Turkey's Maritime Geopolitics

Turkey's Maritime Geopolitics

14 May 19
On Wednesday May 8th, the Turkish Heritage Organization hosted Turkish Admiral Cem Gurdeniz, Director of Koc University Maritime Forum, for a conversation on Turkey’s Maritime Geopolitics at the National Press Club. 

Admiral Gurdeniz began his presentation with background information and an overview of the Black Sea Security. As outlined in his presentation, Turkey is uniquely positioned with 8334 KM of coastline. With maritime jurisdiction areas at over 426,000 KM2 and foreign trade dependence over the seas at 89% the topic of maritime security and geopolitics is an integral aspect of Turkish relations. 

Admiral Gurdeniz continued his presentation with a discussion on the Aegean Sea and the major maritime issues that plague the region including: the continental shelf, territorial waters, militarized islands, and islands whose sovereignty that have not ceded to Greece through treaties. 

Admiral Gurdeniz then discussed the topic of the Aegean Sea and mentioned, “after the Cyprus peace operations we have seen militarized islands contrary to international treaties.”  As mentioned in the presentation the Aegean Continental Shelf Crisis (174-1976/1987) centered on the discrepancies between the Greek and Turkish claims.  The nautical mile specifics were discussed and Admiral Cem Gurdeniz also mentioned “given the nautical mile consideration by Turkey and Greece, you cannot cross your merchant ships without risking being stopped by the Coast Guard.”

Admiral Gurdeniz also described the various aspects that influence the geopolitics of the region of the Mediterranean. Despite the fact that it is one of the smallest seas, it holds 30% of the world’s shipping, and 20% of the world’s seaborne oil shipping and over 80% of Turkish trade.  He then discussed that “the Eastern Mediterranean became a very complex region after Israel, Egypt, and Cyprus discovered gas fields in the seabed after the 1990’s.”  

The role of Turkish geopolitics in the Mediterranean as described by Admiral Gurdeniz include three dimensional security concerns including: Greek/EU challenges over Turkish maritime jurisdiction area, the potentiality of a so-called independent Kurdistan with free access to the Mediterranean sea, and the future of TRNC with geopolitical implications for Turkey (Guarantees Agreements).   The implementation of maritime jurisdiction areas with self-declared/EU imposed map of the Mediterranean Maritime delimitation initially originated from the University of Seville-Spain with mostly unfavorable Turkish EEZ borders. The presentation continued with the discussion of the oversized maritime are and demands of the Greek Cypriots with which Admiral Gurdeniz noted that they “do not have the authority to represent Turkish Cypriots.” Admiral Gurdeniz explained the challenges between the neighboring countries and stated that “in 2007 Greek Cypriots established licensed zones, some overlap with Turkish declared zones, this move has disregarded Turkish legitimate rights which has caused issues.”  

After delving more into the historical aspects of maritime geopolitics discussed the two Sevres treaties- one in 1920 which “carved out Motherland” and the second Sevres treaty in 2019 to “carve out Turkish Bluehomeland” which greatly influenced Turkish public opinion. Admiral Gurdeniz commented that “public opinion in Turkey is once again that other nations are attempting to carve out waters from within Turkish territory.” 

Admiral Gurdeniz concluded his presentation looking ahead for the future and predicted that “in the 21st century we will see a militarized Turkey” based on the “tectonic changes in the world order, and a good and mutually respectful relations with neighbors aiming peaceful coexistence as well as fair share of maritime domain.” The panel presentation concluded as Adm. Gurdeniz opened up the discussion to questions from the audience.

Turkey's Maritime Geopolitics