Turkish Defense Minister Hulusi Akar declared on Friday that his country is determined to defend its rights to what it calls the “Blue Homeland,” referring to the Aegean by a name first used in 2020 by Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
In what appears to be another jab from Greece’s neighbor to the east after a year of almost never-ending incursions onto Greek waters and airspace, the Defense Minister invoked an expansionist doctrine which claims Turkish control over the eastern Aegean and the northern Mediterranean.
Referring to the Aegean as the “Sea of islands,” Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Wednesday stated in an address to his AKP Party in Istanbul that no one should be concerned about Turkish presence from the Black Sea to the Eastern Mediterranean.
“Determined and capable of defending our rights”
In Friday’s remarks, Akar stated “We have no claims on anyone’s land or sea. Nevertheless, we will not back down on our rights.
“We are determined and capable of defending our rights across the ‘Blue Homeland’ as well as Cyprus,” he added.
The Turkish FM also reiterated claims from earlier this week that aircraft from the Greek Air Force “harassed” the Turkish “hydrographic research vessel” the TCG Cesme as it sailed through northern Aegean waters.
Greek defense officials flatly denied any such action ever took place, saying their assets were not even in the area where the vessel was located.
“I am once again stressing that such behavior is far from a gesture of good neighborly relations,” Akar said on Friday.
Adding to the furor, Akar then linked Greece with attempting to link its ongoing issues with Turkey into confrontations between the EU and Turkey — and even the US and Turkey. “This is neither legal nor moral. It has no practical value whatsoever,” he said.
The history of the “Blue Homeland” claim and Turkish irredentism
The irredentist concept of a “blue homeland” claims that vast sections of the Aegean and Mediterranean seas, including Greek and Cypriot waters — and the oil and gas deposits under them — all belong to Turkey.
According to Aydan Erdemir and Philip Kowalski, who wrote about Turkish expansionism in September of 2020 in the online magazine War on the Rocks, the concept began “as a fringe idea among the anti-Western brass of the Turkish Navy.”
Aykan Erdemir, the senior director of the Turkey Program at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies is a former member of the Turkish Parliament.
Philip Kowalski is a research associate at the Turkey Program of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies.
Unfortunately, the writers say, the grandiose concept has become part of the popular nationalist scheme put forth by Erdogan.
“Concerted transatlantic strategy” needed
The writers posit that the Blue Homeland idea will continue to be a thorn in the side of Ankara’s diplomatic relations, since Erdoğan will find it hard to to step down from what they called the “maximalist claims he has personally cultivated.”
The writers add that the common tendency in the West to discount the Turkish president’s belligerence as posturing for his nationalist supporters, for domestic consumption only, is troubling.
Among other things, this has led, they believe, to a “failure to develop a concerted transatlantic strategy, and has provided Erdoğan with the time and opportunity to institutionalize his irredentist thinking.”
Without the needed pushback from the West, “Turkish foreign and security policy will reflect Erdoğan’s worldview for decades to come.”
Erdemir and Kowalski believe that it is high time that the United States and the EU work together to discourage the Turkish president from his continual destabilization of the NATO alliance.
In addition, they state, these nations have an obligation to support Turkey’s courageous pro-Western dissidents — and “amplify their voices in a media landscape almost entirely dominated by Erdoğan.
“Coordinating a Western response — while extremely difficult — is essential to mitigating the most damaging effects of current Turkish foreign policy,” they say.
“Blue Homeland” concept dates back to 2006
Ryan Gingeras explains in his War on the Rocks article that the origin of this Turkish concept comes from two secularist naval officers who later went on to be linked with the Maoist-rooted neo-nationalist “Homeland Party.”
Once a political opponent of the Turkish president’s party, the Homeland Party has since that time become allied with with the Justice and Development Party as Erdogan shored up his support across the political spectrum of the country.
According to Gingeras, Cem Gürdeniz, a retired Turkish rear admiral who is one of the architects of the concept, views the Ottoman failure to control the sea as the cause of the empire’s demise.
Over and above Greece and Cyprus, Gürdeniz ultimately believes that the concept of a blue homeland is also key for Turkey’s political and economic influence to spread across the entire region.
Spreading Turkish influence from North Africa to Persian Gulf
He apparently believes, according to Gingras, that “the Mediterranean is not sufficient for an expanding Turkey,” and he would like Ankara to take control of the “Persian Gulf, Sea of Oman, Arabian Sea, Red Sea, the Eastern waters of the Atlantic Ocean, (and) North Africa.”
Obviously this would be a way to establish complete dominance of the region but would mean a confrontation with Western powers.
Because of the draconian limitations on free speech in Turkey, especially since the aborted coup of 2016, dissenters are few and far between, but several politicians have spoken against the Blue Homeland concept publicly.
Former Ambassador and current lawmaker Ünal Çeviköz sharply criticized the government for what he called its “Neo-Ottomanist foreign policy.”
Former Turkish diplomat Aydın Selcen, who writes for one of the few remaining outlets in Turkey which dares to speak out against the Erdogan regime, warned recently that “Ankara appears to be in desperate need to have a mini armed conflict of sorts. It will be better for everyone in Brussels, Paris and Athens in my humble opinion not to play into Erdoğan’s hands.”
“Sea of Islands”
Erdogan referred to the Aegean Sea by the phrase “Sea of Islands” again just this past Wednesday, as he continued his provocative rhetoric against Greece before the restarting of Swiss talks on the future of Cyprus.
Speaking to a congress of his AKP party in Istanbul, Erdogan said that there should be no “concerns about Turkey’s presence from the eastern Mediterranean to the Black Sea, as well as in the Aegean, which old-timers called the Sea of Islands.”
He was referring to remarks by retired admiral, Cihat Yayci, one of the main architects of the “Blue Homeland” theory which envisions Turkish influence over vast swaths of the eastern Mediterranean.
Yaci has asked for the name of the Aegean to be changed, as it is Greek (the Turks call it “Ege”), and referred to it as the “Sea of Islands.”
Turkey will secure its rights “in all waters”
Erdogan stressed that Turkey will retain the right to have “a presence” in all the seas surrounding his country.
“We have a presence there with all our strength, with all our possibilities and we will continue to be there,” he declared, adding that Turkey will also secure all its rights “in all the waters that surround us.”
Erdogan went on to say that Turkey will strengthen its ties “with its brothers in the geographical areas within our cultural reach,” from the Balkans to the Caucasus and from Central Asia to Africa.
He also revisited the violent eviction of thousands of Greeks from Smyrna (modern-day Izmir) during the Greek-Turkish war of 1922.
“We spoiled their dreams then and we will do the same with similar dreams on our southeastern borders,” he said.