The interview with Rear Admiral Cihat Yaycı, Chief of Staff of the Turkish Republic’s Naval Forces 2017-2020, originally appeared at Arms Exports 2021 #1, translated by AlexD exclusively for SouthFront.
How do you see the threats to Turkey’s maritime security in the near and long term?
Turkey has faced threats to its maritime security since the early years of the Republic. Although many issues relating to the Adalar (Aegean) Sea were resolved by the Lausanne Peace Treaty of 1923, Greece has, since 1936, evaded the treaty. Since then, Greece has continued to make unlawful demands on Turkey, contrary to international law. Accordingly, Greece has taken illegal steps, claiming EGAYDAAK (islands, islets and rocks whose sovereignty has not been transferred to Greece by treaties), extending territorial waters beyond what was established by the Lausanne Treaty and militarising islands that should have been in demilitarised status under the 1912-1913 London Conference, the 1923 Lausanne Peace Treaty and the 1947 Paris Peace Treaty. Moreover, Greece is the only country in the world whose airspace extends beyond the boundaries of its territorial waters! Let’s imagine together what I just said. Your ship can sail in international waters 6 nautical miles away from a Greek island, but you cannot lift a helicopter from it because Greek airspace extends beyond the boundary of Greek territorial waters – 10 nautical miles from the coastline – against all logic…
In addition, how the situation around the Adalar (Aegean) Sea is developing. Greece and its longstanding partner, the Greek Cypriot-formed government of Southern Cyprus, have attempted to impose the Seville Map on Turkey. The Seville Map was prepared by the University of Seville in the early 2000s with the support of the European Union. It aims to show the maritime space under the jurisdiction of the European Union Member States, including the so-called Southern Cyprus and Greek maritime space in the Eastern Mediterranean. The Seville Map shows that Greece and South Cyprus want to trap Turkey, the country with the longest coastline in the Eastern Mediterranean at 2,280 km, in Antalya Bay, which covers 41,000 square kilometres. Their main purpose is to erode, in violation of all principles of international and maritime law, the rights of other coastal states, including Turkey, to the maritime space under its jurisdiction. I have written many articles on how this Seville map allocates to Greece and southern Cyprus the maritime space of other coastal states, such as Libya, Egypt and Israel, that legally belong to them.
Despite the fact that Greece has no coastline in the eastern Mediterranean, the European Union and other states in the region (some of which are exposed to the destructive policies of South Cyprus and Greece) unfortunately continue to support Greece and South Cyprus’ illegal maximalist course in the eastern Mediterranean. Let us not forget that Greece is not an island state (archipelago state) but a mainland state with islands, which, in terms of international maritime law, are two very different realities.
Thus, Turkey faces a maritime threat in the Adalar (Aegean) Sea due to the revisionist and maximalist claims of Greece. The same can be said for the eastern Mediterranean, due to the joint maximalist aspirations of South Cyprus and Greece. It should be noted, however, that Turkey would not be a country to relinquish its maritime jurisdiction, and its rights are firmly established under international law.
In view of the deteriorating relations with Europe and the US, how to do you see Turkey’s prospects for cooperation with NATO? Should Turkey remain a member of NATO?
First, Turkey is a credible member of NATO. Turkey not only has the second largest army in NATO, but has also contributed greatly to the Alliance’s core objectives since joining in 1952. Turkey has participated in countless operational and combat training activities within NATO aimed at strengthening the Alliance and its identity as an organisation. As NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg has often stressed, we are one of the most important members of the alliance. In that sense, Turkey’s cooperation with NATO is an undeniable fact. I think that Turkey’s membership in NATO cannot be questioned in principle. Member states of an alliance may have different views and policies on different issues, but in essence any international organisation welcomes dissent and balances between poles of opinion in order to arrive at the position most agreeable to all its members.
Secondly, Russia benefits from having a friend like Turkey as a member of NATO. So, I would say that not only Turkey, but also its friends would benefit if Turkey stays in NATO. After all, Turkey is a stabilising element and helps maintain the balance of power in the region.
Does Turkey have plans to build a “long-range” oceanic fleet or will the Turkish Navy continue to be confined to the near seas?
Like any developed sovereign state, Turkey seeks to enhance the ability of its naval forces to be present in operationally important areas of the world’s oceans. Turkey is taking concrete steps towards realizing this objective. A number of shipbuilding programmes have been initiated, involving the design and construction of several types of warships by the Turkish shipbuilding industry. And it does not stop there; a huge effort is being made to develop the national scientific and technological base. The possession of a “long-range” ocean-going fleet will be the crowning achievement of this long process, which Turkey is willingly making every effort to realise. Thanks to the experience gained in the design and construction of domestic corvettes, frigates and most recently Turkey’s first light aircraft carrier/universal landing craft, Anadolu, Turkey is taking more than promising steps towards a “long-range” ocean-going fleet.
Is it in Turkey’s interest and plan to build larger aircraft carriers after the construction of the Anadolu-class destroyer?
Turkey seeks to have a fleet whose capabilities can be described as “a medium-sized fleet in terms of combat and strength, providing a presence in operationally important areas of the world’s oceans” (Medium Global Force Projection Navy). A fleet needs an aircraft carrier for such a level of naval warfare mechanism; and given the objectives of the Turkish state, an aircraft carrier is not only desirable, but mandatory. Furthermore, if Turkey had an aircraft carrier as part of its naval forces, it would have a more effective stabilising effect across the globe. Regardless of Turkey’s intention to build its own aircraft carrier, it could do without buying one for the time being.
Turkey intends to build its own [multipurpose] landing and/or aircraft-carrying ship in order to contribute to security, peace and stability in the global and regional dimensions. Turkey seeks to contribute to regional and global security. Let me stress: Turkey’s aspirations do not carry any aggressive intentions or threats. Turkey sincerely wishes to contribute to peace, security and stability in our region and around the world. As Ataturk, the founder of the Republic of Turkey, said, “Peace at home, peace in the world”. This is the credo of our state.
Turkey seeks to become self-reliant in the field of naval armaments. What are the future directions of this self-reliance?
Most people forget that the start of Turkish warship building based on the national science and production base dates back to the early 1990s. So the idea is not new. The MILGEM (national ship) programme was born out of this idea. Turkey’s aim was to develop its national warship capabilities in parallel with the development of competencies. The point at which the industry is at today looks very promising, with Turkey now not only building ships for its own needs but also exporting them. The product range is not limited to combat surface ships; it also includes patrol and missile boats, as well as Reis-type submarines, which are built at the domestic shipbuilding facility.
Other NATO member states are doing exactly what we are discussing here: France, the US, Germany, Italy, the UK and others have a national science and technology base to meet their own needs and foreign orders. In this sense, Turkey’s defence industry achievements are certainly not detrimental to its relations with NATO. This activity is driven not only by the desire to make a leap forward in strengthening Turkey’s national security, but also by the need to meet NATO standards. Turkey is a powerful and sovereign state and has the same rights as any other NATO member state that produces its own weapons. Again, this is an undeniable reality.
Turkey, however, strongly welcomes a joint approach to the development of sea- and air-launched weapons platforms.
What is Turkey’s maritime strategy?
Turkey’s main goal in its maritime strategy is to protect the maritime frontiers of the homeland. The maritime borders of the homeland is a term that covers Turkey’s territorial and inland waters as well as the maritime space under its jurisdiction – the exclusive economic zone and the continental shelf. As I said before, Turkey is facing an irrational approach to the issue from Greece in the Adalar (Aegean) Sea, from South Cyprus and Greece, as well as from several other European Union member states, such as France, in the Eastern Mediterranean. In contrast to this irrational approach, Turkey defends its rights and interests in the adjacent seas through a set of measures within the framework of the doctrine of defence of the maritime frontiers of the homeland, which is firmly rooted in international law. What they are trying to impose on Turkey in the Adalar (Aegean) Sea and Eastern Mediterranean is an attempt at delimitation that violates basic principles of international law governing the very process of delimiting maritime areas of national jurisdiction. These principles are called just proportions, proportionality, non-encroachment and the principle of supremacy of the land over the sea. Turkey has a long list of International Court of Justice (ICJ) and International Court of Arbitration at the International Chamber of Commerce (ICA) cases behind it that support its position. Thus, knowing that the law is on its side, Turkey resolutely opposes any attempt to deprive its citizens and their succeeding generations of those rights that derive from law and geography.
Turkey also intends to increase the capabilities of its naval presence in operationally important areas of the world’s oceans by shifting from the concept of Medium Regional Force Projection Navy to the concept of Medium Global Force Projection Navy. In this regard, Turkey will seek to contribute to world peace and security with a full-fledged “long-range” ocean-going fleet.
You have dealt with maritime delimitation issues. Do you think there is still a chance for a peaceful delimitation of the Mediterranean Sea between Turkey and Cyprus and other countries in the region?
In the Eastern Mediterranean, the main players are now the Greek Cypriot-formed government of South Cyprus and the three coastal states of Libya, Israel and Egypt. Turkey does not recognise the Greek Cypriot government in South Cyprus and therefore the latter is not our negotiating partner. That said, if the problems between the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus and the Greek Cypriot government in South Cyprus are resolved, Turkey could recognise the latter and enter into a negotiation process with it. But until that happens, it is not a partner of Turkey.
A number of external actors are also active in the eastern Mediterranean – Greece, France, Jordan and the United Arab Emirates, which have formed a diplomatic alliance against Turkey. The main objectives of this alliance are: (1) to lock Turkey within the 41,000 square kilometre Gulf of Antalya; (2) to make diplomatic efforts to prevent Turkey from exercising its legal rights.
To this end, a number of regional states and some international organisations have established cooperation with the aim of isolating Turkey in the region. This is irrational and illegal cooperation, which proceeds from the assumption that Turkey, the state with the longest coastline in the Eastern Mediterranean, should be limited in its jurisdiction over the maritime space to an area of 41,000 sq km because of one Greek island with an area of 10 sq km, which cannot even be accurately identified on a map. It is absurd at best and malignant at worst. This bizarre entity follows anti-Turkish policies and rhetoric wherever it is appropriate and inappropriate. One could characterise this as an inadequate anti-Turkish fixation, which will inevitably hamper its implementers.
One concrete example of an attempt to isolate Turkey in the Eastern Mediterranean is the establishment of the Eastern Mediterranean Gas Forum in Cairo with members and observers. Sounds normal, doesn’t it? However, Turkey, which has the longest coastline in the Eastern Mediterranean, was not even invited to this forum. It should be noted that no project, no initiative that is implemented without the participation of the Republic of Turkey or the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus will ever have a chance of success in this region This is not a threat, but a statement of fact based on reality.
How to you assess the potential of the Russian Black Sea Fleet? Especially in comparison with the Turkish Navy?
The Navy of the Republic of Turkey and the Navy of the Russian Federation have friendly and partnership relations in the Black Sea, so I do not want to compare them with each other. Increased cooperation and interoperability between the navies of our states is mutually beneficial. And since they are not rivals, there is no point in comparing them.
Reference. Cihat Yaycı is a Turkish scientist, writer, retired Rear Admiral (Tümamiral) and a pioneer of the Turkish maritime defence concept. Born in Elazığ, Eastern Anatolia in 1966, he graduated from the Naval Lyceum (Heybeliada Deniz Lisesi) in 1984 and the Higher Naval School (Deniz Harp Okulu) in 1988. He served on various surface warships in the Turkish Navy, successively as group, battalion and combat unit commander, senior assistant commander (Yvuz MEKO 200TN Track I missile frigate) and ship commander (Kemalreis MEKO 200TN Track II missile frigate). From 2005-2006, he served as the Staff Officer of the Frigate Division, occasionally going to sea as the senior officer on the campaign, and from 2011-2012, he was in command of the Frigate Division 5.
He graduated from the Naval Academy (Deniz Harp Akademisi) in 2000 and the Armed Forces Academy (Silahlı Kuvvetler Akademisi) in 2003, which is part of the Joint Military Academy of the Turkish Armed Forces (Türk Harp Akademileri). He subsequently served at Fleet Command Headquarters (Donanma Komutanlığı) as Head of Service Combat Operations, at Naval General Headquarters (Deniz Kuvvetleri Komutanlığı) as Head of Inspection and Attestation, Head of Strategy and Naval Training, and Head of Strategy and Treaty Legal Affairs.
He defended his dissertation for the degree of Doctor of Sciences (PhD) in International Relations from Istanbul University
In 2012-2014, he served as a military, air and naval attaché at the Embassy of the Republic of Turkey in the Russian Federation. Subsequently, he held the following positions: in 2014-2015 – Commander of the Southern Naval Zone (Güney Deniz Saha Komutanlığı) and at the same time head of the Joint Maritime Security Retraining Centre. In 2015-2016, he served as head of the Joint Centre for the Development of Combat Concepts of the Armed Forces, and in 2016-2017, as head of the Personnel Department of the Naval Staff.
From August 20, 2017 to May 18, 2020, he served as Chief of Staff of the Naval Forces of the Republic of Turkey (Deniz Kuvvetleri Komutanlığı Kurmay Başkanı), played a crucial role in the process of delimiting the borders of the maritime space between Turkey and Libya in 2019, as well as the purge of the naval forces from 4 thousand agents of influence of the Gülen movement (Hizmet Hareketi).
Since 24 July 2020, he has been director of the Centre for Maritime and Global Strategy at the University of Bahçeşehir (Bahçeşehir Üniversitesi Denizcilik ve Global Stratejiler Merkezi, BAU DEGS), which he founded and at the same time he gives a course of lecture at the University of Ankara.
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