Two immediate steps Turkey has to take in order to protect its legitimate rights in the eastern Mediterranean Sea are declaring its own economic exclusive zones (EEZ) without delay and signing a maritime demarcation agreement with Libya, a senior military official and an expert on maritime law has suggested, informing that these moves would increase its EEZ up to 189,000 kilometers square against Greece and Greek Cyprus’ attempts to keep it around four times smaller.
“The purpose of Greece and the Southern Cyprus Greek Administration [SCGA] is to limit Turkey’s EEZ to around the Gulf of Antalya. Turkey, as a littoral state with the longest shore in the eastern Mediterranean, should never abandon its rights and the rights of the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus [TRNC],” Rear Admiral Cihat Yaycı said at a panel held at Ankara University last week. Yaycı, who is an expert on maritime law, expressed his views in his capacity as a scholar.
Turkey is the only country that has not declared EEZ in the eastern Mediterranean and has not signed any maritime demarcation agreement with any littoral country except for the TRNC, Yaycı recalled.
Greek Cyprus, however, declared its own EEZ in 2004, signed agreements with all littoral countries since the early 2000s, and created 13 blocks off the island to take benefit from newly found hydrocarbon reserves.
The tension in the area has recently escalated as the Greek Cypriot administration issued new licenses to international gas companies in disputed areas at the expense of drawing Turkey’s reaction.
Turkey has responded to the move by launching its own drilling activities in the western part of the island under the protection of the Turkish naval forces. The European Union and the United States stood with Greek Cyprus in this tension, with calls to Turkey for a halt of its activities in the said region.
“There are two immediate steps Turkey has to take: The declaration of its own EEZ and signing a maritime demarcation agreement with Libya,” he stressed. Turkey has long been drawing its maritime zones in the region by using vertical lines, and that was corresponding to demarcation agreements only with the Turkish Cypriot state and Egypt.
“However,” recalls Yaycı, “Turkey’s geographically inclined location stipulates its right to draw diagonal lines to determine its maritime zones and to sign demarcation agreements with Libya, Israel and Lebanon.”
That would narrow Greek Cyprus’ EEZ to the advantage of Israel and grant an additional area to Turkey. However, the problem in this scenario is the fact that Turkey’s relationship with both Egypt and Israel are very troubled and that there is no stable government in Libya to take this initiative.
There is even the worst scenario for Turkey. The already messy situation in the eastern Mediterranean would even get complicated if Greece signs maritime demarcation agreements with Egypt and Greek Cyprus. Greece has the intention to have the shores of its islands in the region from Crete to Meis (Kastelorizo in Greek) as a single and attached shoreline so that it could expand its maritime zone through agreements with Egypt and Greek Cyprus.
It’s no doubt that Turkey has been very late in taking effective steps in countering GreekCyprus’ moves to expand its maritime zones in the region. Plus, its current ties with the littoral countries as well as with the U.S. and the EU do not suggest an ideal situation for making its voice heard.
A recent naval deployment and mobility in these waters should be interpreted as part of Turkey’s defense diplomacy to let the international actors understand that it will not remain idle when its rights are ignored. However, Turkey is also aware that its actions to this end must be supported through political, economic and legal moves.