Eastern Mediterranean EEZ Delimitation
The disputes over delimitation of the Exclusive Economic Zones in the Eastern Mediterranean are best understood as a South Cina Sea with Ottoman characteristics. In early December 2019 Greece sent warships to Crete after Turkey and Libya signed a controversial deal dividing the sea. The agreement between the Turkish government and the regime in Tripoli included a Memorandum of Understanding delineating a supposed diagonal maritime boundary between the two countries, and provided for security assistance, including the right to build Turkish bases in Libya.
Greece is trying to enforce exclusive economic zone (EEZ) rights around its many tiny islands in the Aegean Sea. An EEZ is an exclusive area of a country extending 200 nautical miles from its shore. This leaves Turkey with a tiny offshore stretch and almost nothing in the eastern Mediterranean - something unacceptable to Ankara. Turkey has the longest coastline along the eastern Mediterranean. If Southern Cyprus and Greece have their way, Turkey’s territorial claim shrinks to 41,000 square kilometers from what Ankara assesses should be 189,000 square kilometers.
In 2019 Ankara reached an agreement with the internationally recognised Government of National Accord (GNA) in Libya that it says grants Turkey drilling rights across a corridor of the eastern Mediterranean - much of it within the maritime jurisdiction Greece also claims. Greece, Cyprus and other regional actors have denounced the Turkish-Libyan agreement as "illegal", which Turkey denies. Turkey is also prospecting for hydrocarbons in waters where Cyprus claims exclusive economic rights.
Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis said after telephone talks with US President Donald Trump that Athens was “ready for a significant de-escalation—but on condition that Turkey immediately stops its provocative actions”. But Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan insisted Wednesday that Ankara would not accept preconditions such as suspending its gas exploration before resuming dialogue. Turkey will “make no concessions on that which is ours,” Erdogan said.
Turkey's President Recep Tayyip Erdogan warned he would make "no concessions" in the eastern Mediterranean and that Ankara is determined to do whatever is necessary to obtain its rights in the Black Sea, Aegean and Mediterranean. Speaking at an event on Wednesday commemorating the 11th-century military victory by Seljuk Turks over the Byzantine empire at Malazgirt, Erdogan also called on Turkey's counterparts to avoid mistakes that he said would bring their destruction. "We don't have our eye on someone else's territory, sovereignty and interests, but we will make no concessions on that which is ours," Erdogan said, urging Greece to "avoid wrongs that will be the path to ruin.,,, We will not compromise what is ours... We are determined to do whatever is necessary."
Greek Foreign Minister Nikos Dendias accused Turkey of continuing to provoke its neighbor and displaying "neo-Ottoman" ideology. He said Greece would protect its sovereign rights and interests against its much bigger and more heavily armed neighbor.
Both Greece and Turkey announced military exercises on 25 August 2020 in sections of a broad area between Crete and Cyprus, where the Turkish research vessel Oruc Reis is carrying out seismic research escorted by Turkish warships. Athens said the vessel is over the Greek continental shelf, where it has exclusive rights on potential undersea gas and oil deposits, and has sent its warships to shadow the Turkish flotilla. Adding to the tangle of overlapping drills, Cyprus's defence ministry said warplanes and navy ships from France, Italy, Greece and Cyprus would be holding air and sea military exercises off the east Mediterranean island nation within the framework of the Quadripartite Cooperation Initiative (QUAD). France and Greece would deploy both aircraft and warships as part of the August 26-28 drills, while Cyprus will activate its air defence system to test its capabilities.
Greek frigates record the course of the research vessel moving to the southeast, at a speed of 3-4 knots. Although the Oruc Reis has laid cables , the Greek Armed Forces estimate that it can not conduct investigations, due to the noise of ships that are relatively close to it. The Oruc Reis is accompanied by a total of seven Turkish frigates which have been deployed a short distance around it. Units of the Greek Navy transmit a message via radio, every 15 minutes, asking the Turkish research vessel to leave, as it is sailing in waters above the Greek mainland. The Greek side is concerned about the relative concentration of surface units of the Turkish fleet, south of Rhodes. Ankara is said to have sent more than 17 frigates, corvettes and torpedo boats, as well as submarines between Rhodes and Kastellorizo. ????: www.lifo.gr
Between the Turkish fleet and the European ships currently at sea, the Mediterranean is bristling with a military presence, the likes of which the region has not seen for many years. US ships are also present in the area under NATO missions, but Washington so far seems unwilling to be dragged in by either side. The destroyer USS Winston S. Churchill carried out an exercise with the Greek navy on Monday, before carrying out another with the Turkish navy on Wednesday 26 August 2020.
Out of solidarity with Greece, the EU member states put their weight behind Athens' maximalist approach. France, which itself rejected the same claims that Greece is making today, in its own dispute with the United Kingdom over the Channel Islands, is now Athens' strongest advocate. The animosity from Paris towards Ankara due to disagreements in Syria and Libya, and the idea of solidarity within the EU, is playing a destructive role. France has become more visible, but the entirety of the European Union now backs the irrational Greek claims and is condemning Turkish drilling activities.
Egypt, Greece, the Greek Cypriot Administration, Italy, Israel, Jordan and Palestine signed a regional pact - the Eastern Mediterranean Gas Forum - to enhance cooperation in trade of energy. On the other hand, Turkey, a major player in the region, has been excluded from regional maritime agreements including those that these countries have used to demarcate offshore gas blocks between themselves. A major issue is the exploration work being carried out in the waters claimed by the Greek Cypriot Administration. The tiny island has been divided into two parts since the 1970s - one under the influence of Greece and the other inhabited by Turkish Cypriots. Ankara says that Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus (TRNC) must have a share in the offshore resources. Turkey has all along pushed for joint exploration but the Greek Cypriot Administration has rejected the idea, saying other issues must be settled before the prospect of joint drilling can be discussed.
Turkish Naval Forces intercepted an Israeli ship in Cypriot waters 15 December 2019 and escorted it away as tension over natural resource exploration continues to rise in the region. The ship, Bat Galim, of the Israeli Oceanographic and Limnological Research Institution was conducting research in Cyprus's territorial waters in coordination with Cypriot officials, Israeli media reported on Saturday quoting Israel's Ministry of National Infrastructure, Energy and Water.
According to the UNCLOS, a nation's territorial waters extend up to 12 nautical miles (22.2km) from the shore, and up to 200 nautical miles (370km) from the shore is its Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ). As the name suggests, anything found in or under the water out to this distance belongs exclusively to that country.
Turkey, however, has a unique way of looking at EEZs, refusing to accept that islands can have such zones, and insisting that any island's control extends only 12 nautical miles from its shore. Turkey cites what is called the continental shelf theory, and says that (islands excluded) a country's landmass, and therefore its EEZ, extends underwater to the very edge of the continental shelf. And everything on that continental shelf is part of its own territory until the bottom drops off. The UN does not recognise this method of calculation.
International public law professor Angelos Syrigos confirmed that Greek naval forces had been dispatched in early December 2019 as a deterrent to Turkish exploration. "There will be no Turkish drillship. It has been communicated to Turkey that we shall not tolerate any exploration in the area Greece considers to be its EEZ," said Syrigos, who also serves as an MP for the ruling conservative New Democracy party. "We are preparing for all eventualities on all levels," Greek defence minister Nikos Panayotopoulos told Skai News on 05 December 2019, without elaborating. The navy's chief of staff, Admiral Nikos Tsounis, added: "We shall not wait for anyone to come and help us. Whatever we do, we shall do alone."
Under international law, a coastal State does not have to make any declaration or take any formal action to establish a continental shelf as it belongs the automatically to the appurtenant state. The legal issue is in establishing borders, that is the delimitation of the continental shelf when there is an overlap between opposite or adjacent states. Given that there is no area of the Mediterranean Sea wider than 400 nautical miles all of the Mediterranean Sea continental shelf is under the sovereignty and jurisdiction of a coastal State. If this concept were to be applied by all coastal Mediterranean states, the entire sea would be covered by EEZs of the littoral countries.
The 1982 Third United Nations Conference of the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) established that the term “archipelago” refers to a group of islands and interconnecting waters that are closely interrelated and form an intrinsic geographical, political, and economic entity. In the Mediterranean, only the Maltese islands qualify under this above definition. This definition prevented Greece, with its numerous islands in the Aegean Sea, from using this concept.
The coastal State has exclusive jurisdiction to regulate activities related to exploration and exploitation of non-living resources and other economic activities, which would encompass development of offshore oil and gas resources. Also, the coastal State has exclusive jurisdiction to authorize establishment of offshore structures necessary for development of offshore oil and gas resources.
In April 2004 the President of Cyprus, Tassos Papadopoulos, proclaimed an Exclusive Economic Zone with Law 64/2004. The government of Greece immediately welcomed this Cypriot initiative without giving an explanation why Greece did not do the same thing. Nicosia resorted to the International Court of Justice, this time Cyprus sought asylum to protect its rights. Cyprus President Nikos Anastasiades said that his country is determined and committed to protecting its sovereign rights by all possible legal means. Cyprus went to the International Court in The Hague after the Turkish embassy in Athens refused to receive a memorandum of protest from Nicosia over the exploration and exploration operations carried out by Ankara off the coast of Cyprus.
As a result of this refusal to resort to the Court of Justice, it is the latest in a series of Cypriot moves to stop Turkish practices, which affect their rights and those of other countries in the Eastern Mediterranean region. The Cypriot move comes hours after the European Union asked Turkey to hand over a copy of the border demarcation memorandum it signed with the Libyan reconciliation government, an agreement that sparked regional concern and anger. A statement by the European Union clarified that the terms of the memorandum were not published to the public, and that clarifications are needed regarding them.
Turkey has the longest mainland coastline by the Eastern Mediterranean region and underlined that Turkey’s policy is based on the principles stating that the islands lying on the wrong side of the median line between two mainlands cannot create maritime jurisdiction areas beyond territorial waters and coasts' length and direction should be taken into account in delineating maritime jurisdiction areas.
The Mavi Vatan [Blue Homeland] doctrine was first laid out in June 2006 by Admiral Ramazan Cem Gürdeniz during a symposium at the Turkish Naval Forces Command Centre. A classic anti-Western and ultranationalist, Gürdeniz is obsessed with Turkey’s maritime supremacy in areas marked out by Mavi Vatan and eventually beyond. Turkey’s effort to project power in the Gulf and Red Sea with military bases in Qatar and Somali, and a planned naval base on Sudan’s Suakin Island are the next steps in this doctrine. For now, Gürdeniz’s vision of Turkey’s maritime jurisdiction includes extensive areas of the Black, Mediterranean and Aegean seas. “The surface of this homeland, its water body, its seabed and the landmass under the seabed are ours. The size of this homeland is equal to half of our landmass,” he said.
Turkey claims it has a maritime border with Egypt and the only way to claim this is to insist that Greece has no maritime border with Cyprus. Greece is an intrinsic part of the Mediterranean and since ancient times has maintained strong and unbroken bonds with the peoples and countries of the region. As a European coastal country in the Eastern Mediterranean, Greece – which sees the Mediterranean as a sea of communication, trade and cooperation – plays an active, substantial and leading role in the wider region, pursuing the promotion of actions, programmes and synergies in all sectors.
Greece supported the Union for the Mediterranean (EfM) – the new EU institutional framework for Euro-Mediterranean cooperation, adopted at the Paris Summit Meeting (13 July 2008) – from the very outset and participates actively in setting up EfM Secretariat, in which it is represented on the level of Deputy Secretary General for Energy.
At the end of February 2019, Turkish naval forces began a military exercise code-named for the first time “Mavi Vatan” in these areas and Defence Minister Hulusi Akar also mentioned Mavi Vatan for the first time in an address to mark Victory Day on 30 August 2019. More recently, in early September, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, visiting the University of National Defence, created after the attempted coup d’état of July 2016, gave a speech in front of the map of the Mavi Vatan. Blue Homeland 2019 was Turkey’s largest naval exercise in the country’s history, testing its ability to wage war simultaneously in the Black Sea, Aegean Sea and Eastern Mediterranean. The exercise was designed to build confidence and stability throughout Turkey and to contribute to NATO’s common objectives and should therefore be analysed in a wider context.
Gürdeniz’s ideas have been developed in a 528-page book, “Writings about Blue Homeland”, as well as his regular column in the left-wing ultranationalist Aydinlik newspaper. He also heads a research centre, the KU Maritime Forum, at the highly respected Koç University.
Alternate Minister of Foreign Affairs Miltiadis Varvitsiotis made the following statement after the 10 December 2019 meeting of the EU General Affairs Council: “In the General Affairs Council we discussed the draft conclusions of the upcoming EU Summit Meeting. This draft includes express reference to the fact that the memorandum between Turkey and Libya produces no legal effect. We presented Turkey’s overall conduct during recent months – conduct that is causing insecurity in the wider region. Our partners’ clear stance of solidarity with Greece and Cyprus is a clear European response to Turkey’s provocations."
On April 30, 1982, in New York, Turkey was one of four countries that did not sign the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS III). Turkey denies the existence of the EEZ concept. Turkey argued unsuccessfully that islands are not entitled to a continental shelf/EEZ. Turkey argues that the islands which lie on the opposite side of the median line between two mainlands cannot create maritime jurisdiction areas. Turkey also highlights the importance of comparative coastal lengths and the principle of equitable delimitation. Accordingly, it argues that the Greek islands and the western front of Cyprus should not be given any maritime jurisdiction other than territorial waters. Turkey claims it has maritime borders with Egypt and Libya, and the only way to claim this is to insist that Greece has no maritime border with Cyprus.
The Government of Turkey has not accepted the proposal of Greek governments since July 1974 to refer the Aegean dispute to the International Court of Justice (ICJ). Turkey reached an agreement on the delimitation of the EEZ with the former Soviet Union which used the equidistance method. Turkey came to a similar agreement with Bulgaria and Romania concerning the delimitation of their respective EEZs in the Black Sea.
In Spring 2012, the Turkish government granted exploration licenses to the Turkish state oil company. Among the areas the Turks allocated to TPAO were some on to the Greek continental shelf south of Rhodes and Kastelorizo. To protect and safeguard the Greek sovereign rights, the Greek Foreign ministry gave a verbal note to the UN to ensure that Turkey's unilateral action to baptize areas of the Greek continental shelf as Turkish would not produce create a fait accompli.
After the 2016 coup, President Erdogan decided to pull out of a drawer, all of Turkey's long-standing national aspirations. Turkey aimed for the partition of the Aegean along the 25th meridian. The "Blue Homeland Theory" [mavi anavatan] was coined by Admiral Jihad Yajj. This idea was put forward by Ankara in order to challenge the rights of Greece and Cyprus in the Aegean and the Eastern Mediterranean. Indifferent to International Law and the 1982 UNCLOS Treaty, Turkey bases its claims to this maritime area of about 465,000 square kilometers on the idea that the islands of the Aegean and the Eastern Mediterranean have no shelf or EEZ.
In September 2019, Turkey’s president Recep Tayyip Erdogan revealed his vision of the new borders of Turkey with a Blue Motherland map. The Turkish President appeared with the map at his back while he was signing the visitors’ book at the National Defense University on 02 September 2019. On 13 November 2019 Turkey submitted a letter to the United Nations presenting Ankara’s "Blue Motherland” idea.
In 2019 Turkey's defense minister Akar published maps showing that the Turkish and Libyan EEZs were in contact, with Greece stealing part of the Libyan EEZ. Turkey and Libya’s internationally recognized government signed an agreement 28 NOvember 2019 on maritime boundaries in the Mediterranean Sea. The agreement was signed at a meeting in Istanbul between Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan and Fayez al-Serraj, the head of the Tripoli-based government which Ankara is backing against a rival military force based in eastern Libya.
As the Turkish daily Yeni Safak says in its front page, "On the table the map of the Mediterranean". As shown in the map published by "Yeni Safak", Turkey wants its continental shelf to start a breath away from the Lasithi coast in Crete. "By agreement, Greece's attempt to invade the Mediterranean will fall into disrepair, while Turkey and Libya will acquire maritime powers in the south of Crete and around Cyprus," the pro-government daily said, adding that "following developments in the East The need for demarcation of maritime zones between Turkey and Libya is even more urgent in the Mediterranean." The signature of the memorandum was welcomed by the rest of the Turkish press today with headlines such as "We became neighbors with Libya" and "End to Greek occupation", after - as it is stressed - the Libyan government has agreed to "marry" its EEZ with that Turkey.
On 05 December 2019 the Turkish Parliament ratified the memorandum of Understanding with the Tripoli-based Government of National Accord. The agreement was denounced by the Government of East Libya led by General Hafter. The Agreement was renamed a Memorandum in order to avoid ratification by the Libyan Parliament that disagreed with it. The deal establishes 18.6 nautical miles of a continental shelf and Exclusive Economic Zone boundary line between Turkey and Libya, as shown in a map tweeted by Turkish Foreign Minister diplomat responsible for maritime issues.
“With this new agreement between Turkey and Libya, we can hold joint exploration operations in these exclusive economic zones that we determined. There is no problem,” Erdogan said 10 November 2019. “Other international actors cannot carry out exploration operations in these areas Turkey drew [up] this accord without getting permission. Greek Cyprus, Egypt, Greece and Israel cannot establish a gas transmission line without first getting permission from Turkey,” he added.
Cem Gürdeniz argued "In the first quarter of the 20th century, we were confronted with the Treaty of Sevres, which aimed at breaking up the Turkish presence in the motherland. Now, in the first quarter of the 21st century, we are confronted with the second Sèvres, targeting the Blue Homeland... "
European officials on 23 July 2020 warned Turkey against pursuing a survey mission looking for gas reserves near Greek islands in the eastern Mediterranean. Greece and Cyprus accused Turkey of undermining their sovereignty by continuing to pursue energy resources within their territorial waters. "The government is underlining to all parties that Greece will not accept a violation of its sovereignty and will do whatever is necessary to defend its sovereign rights," said Greek government spokesman Stelios Petsas. French President Emmanuel Macron had called for sanctions against Turkey, saying it is "not acceptable for the maritime space of a European Union member state to be violated or threatened."
Turkey has rejected claims that its energy-related activities in the region are transgressing Greek or Cypriot sovereignty. Instead, the Turkish government has claimed that it is well within its right — or those of Turkish Cypriots — to explore areas claimed by Cyprus and Greece. "We want all natural resources in the eastern Mediterranean to be shared fairly," said Turkish presidency spokesman Ibrahim Kalin. "We will never accept threats or sanctions. We do not accept Greece's maximalist position."
US officials chided Turkey for pursuing the mission despite several warnings. "I want to echo the clear message from Washington and elsewhere in Europe, urging Turkish authorities to halt operations that raise tensions in the region, such as plans to survey for natural resources in areas where Greece and Cyprus assert jurisdiction in the eastern Mediterranean," said US Ambassador to Greece Geoffrey Pyatt.
Turkish survey ship Oruc Reis's mission remains "valid and effective," according to the port in which it is currently anchored off of. Its mission is likely to run through to August 2. Oruç Reis' fields of activity, which can collect other geophysical data (gravity and magnetic) at the same time, performs the exploration of oil, natural gas and mining potential in the sea.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said on 25 July 2020 that Turkey laid no territorial claims on other countries’ land, nor natural resources, “but we do not allow anyone to interfere with our interests and our rights. Speaking during the inauguration of a road in Amasya, Erdogan said, “We know that in the last few days the cause of some noise in some countries is not the Hagia Sophia and the Eastern Mediterranean but in fact, it is the Turkish nation and the presence of Muslims in this region.” The Turkish president further said that Turkey will reply to those who are against its rights “in the field of action.”
Turkey had issued a NAVTEX saying that research vessel Oruc Reis will drill for hydrocarbons in the area southeast of Kastellorizo from July 24 until August 2, an area within Greece’s territorial waters. As of 25 July 2020 there were signs of a gradual de-escalation in the Aegean, with military sources saying some Turkish Navy ships are returning to their base instead of moving towards Greece’s continental shelf.
France will increase its military presence in the eastern Mediterranean, President Emmanuel Macron said on 12 August 2020, calling on Turkey to halt oil and gas exploration in disputed waters, an act that has heightened tensions with Greece. The French leader voiced concern over "unilateral" exploration by Turkey in a call with Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis, Macron's office said in a statement. It added that prospecting should "cease in order to allow a peaceful dialogue" between the neighbouring NATO members.
The standoff deepened with the arrival of Turkish seismic research vessel Oruc Reis in a disputed area of the Mediterranean, accompanied by warships. The French armed forces ministry said that France will send two Rafale fighter jets and the naval frigate 'Lafayette' to the eastern Mediterranean as part of plans to increase its military presence in the region.
Turkey has the power to discard maps or documents imposed on the country, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said 05 September 2020. "They will understand that Turkey has political, economic, military might needed to cast off immoral maps and documents imposed by others," Erdogan said. He said that the alliance established against Ankara knows what Turkey is capable of. "At every opportunity, we express that Turkey is ready for an equal share as long as it is just and fair. But the problem is our counterparts do not recognise our rights," he said, adding that "either they will understand this through political and diplomatic talks, or they will understand this through a painful experience." Forces of Turkey and the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus (TRNC) started an annual five-day military drill, Turkey’s Defence Ministry has said. The drill in the TRNC the Martyr Captain Cengiz Topel Mediterranean Storm Exercise was named after a Turkish Air Force pilot martyred during Turkey’s peace operation after the inter-communal conflict on the island in 1964. The Greek government welcomed a Turkish survey vessel’s return to port 13 September 2020 from a disputed area of the eastern Mediterranean that has been at the heart of a summer stand-off between Greece and Turkey over energy rights. The Oruc Reis research ship returned to near the southern Turkish port of Antalya for the first time in more than a month after Turkey announced in July that it was dispatching a vessel to work in waters that Greece claims are its exclusive jurisdiction.