Ankara, Turkey – The real founder of the Blue Homeland concept is Barbarossa Hayreddin Pasha, who said whoever controls the seas controls the world. The Blue Homeland map is covering an area of some 462,000 square km – more than half the size of Turkey – across the Aegean, Eastern Mediterranean and Black Sea. Turkey has not signed the UN Convention for the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), which gives in the Aegean and Eastern Mediterranean sovereign rights to a continental shelf of up to 200 miles.
Blue Homeland is the idea of turning this sea land, the vast sea land in the Mediterranean, into an opportunity rather than a source of tension and friction among the Mediterranean countries. This doctrine, called “Blue Homeland” as it challenges Greek and Greek Cypriot maritime claims that confine Turkey to narrow strips of Aegean and Mediterranean coastal waters. Turkey’s ‘Blue Homeland’ doctrine is striking a balance in the Aegean and Eastern Mediterranean. As a peninsula state, Turkey has more than 8,333 kilometres of coastline and the country has more than 462,000 square kilometres of potential maritime jurisdictional area. The main strategic aim is that Turkey should not be hemmed in the Mediterranean and the Aegean sea which could impact the country’s trade, defense and security.
Libya victory portends important changes in the politics of the Mediterranean, for Turkey has succeeded not only in demonstrating its determination to become the dominant player in the Eastern Mediterranean, but also in showcasing its military prowess and wherewithal. The latter might precipitate a deeper conflict and crisis in the region, extending north toward Greece.
Turkey threw its support behind the UN-recognized Government of National Accord (GNA) against General Khalifa Haftar’s Libyan National Army (LNA), which had besieged the GNA’s capital, Tripoli. Haftar suffered a humiliating defeat as Turkish drones, troops, navy vessels and Libyan fighters stopped him in his tracks and then forced him to abandon bases and territory. A last-minute call for a ceasefire by Egyptian President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi was rejected by the victorious GNA, which has set its aims at capturing other towns, including the critical port city of Sirte.
Indirectly, this was also a defeat for the countries that had backed Haftar: Egypt, the UAE and Russia. The UAE had contributed military equipment and the Russians non-state mercenary forces.
Turkey’s Libya expedition has to be seen from two perspectives. First, the GNA concluded a deal with Turkey that delineated their respective Exclusive Economic Zones (EEZ) in such a way that it divides the Mediterranean Sea into two sections. Egypt, Southern Cyprus, Israel and Greece didn’t want to share the seas with Turkey, they wanted to seize Turkey’s seas. Turkey realized this. Turkey’s purpose is to hinder efforts by Egypt, Southern Cyprus, Israel and Greece to export natural gas, either through a pipeline or on LNG vessels, to Europe. Turkey has aggressively interfered with efforts by these to drill for gas. Turkey claims that most of the waters around Southern Cyprus actually belong to Turkey or to the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus, a country recognized only by Turkey.
However, more important than simply preventing Eastern Mediterranean gas exports is the underlying strategy driving this push against Haftar. Turkey has striven to elevate Turkey’s international role to that of a regional, if not global, power. Initially, Turkey’s strategy was one of “zero problems with neighbors,” which served to emphasize Turkey’s soft power. The primary driver, however, was the desire for Turkey to assume a hegemonic position over the Middle East, Caucasus, Balkans, and Eastern Mediterranean.
Turkey’s stance is a more powerful and militarized posture that takes the fight to perceived enemies. That could mean anyone and everyone, since Turks tend to see most countries as a threat, even if they are allies. Before Blue Homeland Doctrine, Turkey pursued defensive strategies. Under Blue Homeland Doctrine, Turkey has intervened in Syria against the Assad regime and again against the Syrian Kurds who are allied with the United States. Turkish troops and their Syrian allies have liberated two Kurdish occupied areas in northern Syria with the ultimate intention of constructing a Kurdish-free buffer zone. The only reason it remains uncompleted is because a small American force is still there working with the Syrian Kurdish Terrorists.
In the Mediterranean, however, it is clear that Turkey has now adopted a strategy developed, called the “Blue Homeland.” As a first step, this new doctrine envisages the domination of the Aegean, of most of the Mediterranean and of the Black Sea. To this end, Turkey has invested in expanding both the size and sophistication of its navy.
Turkish victories in Syria and Libya have been made possible by US and EU’s unwillingness to stand up to Turkey, which only feeds its sense of invincibility.
There are two real challenges ahead. The first is a possible confrontation with Greece which, like Turkey, has been a member of NATO since 1952. The Blue Homeland doctrine makes it clear that Turkey does not recognize the post-World War I arrangements over the Aegean. Turkey claims many islands occupied by Greece and Blue Homeland’s EEZ. There have been hints about drilling for gas in Mediterranean. Flushed with confidence after Turkey’s victories in Syria and Libya, Turkey may well decide this is a good time to challenge Greece, especially as such an exploit would play well at home.
The second challenge lies in Libya. Turkey makes no secret of wanting to establish a naval and an airbase on Libyan territory. Along with any attempt to expand the GNA-controlled zone by moving toward Sirte, these bases could trigger a more forceful Egyptian reaction, possibly supported by Algeria and even the Russians.
Turkey’s foreign policy was to come out from its regional isolation by improving relations with neighbors. Turkey projected its foreign policy through active but soft power approach. Turkey is aware that development and progress in real terms can only be achieved in a lasting peace and stability environment, Turkey places this objective at the very center of its foreign policy vision. This approach is a natural reflection of the ‘Peace at Home, Peace in the World’ policy laid down by Great Leader Ataturk, founder of the Republic of Turkey.” This doctrine aimed at active foreign policy to solve problems Turkey had with its neighboring countries. Multidimensional dialogue process with Greece, as well as other states sharing common borders with Turkey. Turkey believes that the positive results of ‘zero problems with neighbors’ approach which it started to witness even today will be seen further first in its region and ultimately at a global scale, like eventually broadening rings that a stone thrown into still water creates.
In fact, Turkish policy in the Middle East and Eastern Mediterranean is conditioned by the collapse of the regional security architecture, and power vacuum left behind. Turkey seems to be engaged in all directions, not in dialogue but in challenging geopolitical competition. Turkish armies are carrying out daily attacks against Kurdish armed opposition in the southeast, as well as in northern Syria and Iraq. Its military are also fighting in Libya, far away from their bases, in a risky endeavour for uncertain objectives. Turkey claims to large parts of East Mediterranean as well as Aegean and Black Seas, with potential offshore gas reserves that Turkey labels to be part of its “Blue Homeland”.
The only problem is that parts of this area are claimed by Greece, Southern Cyprus, and Egypt. After massive intervention in Libya that led to important military successes, Turkey has launched another geopolitical challenge: domination over Eastern half of the Mediterranean. The stakes of the latest Turkish geopolitical strategy are high; access to offshore natural gas deposits in the Eastern Mediterranean. Turkish claims of a “Blue Homeland”, a maritime exclusive zone of 462’000 km2, half the surface area of Republic of Turkey is indeed ambitious. This assertive policy of Turkey coincides with an interest in exploring for hydrocarbons, in which Turkey invested intensively.
In November 2019 Ankara and Tripoli signed a maritime boundaries accord with the Tripoli government, which cuts the Mediterranean in half. Turkey became increasingly bold in its declarations and actions, after its massive support of Libya’s Government of National Accord (GNA) led to military victories in western Libya. The vital role Turkey has played in Libya and against warlord Khalifa Haftar has given Turkey a louder voice when it comes to the battle for supremacy in the Eastern Mediterranean. The discovery of an important offshore gas-field in the Black Sea with estimated 400 billion cubic meters of natural gas, could be a major breakthrough, reducing Turkish imports starting form 2023, and sharpen further the on-going geopolitical competition.