Turkey’s East Med dispute reminiscent of Ottoman Balkan War - former Turkish minister

Turkey’s current situation in the eastern Mediterranean crisis resembles the predicament the Ottoman Empire faced during the First Balkan War of 1912, former Turkish Foreign Minister Yaşar Yakış told Ahval Podcast.

The war ended in disaster for the Ottoman Empire, which lost over 80 percent of its European territories and almost 70 percent of its European population. 

“There is a cluster of accumulated problems for Turkey. This is an unfortunate development for Turkey at an already hard-pressed time like this,” Yakış, who served as foreign minister between 2002 and 2003, said.

"There were already a string of problems between Turkey and Greece stemming from the Aegean Sea.’’

Tensions are brewing in the eastern Mediterranean amid a dispute between Athens and Ankara over hydrocarbon resources.  

Greece and Turkey have long disagreed on overlapping claims on drilling rights in the region, with both sides holding conflicting views of how far their continental shelves extend in waters.

On Monday, Turkey dispatched the seismic survey vessel Oruş Reis to an area of sea claimed by both sides, saying it will operate there until the end of the month, in a move that has enraged Greece - prompting the country to request an emergency meeting of the European Union foreign affairs council.

At the crux of the current quagmire lies Turkey’s inability to get in on agreements regarding the eastern Mediterranean, the former minister said, pointing to Greece’s signing of a series of agreements with neighbouring countries in the Mediterranean.

“Turkey is now looking to disrupt what Athens has done,” Yakış said.

In January, Greece, Cyprus and Israel signed a deal to build a 1,900 km pipeline - dubbed the EastMed pipeline - to carry natural gas from the eastern Mediterranean to Europe. Greece also signed a maritime agreement with Egypt earlier this month.

Prior to the election of Egyptian President Abdul Fattah al-Sisi in 2014, experts in Turkey wanted to sign an agreement with Egypt, Yakış said, in a bid to draw maritime jurisdiction boundaries between the two countries. 

“Turkey even sent a delegation to Egypt and these experts carried out presentations in Egyptian parliament,” Yakış said. "But Turkey never prioritised this. And then the regime of (Muslim Brotherhood leader) Mohammed Morsi was toppled, Ankara never signed an agreement with Sisi’s government, as it considered the latter illegitimate.’’ 

Ankara’s inaction allowed Athens to take initiative in the region with Cairo, according to the former minister, and the Athens-Cairo agreement seeks to offset the corridor created in the east Mediterranean by Turkey.

“The real source of tension is actually the agreement signed between Libya and Turkey,” Yakış said, referring to a deal signed between Ankara and Libya’s internationally-recognised government in November, which established a new maritime zone that the EastMed pipeline would have to cross. 

The move - aimed to give Turkey more leverage over the project - has been met with international condemnation.

Turkey has effectively isolated itself in the region, Yakış said, pointing out that France has aligned itself with Greece while Germany has taken on a more cautious approach in carefully examining the conflict. 

“No matter what way you look at it, I am recalling the Balkan war of 110 years ago, when Turkey was at war with everyone,” Yavaş said.

The First Balkan war ended in 1913 when the Balkan states’ armies, including the Kingdoms of Bulgaria, Serbia, Greece and Montenegro, defeated the Ottoman forces.