Turkey says 'no concessions' in east Mediterranean row

By: AFP      Published: 04:00 PM, 26 Aug, 2020
Turkey says 'no concessions' in east Mediterranean row

President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Wednesday warned Turkey would make "no concessions" in the eastern Mediterranean and told Greece to avoid taking steps that could lead to its "ruin".

His remarks come just hours after Athens said it would launch military exercises Wednesday with France, Italy and Cyprus in the region, where tensions between the two neighbours have escalated in recent weeks.

"In the Mediterranean, Aegean and Black Sea, Turkey will get what is rightfully ours," Erdogan said in the eastern province of Mus on the anniversary of the 1071 Battle of Malazgirt where pre-Ottoman tribes defeated the Byzantines.

The victory has been celebrated with increasing fervour in modern Turkey in recent years, and this year was no different with a socially-distanced audience listening to Erdogan. 

"We don't have our eye on someone else's territory, sovereignty and interests, but we will make no concessions on that which is ours," he said in the televised speech. 

"We invite our counterparts to change their ways and avoid wrongs that will be the path to ruin," Erdogan added in pointed remarks to NATO ally Greece.

"We want everyone to see Turkey is no longer a country whose patience, determination, means and courage will be tested. If we say we will do something, we will do it, and we will pay the price," he said.

Greece and Turkey are already divided on significant issues including migration and Byzantine heritage in Istanbul, formerly Constantinople.

But the discovery of hydrocarbon reserves in the eastern Mediterranean has further strained relations, with Turkey rejecting calls from the EU and Athens to immediately stop energy exploration in the region.

Turkey sent the Oruc Reis research vessel accompanied by warships to disputed waters on August 10. Its activities were meant to end on last Sunday but were extended to Thursday.

Germany has led the charge in Europe to defuse tensions, dispatching its foreign minister to Ankara and Athens on Tuesday to resolve the issue through dialogue.

Both sides said they were open to dialogue after talks with the German minister, and there will be an informal EU foreign ministers' meeting in Berlin on Thursday and Friday.

Greece, Cyprus, Italy, France hold military exercises

Greece said it will launch military exercises Wednesday with France, Italy and Cyprus in the eastern Mediterranean, the focus of escalating tensions between Athens and Ankara.

The joint exercises south of Cyprus and the Greek island of Crete will last three days, the defence ministry said.

The discovery of major gas deposits in waters surrounding Crete and Cyprus has triggered a scramble for energy riches and revived old rivalries between NATO members Greece and Turkey.

Tensions ratched up another notch when Turkey sent the Oruc Reis research vessel accompanied by warships to disputed waters on August 10.

"Cyprus, Greece, France and Italy have agreed to deploy a joint presence in the eastern Mediterranean as part of the quadripartite cooperation initiative," the defence ministry said in a statement.

"The tensions and instability in the eastern Mediterranean have heightened disputes on issues concerning maritime space."

Turkey said on Tuesday it is ready for talks with Greece without preconditions over the row.

The olive branch came ahead of an informal EU foreign ministers' meeting in Berlin on Thursday and Friday at which Greece is expected to press the bloc to slap biting sanctions on its historic regional rival.

But EU nations would prefer to avoid irritating Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, and German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas shuttled between Athens and Ankara in a bid to temper the rhetoric and get talks back on track.

Maas, whose country holds the rotating EU presidency, told the two countries to defuse the row or risk sparking a "catastrophe".