Our “Navtex” wars and the “Merkel” touch

The seismic research vessel Oruç Reis is now parked inside the port of Antalya. The magic behind the rapprochement is named “Merkel” — but the recent spike of the Euro (and the U.S. dollar) vis-à-vis the Turkish lira may have to do with the sudden change of hearts in Ankara.

We were friends, and now we are enemies. But we definitely have no chance of becoming frenemies. When we dislike each other, we really commit and go all the way — just as we do when we are friends. When we’re friends, there are no other best friends as close as us.

I am talking about Greece and Turkey. 

There are no “in-betweens” for Turkey and Greece: our relations are either really good or really bad. 

And now we are both literally in a war mood; luckily, the war is virtual in the form of clashes over Navigational Telex (Navtex). Back in June, I explained the Navtex clashes between Turkey and Greece as follows:

“Turkey instrumentalizes Navigational Telex (Navtex) to designate certain waters in Aegean as ‘restricted’ to conduct military exercises and carry out other military-related actions. In return, the Greek Navy does the same from time to time. All of this turns into a high-tension chess game between the two ‘NATO allies.’ Add Frontex and NATO vessels to the mix and it gets really spicy.”

So far, there has never been a true military confrontation between the two NATO members since the Navtex warfare started to flare up in 2018. First, it was just a few messages and restricted areas, but in 2020, just when the globe retreated into its individual oysters due to the coronavirus pandemic, Turkey and Greece discovered the adrenaline rush sparked by Navtex exchanges. 

To be fair, it was Turkey that initiated this fuming Navtex warfare — and Ankara did know how to annoy Greece.

One of the most tense moments took place at the end of May 2020: On the day of the “Conquest of Istanbul,” May 29, mosques across Turkey were opened up for prayers and the “Conquest Verse” from the Quran was recited at the Hagia Sophia. Yes, the Hagia Sophia that has since turned into a mosque on the anniversary of the Lausanne Treaty, July 24. 

If that much symbolism gives you a headache like it does to me, just wait. As I have written previously:

“On May 29 (the day of the Hagia Sophia saga), Turkey’s message from Navtex had embedded symbolism, as four areas were marked as restricted to the South of Crete with the names ‘Ne’, ‘Mutlu,’ ‘Türküm,’ ‘Diyene’ — meaning ‘Happy is the one who says I am a Turk.’ This is the famous motto taken from the 10th Anniversary Speech of Mustafa Kemal Atatürk. On the same day, the hydrocarbon research vessel ‘Oruç Reis’ was spotted within the boundaries of Greece’s continental shelf. Greek frigate HS Nikiforos Fokas was dispatched to the area to monitor its activity, but Oruç Reis returned back ‘due to bad weather.’”

Just as the shock of Hagia Sophia’s conversion into a mosque was rattling Greece, another Navtex move by Ankara popped up. On July 21, Turkish Naval Forces issued a Navtex declaring that the Oruç Reis, Ataman and Cengiz Han seismic survey vessels will be searching for hydrocarbon sources off the southern and eastern coasts of Kastellorizo (Meis) island. This is an area that was effectively blocked by Turkey’s previous Navtexes and constitutes a large area up until the coast of Rhodes. Upon the issuing of the recent Navtex, Greek media was flashing with the breaking news that 15 military vessels had taken off from the Aksaz Naval Base at Marmaris to blockade the area. As all this militaristic news coincided with the flashy conversion ceremony of the Hagia Sophia: just imagine the dismal mood in Greece.

France plunged into the crisis right when it was at its peak. President Emmanuel Macron shared a Facebook message in Greek, giving its full support to Athens as well as Cyprus and calling for tough stances from the European Union against Turkey. As a reminder, Paris and Ankara are undergoing one of the worst lows in their own relationship mainly because of (but not limited to) the confrontation in the Libyan War.

And just as I was writing this article, the breaking news was that Turkey and Greece had resolved their differences and the recent Navtex crisis was over. The overnight magic that resolved the crisis is named Germany: Chancellor Angela Merkel intervened and convinced Ankara to back down from the escalation. 

The seismic research vessel Oruç Reis is now parked inside the port of Antalya, and Turkey’s Presidency Spokesman İbrahim Kalın signaled that hydrocarbon research activities would be paused for one month.

Kalın said that “Turkey could pause energy-exploration operations in the eastern Mediterranean Sea for a while pending talks with Greece as a constructive step with regards to Ankara’s relations with neighboring Athens,” and added that President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan personally requested that operations be put on hold as a constructive approach to negotiations.

As mentioned, the magic behind the rapprochement is named “Merkel” — but the recent spike of the Euro (and the U.S. dollar) vis-à-vis the Turkish lira may have to do with the sudden change of hearts in Ankara.

Germany, holding the rotating Presidency of the European Union Council, has already initiated a “secret” dialogue between Greece and Turkey. The secret became known to the public when Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu revealed that talks were on in mid-July.

This revelation was evidently stated in order to signal that Turkey holds the cards in the dialogue and wants to proceed at its own pace. Chancellor Merkel may give the green light to that, but will the Euro/TL exchange rate permit Turkey to really master the course?

September 29, 2021 A post-Merkel Turkey