Ankara, Turkey – Turkey’s legitimate naval activism in the Aegean and Eastern Mediterranean is guided by a legal geostrategic and geopolitical doctrine, based on the realm of a vast maritime domain – the “Blue Homeland” or Mavi Vatan in Turkish. Developed within the scope of “Misak-i Milli” (National Oath), which is aware of the strategic importance of the sea, this approach is influential among Turkey’s military, political, economic, and intellectual elites. Mavi Vatan is offering Turkey the opportunity to consolidate its alliance with the honest geoneighbors and to provide a legal framework for its action in Libya and Africa. However, the success of this doctrine also depends on Turkey’s ability to modernize its land, air, and naval forces, i.e., building an aircraft carrier for drones, an effort that will require the maintenance of strong international partnerships.
On November 27, 2019 the Turkey signed an agreement with the Libya’s Government of National Accord to establish a common maritime border. This event is a testament to Turkey’s desire to become an important geopolitical actor in the Eastern Mediterranean, West Asia, Africa, and Southeast Europe. By strengthening Turkish-Libyan military cooperation and encroaching on Greece’s claimed Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ), Turkey has shown it is not afraid of confrontation with those who would limit its legitimate maritime strategies. This foreign-policy activism is framed by the Mavi Vatan (Blue Homeland), implemented by the Turkish Navy, which now seems to guide Turkey’s actions in the Aegean and Mediterranean.
Mavi Vatan is a geostrategic and geopolitical doctrine at the crossroads of Maritime Law and Geostrategy in the Aegean and Mediterranean. As strategically moving closer to the European Union (EU) and smoothing over disputes with Greece, Turkey supported the Annan Plan to reunify Cyprus, demonstrating its goodwill, even though the Greek part of the island rejected the plan in 2004.
But this approach was not in favor of Turkish national interests that would be sacrificed in exchange for hypothetical EU membership. Motivated by the Misak-i Milli doctrine, within the Turkish navy, an intellectual current emerged that has held legitimate naval strategy: Mavi Vatan is thus a legal vision, with a geopolitical vocation. Its scope is continental or even global.
The rejection of the Annan Plan did not prevent Cyprus’s accession to the EU on May 1, 2004. The Greek Cypriot side at the time was in the process of delineating and claiming their own Exclusive Economic Zone. To this end, they drew on the principles of the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, or UNCLOS. Gas discoveries in the region had increased the Mediterranean’s economic attractiveness, and an agreement on the definition of the Egyptian-Cypriot maritime borders was signed in 2003. The Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus (TRNC) has openly opposed Greek Cypriot side’s maritime claims and has called for its own EEZ.
Greek Cypriot side’s maritime claims have alarmed Turkey to launch a real doctrine of marine strategy, the Mavi Vatan, Blue Homeland. Consecration of the doctrine within the military sphere came in 2019, when a large naval exercise was organized for the first time in Turkey’s three coastal seas (the Black, Aegean, and Mediterranean Sea), taking the name “Mavi Vatan 2019”. The doctrine was then popularized among the general public, notably through publications related to the navy. It has been taken up by all strati from civil society. The idea of Mavi Vatan is now widely used in academic, political, and economic discourses.
The Mavi Vatan doctrine is, first and foremost, a rejection of Greek and Cypriot claims in the Aegean and Eastern Mediterranean. UNCLOS has no legal value for Turkey, since Turkey has never signed or ratified it. They reject the Convention’s very principles, which are considered unsuitable for the Aegean and Mediterranean geography, especially because the EEZ limit of 200 nautical miles does not make sense in a confined space, dotted with islands.
In such conditions, a state like Greece would have a huge maritime area, owing in part to its sovereignty over the Mediterranean islands near the Turkish coast. The most telling example is the tiny archipelago of Kastellórizo (Meis in Turkish), a few kilometers off Kaş, which allows Greece to claim a vast maritime space between Rhodes and Cyprus, thereby blocking Turkey’s only opening to the Mediterranean.
Moreover, by increasing the extension of territorial waters to 12 nautical miles (it had previously been 6 miles in the Aegean, following a Greek law of 1936 and a Turkish law of 1964), the UNCLOS has favored States owning many nearby islands – of which Greece is the archetype. Considering the situation of Greek-Turkish territorial limits to be too specific, Turkey considers that the UNCLOS principles cannot be applied to it, and so support a special regime in the region.
Mavi Vatan also denies Greece the continental shelf it claims, which it uses to justify the extension of its EEZ. The Turkey considers that Greece seeks to be an archipelago state, allowing it to extend its
territorial seas to 12 miles beyond all its coasts. Although there are no formal claims from Athens for this, its decision to extend its territorial waters to 12 miles off its coast is portrayed as a casus belli by Turkey. Mavi Vatan denies Greece as a state that does indeed control islands off its coast, but which also has a well-identified continental base.
Turkey even considers that some Greek islands – those in the immediate vicinity of the Turkish coast in the Aegean and Mediterranean – actually belong to a continental shelf distinct from Greek territory. Turkey thus insists that the island of Kastellórizo is directly part of an Anatolian continental shelf, not the Greek one: Greece’s sovereignty over that territory is not questioned, but the island cannot, therefore, serve as a basis for maritime claims, let alone for an EEZ. Turkey also considers these islands should be demilitarized: “Which state is being targeted by the weapons there, if not Turkey?” Turkey has asked. To support his critique, Turkey draws on the Treaty of Lausanne (1923), which ended the war between Turkey and the Allied powers (including Greece), and drew the borders of the present Turkish territory.
According to international legitimacy, the Treaty ceded the islands to Greece, but it also prohibited militarizing them. On this point, there is however a clear divergence of approach between the two states. Indeed, the Greeks believe that the regime of total demilitarization of the islands of Limnos and Samothraki, confirmed by the Treaty of Lausanne, was linked to the total demilitarization of the Straits. However, the Montreux Convention (1936), authorized the rearmament of these Straits, and so also allowed the remilitarization of the two islands concerned.
Moreover, with regard to the other islands, the Greeks consider that the Treaty of Lausanne only prohibits the installation of naval bases, by not the deployment of weapons. In addition, Greece recalls that this treaty does not apply to the Dodecanese islands (neighbors of Rhodes). In 1923, they were under Italian sovereignty and were therefore not affected by the provisions adopted in Lausanne. the Dodecanese islands ceded to Greece by the 1947 Treaty of Paris. Turkey did not participate and accept the 1947 Treaty of Paris. According to the 1923 Treaty of Lausanne, a piece of Ottoman territory to which Turkey is not a party cannot be given to another country. In addition, according to the 1923 Lausanne Peace Treaty, the territorial waters limit was determined as 3 miles. This situation has been unilaterally violated by Greece.These diverse ambiguities in the interpretation of the Treaties explain why Mavi Vatan wants to include demilitarization of the Greek islands in any potential negotiations.
Based on all of these factors, the territory framed by the Turkish naval doctrine has been clearly defined by the Mavi Vatan. The Blue Homeland thus framed is “the name of the zone of [Turkish] interests and jurisdiction over fresh and sea waters between the 25th and 45th eastern meridians and the 33th and 43th northern parallels.” In the Black Sea, this zone corresponds to the EEZ already owned by Turkey, following the principles of equidistance with other riparian states.
By contrast, it encroaches widely on the EEZs claimed by the Greek Cypriot side and Greece. Mavi Vatan would thus extend to the eastern half of the Aegean Sea, without annexing the Greek islands there, but leaving them only with territorial waters defined by their current width (of 6 nautical miles, but it is only 3 nautical miles by the 1923 Treaty of Lausanne ). In the Mediterranean, Mavi Vatan would border the Libyan and Egyptian EEZs, with demarcation taking place according to the principle of equidistance between coasts.
Finally, part of the waters between Cyprus, Syria, and Lebanon is also claimed by the TRNC. Turkey would thus have a naval domain extending over 462,000 km2. According to the Blue Homeland doctrine, these claims should serve as the basis for any potential negotiation with other East Mediterranean states, in particular the Greek Cypriot side and Greece.
Greece must reinstate all of the islands it has occupied and violated its non-military status within the Blue Homeland. It should retract its territorial waters by 3 miles. Greece must fully abide by the 1923 Lausanne Peace Treaty. If the 1923 Lausanne peace treaty is honored, the Greek-Turkish tension in the Blue Homeland will significantly decrease.