Turkey warns it will fight for 'blue homeland' during new round of talks with Greece

Ankara has also urged Athens to curb its expansionist behaviour in the Aegean and eastern Mediterranean

REUTERS/MURAD SEZER  -   The Turkish drillship Yavuz is escorted by the Turkish Navy frigate TCG Gemlik (F-492) in the eastern Mediterranean Sea off Cyprus.

Greece and Turkey held their 63rd round of talks in Ankara to address their long-standing standoff in the eastern Mediterranean. The meeting is the third to be held in 2021, following a meeting between the two countries in Istanbul in January and another in Athens in March.

Of the summit, which lasted less than two hours, the Greek media highlighted controversial statements by Omer Celik, spokesman for Recep Tayyip Erdogan's AKP party. Celik stressed that the maritime zones, which he called the "blue homeland", were "Turkey's red line and an integral part of our homeland". "We will fight for the blue homeland, and we will pay any cost," the spokesman warned. Blue homeland, or "Mavi Vatan", is a concept used by the Turkish government when referring to the maritime conflict with its neighbours. Celik used the meeting to call on his Greek and Cypriot neighbours to "abandon their expansionist behaviour in the Aegean and eastern Mediterranean"

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REUTERS/WILL RUSSELL -  Ömer Çelik, spokesman for Turkey's ruling AKP party

The recent incident involving the Greek Cypriot research vessel, which was harassed by Turkish army vessels while sailing in southwestern Cyprus, was discussed during the meeting. Celik also mentioned the French defence agreement with Athens, a pact that has not gone down well in Ankara as "a bilateral military alliance against Turkey".

"What you have to understand is that the countries you have mentioned will not be with you in your time of need, but Turkey, as your neighbour, has always been by your side in your time of need, and if you have problems, Turkey will be the first to respond," Celik explained to his Greek counterparts, as reported by Greek media outlet eKathimerini. 

PHOTO/Turkish Foreign Ministry via REUTERS - Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu and his Greek counterpart Nikos Dendias at a news conference in Ankara, Turkey April 15, 2021.

Celik was accompanied by Sedat Onal, deputy foreign minister, and Tsagatai Ercis and Baris Kalkavan, two Turkish diplomats with experience in matters related to Greek-Turkish disputes. The Greek delegation included Ambassador Pevlos Apostolidis, diplomat Haris Lalakos and Foreign Ministry Secretary General Evangelina Grammatika.

For the Greek side, the negotiations focus on maritime jurisdiction in the Aegean and eastern Mediterranean, while Turkey insists that all issues related to both countries are on the table, such as the demilitarisation of the Aegean islands. This issue came to the fore again shortly before the summit in Ankara, as Turkey's representative to the United Nations, Feridun Sinirlioglu, called on Athens to suspend militarisation on the islands. 

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EUROPEAN COUNCIL/DARIO PIGNATELLI - Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis

In addition to Sinirlioglu's statements, there have been several developments in recent months that have heightened tensions between Turkey and Greece. In July, Erdogan decided to reopen Varosha, a Cypriot district that had been closed since the 1974 war. This, in addition to creating controversy with Cyprus, also affected relations with Athens, which accused the Turkish president of "seeking to expand his occupation of the island in order to establish a new Ottoman authority".

Earlier in May, Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu visited the Greek part of Thrace, where a Muslim minority resides. Athens considers this community "Greek", while Turkey calls it "Turkish". "We urge Athens to stop denying the Turkish identity of our relatives living in the country and to implement the rulings of the European Court of Human Rights," Cavusoglu said.

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TURKISH FOREIGN MINISTRY / REUTERS - File photo,representatives of Greece and Turkey at a meeting to discuss maritime disputes between the two countries in March in Istanbul.

Such consultations began in Ankara on 12 March 2002 to lay the groundwork for a "just, permanent and comprehensive" solution to the Aegean problems. Almost two decades later, steps towards an understanding between Turkey and Greece have yet to be developed, while confrontation around the Mediterranean escalates.

Nor are these negotiations of a regular nature. According to Neakriti media, there were years in which more than 10 meetings were held, while in other years only one was held. On the other hand, from 2016 to January 2021, no such rapprochement took place.