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Turkey extends Mediterranean gas exploration mission

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By Raziye Akkoc with Fulya Ozerkan in Istanbul (AFP)  
 
17 hours ago in Environment

President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Tuesday played up Turkey’s military might after extending a Mediterranean gas exploration mission that has pitted it against Greece and the rest of the EU.Turkey’s push into disputed waters has raised the stakes in the energy-rich but volatile region, reviving long-standing hostilities between the two neighbours.Greece accuses Turkey of violating its sovereignty, while Ankara says its NATO ally is pursuing a “maximalist” approach that offers no room for talks.The European Union is watching the conflict with growing concern, with Germany spearheading efforts to get the sides to temper the rhetoric and settle their differences through talks.Turkey deployed the Oruc Reis research vessel and warships to the disputed waters on August 10 and prolonged the mission twice.Greece responded by staging naval exercises with several EU allies and the United Arab Emirates not far from smaller ones Turkey conducted between Cyprus and Crete last week.Turkey’s most recent extension of the mission was until Tuesday, raising the possibility of a respite in a fast-escalating conflict that includes deals the two countries struck with war-torn Libya and Egypt.But in a message on NAVTEX, the international maritime navigational telex system, Turkey said late Monday the seismic vessel’s stay in the eastern Mediterranean would be extended until September 12.The Turkish message said the Oruc Reis was being accompanied by Turkey’s two other auxiliary vessels, the Cengiz Han and the Ataman.Showing no sign of compromise, Erdogan said Turkey would not be intimidated by Greece’s alliance with European military powers such as France.

Turkey’s push into disputed waters has raised the stakes in the energy-rich but volatile region -, TURKISH DEFENCE MINISTRY/AFP/File

“Even if hostile fronts unite, they cannot stop the rise of Turkey,” Erdogan said.”It’s laughable now to use as bait a country (Greece) which could not even fight its way out of a paper bag against a regional and global power like Turkey,” Erdogan said in a speech at his palace in Ankara.Erdogan said attempts to deny Turkey’s right to the Mediterranean’s “riches” were “an example of modern colonialism”.- ‘Greece will lose’ -Ankara’s relations with Athens have deteriorated sharply, with strains over issues including migration and Turkey’s decision to convert Byzantine-era churches into mosques including the Istanbul landmark Hagia Sophia.Images published in the media last week showing Greek soldiers arriving on the island of Kastellorizo, known as Meis in Turkish, appear to have opened another front in the dispute.The island is only two kilometres (1.2 miles) from Turkey’s ancient seaside town of Kas in the Antalya province. The Oruc Reis mission is being conducted near that island, with the navy also scheduling a series of live fire exercises further to the east this month.Turkey accused Greece of trying to “arm the island” despite a 1947 peace treaty that established its demilitarised status.Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said Greece appeared to be arming its security personnel on the islands beyond the limits established by international law.”You can have police and gendarmerie officers for internal security… without heavy weaponry, but there is a limit,” Cavusoglu told reporters.”If there is a militarisation that goes beyond that, it will be Greece who loses.”But a Greek official said soldiers had already been stationed on the island and the photos were from a “routine troop rotation”.The EU has repeatedly urged Turkey to stop the exploration activities and threatened to slap sanctions on Ankara if it refused to solve the dispute through talks.

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Turkey may suspend ties with UAE over Israel deal, Erdogan says

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Turkey is considering suspending diplomatic ties with the United Arab Emirates and withdrawing its ambassador over the Gulf state’s accord to normalize ties with Israel, President Tayyip Erdogan said on Friday.The Turkish foreign ministry said history would never forgive the UAE’s “hypocritical behavior” in agreeing such a deal, which recasts the order of Middle East politics.Under the U.S.-brokered deal – the first between Israel and a Gulf Arab state – the Jewish state agreed to suspend its planned annexation of areas of the occupied West Bank which Palestinian leaders have denounced as a “stab in the back” to their cause.”The move against Palestine is not a step that can be stomached,” Erdogan told reporters after Friday prayers.”Now, Palestine is either closing or withdrawing its embassy. The same thing is valid for us now,” he said, stating that he’d given orders to his foreign minister.”I told him we may also take a step in the direction of suspending diplomatic ties with the Abu Dhabi leadership or pulling back our ambassador,” he added. Download the NBC News app for breaking news and politics The Turkish Foreign Ministry had earlier said Palestinians were right to reject the deal in which the UAE betrayed their cause.”History and the conscience of the region’s peoples will not forget and never forgive this hypocritical behavior,” it said. “It is extremely worrying that the UAE should, with a unilateral action, try and do away with the (2002) Arab Peace Plan developed by the Arab League.”Turkey has diplomatic and trade ties with Israel, but relations have been strained for years.In 2010 Israeli commandos killed 10 Turkish activists trying to breach a blockade on the Gaza Strip, which is ruled by the Palestinian Islamist movement Hamas.The deal makes the UAE the third Arab country to establish full relations with Israel, after Egypt in 1979 and Jordan in 1994.
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After Hagia Sophia, Turkey’s Erdogan turns another former church into mosque

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Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Friday ordered another ancient Orthodox church that became a mosque and then a popular Istanbul museum to be turned back into a place of Muslim worship.

The decision to transform the Kariye Museum into a mosque came just a month after a similarly controversial conversion for the UNESCO World Heritage-recognised Hagia Sophia.Both changes reflect Erdogan’s efforts to galvanise his more conservative and nationalist supporters at a time when Turkey is suffering a new spell of inflation and economic uncertainty caused by the coronavirus.But the moves have added to Turkey’s problems with prelates in both the Orthodox and Catholic worlds.The Greek foreign ministry called the decision “yet another provocation against religious persons everywhere” by the Turkish government.’Steeped in history’               The 1,000-year-old Kariye building’s history closely mirrors that of the Hagia Sophia — its bigger and more famous neighbour on the western bank of the Golden Horn estuary on the European side of Istanbul.The Holy Saviour in Chora was a Byzantine church decorated with 14th-century frescoes of the Last Judgement that remain treasured in Christendom.It was originally converted into the Kariye Mosque half a century after the 1453 conquest of Constantinople by the Ottoman Turks.It became the Kariye Museum after World War II as Turkey pushed ahead with the creation of a more secular new republic out of the ashes of the Ottoman Empire.A group of American art historians then helped restore the original church’s mosaics and opened them up for public display in 1958.But Erdogan is placing an ever greater political emphasis on the battles that resulted in the defeat of Byzantium by the Ottomans.Turkey’s top administrative court approved the museum’s conversion into a mosque in November.”It’s a place steeped in history which holds a lot of symbolism for a lot of different people,” said 48-year-old French tourist Frederic Sicard outside the building.”For me, (these conversions) are a little difficult to understand and to follow. But we would visit if it were a mosque. We might just have to arrange visits around prayer times.”‘Shame for our country’The sand-coloured structure visible today replaced a building created as a part of a monastery when Constantinople became the new capital of the Roman Empire in the fourth century.It features a minaret in one corner and small cascading domes similar to those of other grand mosques whose calls to prayer echo across the hills of Istanbul.But inside it is filled with magnificent frescoes and mosaics that represent some of the finest examples of Byzantine art in the Christian world.Turkey’s tumultuous efforts to reconcile these two histories form the underpinnings of the country’s contemporary politics and social life.Opposition HDP party lawmaker Garo Paylan called the transformation “a shame for our country”.”One of the symbols of our country’s deep, multicultural identity and multi-religious history has been sacrificed,” he tweeted.Ottoman Empire historian Zeynep Turkyilmaz called the conversion “destruction” because the building’s walls are lined with Christian art that would have to be either covered up or plastered over — as it was by the Ottomans.”It is impossible to hide the frescoes and mosaics because they decorate the entire building,” the historian told AFP.Yet some locals fully supported the change.”There are dozens, hundreds of churches, synagogues in Istanbul and only a few of them have been opened to prayer as mosques,” said Yucel Sahin as he strolled by the building after the morning rain.”There is a lot of tolerance in our culture.”(AFP)

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Turkey’s Erdogan announces historic natural gas discovery in Black Sea

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A handout photo made available by the Turkish President Press Office shows Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan takes part of a video conference with Turkish drilling vessel Fatih during a press conference as he announces the biggest natural gas discovery in history in Istanbul, Turkey, 21 August 2020. ISTANBUL: President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Friday said Turkey had made a historic discovery of gas in the Black Sea, but would still speed up contentious exploration in the Mediterranean that has pitted it against Greece and the EU.Turkey hopes the discovery can help wean it off imported energy, including from Russia, which comes at a high cost at a time when the local currency is weakening and the economy is more fragile because of the coronavirus.Erdogan said the 320-billion-cubic-metre deep sea find was made at a site Turkish vessel Fatih began exploring last month.He added that he hoped to see the first gas reach Turkish consumers in 2023, the 100th anniversary of the birth of the modern republic.”Turkey made the biggest discovery of natural gas in its history in the Black Sea,” a delighted Erdogan said during a speech in Istanbul’s Dolmabahce Palace.”My Lord has opened the door to unprecedented wealth for us,” he enthused.The Fatih, Turkey’s first drilling vessel, is named after Fatih Sultan Mehmet, the Ottoman Sultan who conquered Constantinople — current-day Istanbul — in 1453.The vessel made the discovery in the Tuna-1 field off the coast of Eregli town in the northern province of Zonguldak after beginning the search on July 20, Erdogan said.’Reasons to be cautious’The Turkish lira gained value against the dollar on Erdogan’s promise on Wednesday to report “good news” on Friday, but fell after the size of the find was less than half of that suggested in initial reports.Analysts were also wary of overplaying the discovery’s significance, pointing out that deep sea drilling is expensive and takes time.”There are reasons to be cautious,” said Jason Tuvey, senior emerging markets economist at Capital Economics.”For one thing, it will take time for the necessary infrastructure to be put in place before the gas can be extracted,” he said in a research note.Tuvey added “the boost to Turkey’s external position may only be temporary.”Ozgur Unluhisarcikli, Ankara director of the German Marshall Fund, tweeted the discovery was “not bad at all (but) not a game changer either.”The volume of gas announced by Erdogan would cover Turkey’s total natural gas needs for six years, at current consumption rates.High energy import billTurkish Finance Minister and Erdogan’s son-in-law, Berat Albayrak, speaking aboard the Fatih, said the discovery and future potential finds could reduce Turkey’s import-heavy trade balance by cutting its high energy import bill.Turkey’s energy import bill corresponded to two percent of total economic output last year, according to Capital Economics, with most purchases coming from Russia, Iran and Iraq.Turkey’s Energy Market Regulatory Authority said in January the country’s annual cost of energy imports was between $12 billion and $13 billion (10.2-11.1 billion euros).This month, Erdogan ordered the resumption of controversial energy exploration off the southern coast close to a Greek island in disputed eastern Mediterranean waters.The issue has put Turkey on a collision course with Greece, Cyprus and the European Union, and exacerbated tensions with France, which has stepped up its military presence in the region.But Erdogan showed no sign of yielding to the EU’s repeated call to immediately end the eastern Mediterranean search.”We will accelerate our activities in the Mediterranean with the deployment by the end of the year of (drilling ship) Kanuni, which is currently under maintenance,” he said.”God willing we expect similar good news,” Erdogan added.Turkey dispatched the seismic research ship Oruc Reis accompanied by warships to the region on August 10, angering Greece who said the move threatened peace.

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