paul Gordon Lauren coercive diplomacy “focuses upon affecting an opponent’s will rather that upon his military capabilities. As a method for resolving or reconciling a conflict, coercive diplomacy attempts not to destroy an opponent, but rather to persuade him to terminate those policies that are viewed as undesirable”. A core element of coercive diplomacy is the use of threat and in some cases a limited use of violence as deterrence.
With regard to the above mentioned view, certain characteristics could be traced on how Turkey adopts its stance particularly towards Greece and Cyprus, and more generally on the role that it adopts in the Eastern Mediterranean.
A list of some of Turkish actions is sketched here as a rough, though limited indication of that newly aspired role, which, in Turkey’s president wording when interpreting especially semiotics in his policies, reflect a glory of an imperial past who attempts to realize it in a contemporary context.
The basic points of the list are structured as follows:
In the framework of Turkey’s recently declared policy of “Blue Homeland”, evolves an intensification of Turkey’s aggression towards states in the Mediterranean. The philosophy underpinned in Blue Homeland, which many consider as a maritime doctrine, in substance, codifies Turkish claims of control in an area of 462,000 square miles.
Ankara’s long-standing established perspective for the government of the Republic of Cyprus (RoC) depicts a non-recognized subject of international law and, therefore a defunct state. This view creates a paradoxical viewpoint, if one considers that Cyprus is a member-state of the EU, in which Turkey for decades attempts to join. Instead, Turkey recognizes the “Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus”, a “legally invalid”, self-proclaimed “secessionist entity”, “subordinate local administration”, established in 1983 in the northern, under Turkish military occupation, part of the island.
Building on this peculiar interpretation of legality and statehood, the “TRNC”, acting as a state, signed agreements with Turkey and issued licenses to the Turkish Petroleum Corporation (TPAO) to conduct seismic research and exploration drillings in the “TRNC” maritime zone at the northern part of Cyprus. In addition, Turkey attributes to herself a role with which she has the capacity and a legitimate right to co-decide on any decision Cyprus takes in reference to the licenses of plots in its Exclusive Economic Zone. In doing so, the Turkish government and that of the secessionist entity threaten international companies if they cooperate with the recognized government of the RoC. Moreover, Ankara’s government expresses its flagrant contradiction and disagreement whenever the RoC strengthens its ties in the political and military field with other states, such as France, and sends vessels to conduct seismic research and drillings in the so-called disputed areas.
As far as Greece is concerned, the other part of the triangular scheme in the Eastern Mediterranean, certain facts should be emphasized. Turkey insists on a geophysical interpretation of international law where some Greek islands in proximity to the Turkish coast should not be attributed EEZ and continental shelf. This argumentation is further advanced in the Turkish-Libyan Memorandum of Understanding for the Delimitation of Maritime Zones, which was signed by the UN-backed Libyan government and that of Ankara in November 2019.
The MoU, which was not endorsed by the Libyan House of Representatives, has sparked a critique by many countries as it purports to demarcate a new maritime boundary and thus remodel the Mediterranean Sea. The maritime area claimed by Turkey in the above mentioned bilateral MoU, “infringes upon the sovereign rights of third States” and depicts a part of the Greek continental shelf as part of Turkey’s maritime zone.
A broader image of Turkey’s policy of threats and limited use of military capabilities is seen also in the case of consistent, intensified violations of the Greek aerial space. This stance attempts to construct a fictitious scenery of multiple problems and controversial areas in the Aegean and the Eastern Mediterranean.
Based on the above and even though the MoU deviates from international law, Ankara claims rights far beyond the delimitation of the continental shelf in the Aegean. At the same time, Turkish high-ranking officials explicitly state that any area comprises part of the Turkish national interests (to be precise a Turkish version of Turkey’s national interests) will be defended by all means.
Having considered the above described factual background and the use of threats, a sense of imminent danger and confrontation is provoked. From a Turkish perspective, it mainly aims at four interconnected political objectives.
First, to persuade the countries which Ankara considers as present or longstanding rivals to limit, postpone or inhibit any policy plans, they conflict with hers. Second, any threat has a domestic and an international audience. As regards the latter, the role and the program of activities of oil and gas companies could be transformed accordingly. What could be the outcome of such a change? A change of plans of an oil company took place in February 2018, when the Italian Saipem 12000 of ENI wasn’t able to proceed with drilling at Block 3 of the Cyprus EEZ, after having been blocked by the Turkish navy.
Third, to push the Republic of Cyprus to return to the negotiating table for the solution of the island’s political problem and discuss on Turkish conditions. Fourth, to initiate dialogue, talks or “unconditional negotiations” with Greece as regards the status of the two countries, which was established by the Treaty of Lausanne in 1923. Under this scenario of exploratory talks, direct military conflict may for the moment be deescalated and averted. However, amid the interplay of prospective negotiations, multiple Turkish claims may be treated as existing, bilateral problems, the solution of which may pave the way for the case of a wider package deal between the two southeastern NATO allies.
In short, it is not going too far to argue that Turkey’s new role in conjunction with her narrative about the “Borders of the Heart” and Erdogan’s vision of a “New Turkey” equates to a tendency of regional hegemony, where its main characteristic is the capacity to decide for the future of the whole region.
 Paul Gordon Lauren (1972) Ultimata and Coercive Diplomacy, International Studies Quarterly, Volume 16, Issue 2, June 1972, Pages 131–166,
 Alan Mikhail (2020) Why Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s Love Affair with the Ottoman Empire Should Worry The World, The Time, 3 September 2020,
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