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Tro by Gwyneth Glyn: Music Review

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Note: this music review was originally published in June 2018 in the onlinee folk cultural journal. Wales Arts Review. Click here to read it on that page (and also listen to a song from the album).

June 26, 2o18

Glyn, Gwyneth, Tro (bendigedig, 2017)

Reviewed by Christopher Deliso

The work of an immensely talented musician whose experience includes poetry, theatre, Welsh and world music, Tro is a consistent album – something increasingly rare in a modern world of digital downloads and one-off hits. Perhaps it’s still easier to attain this consistency in folk genres. But this in itself does not account for the unique spirit that pervades Tro. In this sense of spirit, Gwyneth Glyn’s album resembles that of another contemporary artist (albeit in a somewhat different genre) – David Gray, on his magisterial White Ladder. Both are the kinds of albums that beg to be played over and over, and occupy their own musical space.

Released on the new bendigedig label (an independent partnership between Theatr Mwldan and ARC Music Productions), Tro contains no less than ten Welsh language tracks. Indeed, it can be argued that Glyn’s ethereal voice is more suited to Welsh than English (though her vocals are excellent in both). Tro’s arrangements do not require great vocal range, so we are left enticed by the possibilities of what else she is capable. But it is clear that Glyn is a confident singer, and to a large degree it is her voice that gives Tro its spirit of controlled restraint.

A native of North Wales, Glyn has enjoyed wide success as a musician, playwright and poet, and she continues to push the boundaries of Welsh traditional music, working on the past (and on this album) with musicians representing traditional music and instrumentation from Africa, America and Asia. This sort of experiment stands out, quite literally, from the very first notes of the opening track, “Tanau (Fires)”, which buzzes with the bansitar of Rowan Rheingans. While some purists might blanche at the introduction of non-traditional instruments, the use of this and others like the kora is not merely a gimmick: rather, they contribute to creating Tro’s basic soundscape of a multi-textured drone over which the occasional plucked banjo may sparkle, out of which a violin may arise sternly when called upon.

While much of Tro could be considered brooding, as with “Cwlwm (Knot)” and meditative, as with “Ffair (Fair)”, Glyn covers wider territory. Indeed, the album’s first English-language track (“Dig Me a Hole”) is really a power-rock anthem in disguise, in ¾ for good measure. It also features some of the album’s best lyrics (‘and the empire they built on the tears of a child/ won’t last too long when the waters run wild/ and a great wind will set all their secrets alight/ for lies like moths are drawn to the light’).

Along with its toughness and sometimes ominous restraint, Tro also offers moments of pure innocence, and a sentimental feeling for the Welsh landscape and the people and places that are meaningful and inspiring to the artist. “Caerdyni”, named for a beloved local hill, is a gem of a song which features some of Glyn’s gentlest vocals, set over a humble strummed banjo that could just as well be the sounding of goat-bells on the evening’s return homeward. Similarly the eleventh track, “Os na weal’i di (If I Don’t See You)” is an immensely soothing and precisely performed piece of melancholic joy, with hints of musical influence from American folk music.

Glyn exhibits one of her other passions, poetry, on the album’s final song, “Trafaeliais / Kidé-magni”, with its spoken-word lyrics over jazzy cymbals and sparkling runs on the kora. It’s an unexpected way to end the album, and gives a hint of the imagination of an artist who likely has many more surprises in store for us in albums to come.

It would be remiss to leave off without a mention of the record’s sublime production and indeed the great skill of Glyn’s fellow musicians who are responsible for the heavy lifting on a whole bevy of different instruments.  Some of these played by album producer Dylan Fowler include dobro, kantele, tabwrdd, mbira, mandocello, guitar and bass. Additional musicians who put it in solid performances on Tro include Patrick Rimes (violin), Gillian Stevens (viol and crwth), Mark O’Connor (percussion), Rowan Rheingans (banjo) and Seckou Keita (kora).

At heart, it’s the above-mentioned quality of consistency in spirit and mood that best characterises Tro’s singular identity, and that quality derives partly from the production. Fowler weaves the instrumentation levels together seamlessly and nothing is allowed to dominate – not even the vocals – and the listener feels almost in the room with the performers. In short, there is no added gloss, no make-up- just a simple, earnest production that maintains the signature mood that makes Tro so enjoyable to keep on play all afternoon long.

 

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Somewhere Near to History The Wartime Diaries of Reginald Hibbert, SOE Officer in Albania, 1943-194

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Note: a slightly expanded and edited version of the book review was originally published in the March 2021 edition of the RUSI Journal. The below version differs slightly in being the original accepted version, whereas the longer version was slightly expanded and published in the magazine- click here to read that version (login access may be required).

March 26, 2021

Hibbert, Reginald, Somewhere Near to History The Wartime Diaries of Reginald Hibbert, SOE Officer in Albania, 1943-194 (Signal Books, 2020), edited by Jane Nicolov

Reviewed by Christopher Deliso

“A mysterious call is made for immediate volunteers for parachute duties” writes 21 year-old British Army cadet Reg Hibbert, in a secret diary entry of 25 July 1943.

The lower middle-class Londoner, whisked away by the war from Oxford his history studies, duly volunteers, “in hope of some cheap thrills” (p. 45)

He would get much more than that. The enigmatic call Hibbert answered took him to Egypt for paratrooper training before a 10-month Special Operations Executive (SOE) deployment in Albania’s mountains- the perfect finishing school for a later diplomatic career distinguished by complex civil-military assignments, ranging from Central America to the Far East.Although other British Liaison Officers (BLOs) published memoirs based on war diaries (firstly, Julian Amery’s 1948 Sons of the Eagle: A Study in Guerilla War),

Hibbert (1922-2002) is unique among SOE Albania veterans in that his original diary has been published. This happened in 2020, two years after Oxford history professor James Pettifer encouraged Hibbert’s daughter and literary executor, Jane Nicolov to organise the project. The fully-restored original text is supplemented by rare wartime photographs, contextual chapters and footnotes detailing the people, places and things Hibbert encountered.The book thus preserves a snapshot of the war’s crucial turning point in Albania

Being a diary, it is unencumbered by any revisionism or hindsight or desire to influence. By necessity, all of these factors affect the four SOE memoirs published between 1948 (Amery’s) and 1984 (David Smiley’s Albanian Assignment).A key question for historians of SOE Balkan operations has been alliances; that is, to what extent Britain’s local wartime patronage was influenced by BLOs’ preferences or by policy-makers higher up, and whether different policies could have yielded alternate outcomes.

Controversy has always surrounded Albania, where communist Partisan leader Enver Hoxha seized power and led one of the world’s most isolated and repressive dictatorships until his 1985 death.SOE veterans Amery, Smiley and Lt. Col. Neil ‘Billy’ McLean in particular criticised communism. In the field, they had worked with the Partisans but also advocated nationalist Albanian leaders- men who had either actively or passively collaborated with the Germans.

As Hibbert’s diaries reveal, the Albanian Partisans (like those of Marshall Tito’s in neighbouring Yugoslavia) as the most reliable anti- resistance element. The perceived machinations of some BLOs to infiltrate the Partisans with nationalists fed Hoxha’s paranoia.However, when Hibbert descended on Albania in December 1943, British policy still hoped for a happily reconciled national anti-German resistance.

The BLOs small and dispersed networks cultivated local alliances- leading to resource competition and a failure to overcome the Albanians’ own internal ideological and clan rivalries.

Hibbert sensed the looming disaster early on in his mission. His entries reveal – often comically – how the crafty villagers regarded their British guests as a profit-bearing enterprise in an environment of calculated risk.

While in mountainous northern Albania, Hibbert’s team liaised primarily with a conservative, clan-based society with pro-German sympathies. The internal Albanian rivalries expedited competition between the geographically-dispersed BLOs for resources, which came via airdrops authorised by HQ in Cairo (and later, Bari). Airdrops of supplies, arms and gold were especially valuable during the snowy winter of 1943-44, when BLOs relied on locals for indoor lodging.

Such materiel alone could prove Britain was more generous than Germany. Albanian villagers took considerable risks by housing and feeding BLOs, and Hibbert’s notes reveal how the mutual awareness of this risk factor became a point of daily negotiation.

Stylistically, Hibbert’s entries are well-crafted and concise, written in the present tense and generally, short (work preoccupied him and his notebooks were small). Structurally, the entries reflect the exigencies of clandestine life: weather conditions, marches through the mountains, unreliable radios, botched airdrops, arguments with villagers over theft of materiel, and endless negotiations with clan chiefs. Food is often discussed, as are the lice and fleas that afflict sleep in primitive quarters.

Of course, no diary can cover everything and Hibbert’s account is limited by the narrowness of his experience. Circumstances hamper communication with fellow BLOs and (dependent on radio status) higher command in Cairo/Bari. Being low in rank, he was never given the full picture but had to suss things out for himself; here, speaking Italian, French (and gradually, Albanian) helps Hibbert.

Some will criticise the absence of battle scenes. Yet Hibbert’s mission was specifically away from front-lines action. Indeed, one week after parachuting into Albania on 19 December 1943, after meeting his new SOE colleagues and witnessing “several political conferences with local leaders,” Hibbert presciently concludes that “there is little hope of a lively war here” (p. 57).

In spring 1944, military engagements increased as the Partisans consolidate their power. Nationalist leaders who figure prominently in the early entries (like northern clan chief Muharrem Bajraktari) fail to live up to their pledges, and the Partisans emerge as the main fighting force against the Germans. This complicated Britain’s presence but clarified where airdropped weaponry would go throughout spring-summer 1944.

Although Hibbert’s entries reveal a liberal outlook, his gradual pro-Partisan position is grounded by realist assessment of ground realities and mission mandate. Despite lacking prior regional experience, by two months into his tour, Hibbert had understood that Bajraktari’s inflexibility and ideological dream of a Greater Albania that would bite into neighbouring states was unrealistic.

Unlike BLOs who had been lobbying for the Partisans in the south, Hibbert only experienced the area when passing through en route to his Adriatic extraction on.The effusiveness of Hibbert’s field entries is greatly diminished in his post-evacuation entries written in Italy, where he finds life has become slow, dull, and devoid of that bucolic and anarchic freedom with which BLOs associated Albanian mountain life.

Ironically, this commonality of experience outweighed – at least briefly – personal differences when SOE men were extracted and reunited in Italy. “We live on the best of terms with other BLOs even with those who have been on the other side of the political fence in Albania,” attests Hibbert in a long entry dated 12 October-4 November 1944 (p. 216).

“We are all united by a common dislike of the firm – above all of Eliot Watrous,” Hibbert continues, eviscerating the SOE’s sycophantic Albania section chief. “No BLO is foolish enough to think that he has the power to change the face of history, to dictate the future of Albania.” (p. 216).

Although Hibbert’s entries reveal disillusionment and some pessimism regarding the SOE’s work in Albania, his post-extraction experience in Italy provided the necessary insights into how civil-military relations operate on the larger scale. Thus, his perspectives on both the field and “the firm” were formed before joining the Foreign Office in 1946.

In conclusion, Hibbert’s diaries are a treasure-chest of primary source material of exceptional historical valuable. His low rank and limited experience meant that, on a day-to-day basis, he never receives more than a few pieces of a very big puzzle; however, his lucid analysis indicates a mind adept at putting puzzles together. This book is highly recommended, both for specialists and general-interest readers of Balkan wartime history- and Britain’s role in shaping it.

 

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Banditry in the Medieval Balkans, 800-1500

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Note: this book review was originally published in the Society for the Promotion of Byzantine Studies in the March 2021 Bulletin of British Byzantine Studies. Click here to read that version (scroll down to the second review).

March 25, 2021

Panos Sophoulis, Banditry in the Medieval Balkans, 800-1500 (Palgrave, 2020)

Reviewed by Christopher Deliso

This engaging study, a part of Palgrave’s New Approaches to Byzantine History and Culture series, investigates an important aspect of Byzantine social life that is both well-known and yet understudied: that is, the role played by highwaymen, brigands, pirates and other semi-professional enemies of law and order in the medieval Balkans.

Author Panos Sophoulis is an acknowledged academic expert in the Byzantine Balkans, having received his DPhil from Oxford and subsequently specializing in the empire’s relations with medieval powers like the Bulgarians and Serbians. Currently Assistant Professor of History at the University of Athens, his 2012 book (Byzantium and Bulgaria, 775-831, Brill) won the John Bell Book Prize in 2013.

With his follow-up effort, Dr. Sophoulis approaches the complex issue of banditry over a 700-year period in an ethnically, linguistically, religiously and topographically diverse region, and attempts to draw some conclusions that are generally applicable, in consideration of what he concedes are limiting factors- chief of all being the paucity of surviving written and archaeological source material.

The author also deals with some concerns over potentially outdated methodological approaches affecting studies of banditry in general. Chief amongst these is Eric Hobsbawm’s very influential concept of ‘social banditry’ formulated in the 1960s, and supposedly applicable to all pre-industrial societies. However, Hobsbawm’s Marxist-influenced project that assigned bandits a role in dispending social and economic justice (in the most romanticized sense of the Robin Hood legends) does not, at least in the case of medieval Balkan source material, find anything to support such a conclusion, the author notes. However, he does credit Hobsbawn with sparking an interest in the stody of banditry in general, which led to other metholodical developments that are also discussed in the work.

Stripped of ideological pretensions, the question of banditry on the medieval Balkan Peninsula becomes defined by empirical data with which the historian can more soberly engage. To do this, the author establishes several key parameters. These include the primary and secondary road and river networks, and the specific geography (banditry was particularly prevalent at key choke-points in rugged terrain, and near areas that were frequently traveled by merchants, monks and emissaries).  

Sophoulis also identifies three main sources of banditry (shepherds, soldiers and peasants), and explores their varied motivations for part-time brigandry. This is one of the book’s most interesting aspects. Byzantine soldiers, for example, were as a rule retired without pension, meaning that many sought to augment wages earned through farming or other means with occasional plunder. The author consistently notes the thin line separating banditry from paramilitary (or organized military) activity, as attested in the primary sources. But even so, the existence of military men as national heroes – even in the folk ballad tradition, which Sophoulis also discusses – seems to be a development more associated with the post-Byzantine Balkans and later independence movements.

Others with similar physical conditioning for launching armed attacks included the shepherd class, which is where the author devotes considerable attention to the Vlach pastoralists who traversed hundreds of miles in their seasonal migrations from summer pasturages the mountains of Macedonia and Bulgaria into the lowlands (for example, the plain of Thessaly) in winter. Both Byzantine and Western primary sources attest that the Vlachs were some of the most formidable bandits one could encounter, and their range of activity also was geographically the most extensive, stretching from Greece as far north as Dalmatia and Romania.

The final typical Balkan bandit, the peasant farmer, seems to have been the least capable and the most susceptible to economic exigencies driven by phenomena such as crop failure to explain their actions. In all three categories, however, Sophoulis notes that the sources find that economic gain was the primary motivation for the turn to banditry.

Interestingly, the author argues that the relative economic recovery in the Balkans under the Macedonian dynasty following the Byzantine-Bulgarian wars made the region (particularly Macedonia and Thrace) more prosperous and thus more appealing to robbers and highwaymen. Similarly, the wealthy trading city-state of Ragusa (Dubrovnik) on the Adriatic was another place nearby which brigandry was common. In both cases, the author advances the subject by citing new research from the archives of Mt. Athos in Greece and of the Dubrovnik City Archive, the latter of which records hundreds of medieval court cases over banditry.

As the main conduit for Venetian trade into the Balkans, Dubrovnik’s Adriatic hinterland was unsurprisingly a popular place for bandits. But the fact that the city-state had such solid institutions and such an advanced legal system may also help explain why its records on banditry are so rich. The relative lack of similar information from powerful contemporaneous states like, for example, Bulgaria is an oddity that leaves it unclear as to whether a proportionately accurate picture of Balkan banditry can ever really be generated.

Nevertheless, the author does his best to illustrate within what the sources provide all of the groups active across the region. Thus we learn of the infamous Narentine pirate – the scourge of Venice for several centuries, controlling several Croatian islands and Dalmatian ports – as well as the Albanian and Montenegrin gangs that were characterized chiefly by extended kinship networks and that in one case, created conditions for territorial expansion in Epiros.

While the author does not discuss it in any detail, it is highly likely that the phenomenon of Balkan land brigands and maritime pirates had a decisive influence both on military innovation and strategy. For example, the above-mentioned Narentines of Croatia drove Venice to upgrade its naval capacities, which in turn would help the Republic to establish itself as the premier maritime power economically and militarily in the Adriatic and Mediterranean thereafter. And the experience of the German knights of the Third Crusade, who were chronically harassed by bandits while crossing the Balkans, would have surely influenced the decision of crusade planners to travel more safely by sea, when the time came for the epoch-shifting Fourth Crusade and capture of Constantinople in 1204.

Another contribution Sophoulis makes is to assess the official response of the state to banditry. In this, he includes Byzantine legal texts dating as far back as Justinian the Great, as well as the legal codes of Dubrovnik and of Serbian kings like Stefan Dušan. Here again the author is able to weave the specific issue of brigandage into the bigger political-economic issue of international relations: seeking to guarantee good trade relations with wealthy powers like Venice, and increasingly wealthy itself due to export of salt and precious metals, Serbia assigned severe penalties to bandits, like blinding or the death penalty. One amusingly medieval legal condition recited from the Serbian code is the proof of innocence, by which an accused thief would have to carry a super-heated piece of metal from the doorframe of the village church and place it on the prayer-book. Should he do so successfully, he would be pronounced innocent.

Sophoulis argues convincingly that medieval Balkan rulers, who often outsourced protection of vital rural trade roads to untrustworthy local lords, may have actually made the situation worse by legislating draconian punishments. He also notes that the lack of evidence regarding convictions means that cases of banditry were probably oftentimes tit-for-tat feuds solved outside of the official legal system, and in any case pointed to a type of law that was very difficult to actually enforce.

In conclusion, it can be said that this is a recommended work of social history that should be included as a complementary text in several strands of political, social, military and economic history. While specialists will doubtless be familiar with most of the sources and the overarching issues, there are a number of unusual and unexpected inclusions, from textual to archaeological citations, that indicate the author has done a very comprehensive job of investigating a topic that has barely even been identified by the larger Byzantine research community.

 

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Twenty Years of Gratitude: Life Since Athos

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In late 2020, the UK-based charity Friends of Mount Athos celebrated its 30th anniversary with a magnificently produced hardcover coffee-table book published by Brepolis, and featuring the memoirs and photographs of numerous members.

My contribution to this group effort was an essay entitled “Twenty Years of Gratitude: Life Since Athos.”

Click here and scroll down to read “Twenty Years of Gratitude: Life Since Athos” in its original book layout in PDF.

The essay recounts the oddly intertwined series of events that led me from Oxford to a chance encounter with the Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople and his entourage in Istanbul, and from there to several fortuitous experiences at the monasteries of Mount Athos- a rewarding experience that gave me a new appreciation for the living traditions and dedicated spirituality of the monks and the Orthofox faithful.

Encounters on the Holy Mountain contains articles by numerous famous authors among its 300-plus pages, and makes the perfect gift for anyone passionate about Greece, Mount Athos, or Orthodoxy in general. You can get more information about the book, and buy it directly from the publisher, by vising this link to the Brepolis website.

Photo: Chris Deliso, 2018

 

 

 

 

 

Will Turkey’s Naval Power Doctrine Evolve towards an East Africa Operational Zone?

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By Chris Deliso

December 14, 2020

2020 was a busy year for assessment of Turkish maritime strategy. In February, I predicted (in Jane’s Intelligence Review) that Rear Admiral Cihat Yayci would likely become ‘’collateral damage” of Turkish internal power rivalries. Nevertheless, when the proclaimed architect of Turkey’s naval strategy was retired in May, many were surprised. After all, Turkey’s seeming successes in the maritime deal with Tripoli and intervention in Libya should have been reason for reward rather than retirement.

Image source Turkish MFA webpage ‘Relations between Turkey and the Comoros’

But that is another story, one that illustrates a certain dependable trajectory in Turkish security analysis. In the big picture, what is much more significant is the doctrine with which officers like Yayci are most associated- the Mavi Vatan or ‘Blue Homeland’ maritime drills in the Black Sea, Eastern Aegean and Eastern Mediterraneanbthat occurred since last year. The future direction that Turkey takes with the doctrine that envisioned the drills could have significant repercussions for multi-regional security events, some of which have possibly not been contemplated until now.

THE BLUE HOMELAND DOCTRINE- AKP INNOVATIONS AND GREEK MISUNDERSTANDINGS

The actual doctrine is not completely new, as it rests ultimately on Turkey’s singular historic interpretation of maritime law (Turkey is not a signatory of the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea). The neo-Ottoman tendencies of President Erdoğan’s AKP governments have for obvious reasons endorsed a policy that envisions Turkish maritime territory extending well into the Greek islands and throughout the Mediterranean.

To project power in a meaningful way, Turkey has steadily increased its naval capacities and conducted large-scale naval exercises across its sea zones last year. The long-awaited TCG Anadolu light aircraft carrier (based on the Spanish Juan Carlos class of vessel) is due to be completed soon in the Istanbul shipyard. Turkish analysts have pointed out that having an aircraft carrier will allow them to conduct aerial missions in distant theaters of war, where refueling issues would otherwise present this activity.

In September 2020, The Daily Sabah cited Defense Industries Presidency (SSB) Chairman Ismail Demir as saying a whole range of new vessels, including submarines, are going to be commissioned in the next few years to achieve Turkish goals of maritime dominance in the region. In August, the Turkish president had said the country will need a total of three aircraft carriers to become “a deterrent at sea.”

Finally, Turkey throughout 2020 consistently called on Greece to remove forces from Aegean islands it considers “illegally” militarized, citing prior treaties. However, Greece has not called for Turkey to demilitarize its coastal cities, has no plan to invade Turkey, and is well aware (from Turkey’s 1974 Cyprus invasion) of the threat of Turkish amphibious assaults. The period from 1967-74 witnessed a similar Turkish naval buildup to what we are seeing now.

For these reasons, it was strange to hear Greek Foreign Minister Dendias dismiss the Blue Homeland exercises, and the underlying doctrine behind it, as more fanciful than real. “When I first heard of this, I thought it must be the opinion of some junior officer,” Dendias commented when the question was raised at an LSE Hellenic Observatory webinar of 5 November. (I am paraphrasing him, but the quote is in there somewhere, towards the end of the recording).

Notably, Dendias also stated that he had recently come from Germany, where he had been personally lobbying high officials to stop German companies from selling equipment used by Turkey’s submarine fleet.

History reveals that Greek officials have chronically underestimated Turkish naval capacities and resolve, sometimes out of arrogance and sometimes out of ignorance. Highly recommended reading in this regard is a new academic book on how the Turkish military planned and executed the 1974 Cyprus invasion- apparently catching the Greeks and Greek Cypriots completely by surprise. The book in question is Edward J. Erickson and Mesut Uyar, Phase Line Attila The Amphibious Campaign for Cyprus, 1974. (I will review this book in due course).

TURKEY’S RIVALRY WITH FRANCE OVER AFRICA AND POSSIBLE EXPANSION OF THE BLUE HOMELAND DOCTRINE

The year 2020 has also showed continuous conflict between Turkey and France over dominance in Africa- essentially, a neo-colonial endeavor on both sides. However, Erdoğan has slickly portrayed the French as the real ‘colonizers’ while Turkey represents ‘brotherhood’ with fellow Muslims there. Earlier in the year, Macron publicly demanded West African leaders do more to fight anti-French sentiment in their countries. This has risen due to the French military engagement in the Sahel, and the increase in jihadist activity in the region.

Turkey has its own military, diplomatic, economic and developmental goals in Africa, ranging from a strategic base in Somalia to participation in NATO Gulf of Guinea anti-piracy naval exercises, with the Libya adventure thrown in between. This has a long and established pattern of opportunism (see my 2011 interview here) by which Turkey has gotten steadily more involved with developing economies across all sectors- including military sales of Turkish-produced gear to several countries, and cooperation with Western European military subsidiaries (such as a German-owned South African venture).

In this context, the main analytical question for future will be how the partial activation of the Blue Homeland doctrine (through the Libya intervention, maritime border deal, naval exercises, energy exploration and other practices) will develop in the next 5-10 years. While all of these exploits have been treated rather dramatically in the media and by Greece, they are still within the realm of policy, of what Turkey considers its real ‘near-abroad.’ At the same time, however, Erdoğan has often emphasized his desire that Turkey become a leading superpower.

Therefore, a new question arises: how could Turkey expanded its Blue Homeland policy towards achieving this goal? Does it even have the appetite, or the means to do so, and what would be the main challenges and potential benefits?

CONTESTED TERRITORIES IN EAST AFRICA AND A POSSIBLE ENTRY IN THE COMOROS ISLANDS ISSUE

A private newsletter out of the UK that occasionally provides good intel recently reported on clashes in Ethiopia’s Tigray region. Citing a British official, the report stated that this populous Christian country strategically located in East Africa could become “the next Yugoslavia,” with a more widespread conflict and possible Egyptian military involvement that would target the new Ethiopia dam on the all-important River Nile. The UN is now putting pressure on Ethiopian authorities after one of its field delegations was shot at recently f after failing to stop at two military checkpoints. Ethiopian leaders were also angered recently when US President Trump speculated that Egypt might in fact blow up the dam in the end, because of the clear water-sharing problems the mega-project will create.

I do not know enough about Ethiopian politics to comment further, except to say that the existence of such complex inter-state conflicts are [potentially great opportunities for Turkish involvement. Also, in that general region (through Eritrea, Djibouti and Somalia) there are clusters of military bases run by the world’s leading superpowers, with the overall objective of guarding the Gulf of Aden and Red Sea up to Suez being a common interest.

Turkey has established its military base in Somalia and would like to claim that it can do what Western powers cannot- to stabilize this perennial hotspot of jihadism. But, if conditions are favorable and strategic interests warrant, Turkey could do something much more interesting in its low-intensity war with France: establishment of a naval base in the island nation of Comoros, just off the East African coast, and a former French colony of which one island (Mayotte) is still French territory due to popular referendum.

Comoros would be an appealing proposition for several aspects. Like Turkey, it is a Muslim country and part of the relevant international organizations. It is also chronically unstable and corrupt, having suffered numerous military coups since independence in 1974. There is very little information available about Turkish relations with Comoros, though this Turkish foreign ministry webpage has some basic facts of cooperation.

According to this official website, “Turkey has become one of the leading trading partners of the Comoros. The trade volume between the two countries in 2018 was 18.3 million USD and in 2019 the trade volume increased to 21.1 million USD.”

When it comes to development aid, Turkey “is providing development and technical assistance to the Comoros through TİKA, which has established a program coordination office in Moroni in April 2017.”

Further, the  Turkish Government runs the ‘Türkiye Scholarships Program for locals, which “is allocating undergraduate and graduate scholarships to students from the Comoros. Until now, 127 students from Comoros were granted scholarships.”

Finally and perhaps most importantly, the ministry notes, Turkey runs an “International Training Program for Junior Diplomats, organized each year by the Diplomacy Academy of the Turkish Ministry of Foreign Affairs.” All of these measures indicate that, like other Muslim African countries especially, Turkey has a clear influence plan underway.

A Turkish naval base in Comoros would give Turkey its own equivalent to the US-run military island of Diego Garcia to the northeast. This position would also be of inestimable value should security conditions on the mainland deteriorate in countries like Tanzania, where Turkey already has a strong presence. Finally, it would increase Turkey’s proximity to the minerals-rich island of Madagascar, the current site of a global economic resource war. In fact, at present Turkey’s main diplomatic presence to Comoros is in Madagascar- while the Comoros representation to Turkey is in Cairo.

Establishing a presence in Comoros would also be useful for Turkish propaganda offensives against their French rivals in the neo-colonial contest. In the most recent referendum, Mayotte chose to remain under the direct rule of Paris because it enjoys a superior standard of living than the independent Comoros islands. Were Turkey to invest in modernizing the country and making its leaders more accountable to the population, perhaps a future referendum will go the other way. IN that case Turkey could deprive France of a strategically vital military zone.

The major challenge for Turkey in this regard is that the Comoros government already has a defense agreement with France, which runs a naval base there. Comoros also has increasing ties with China, which has a similar view of islands as strategic military assets. A rival Muslim benefactor o the Comoros, the UAE, has also reported interests in base expansion there. Finally, India has reported interest in establishing a naval presence in Madagascar or Comoros, after several high-level visits in the last few years. All of this interest will simply drive up the price of admission, and Turkey may simply decide it is too distant or that there are other options to achieve its strategic objectives.

CONCLUSION

In whatever case, by continuing to develop its contacts and influence at the African Union level, Turkey will also continue to woo these countries in its direction. The only question remains whether it will at the same time seek to expand its maritime capacities beyond what has traditionally been known as its sphere of influence- even to itself.

Unlike the sea area around Cyprus and Greece, where Turkish policy-makers will continue to cite a primary defensive role to their naval escalation (making it primarily a national security issue), any large-scale extension of activity into the Indian Ocean would probably have to be justified by future expectations of economic relationships. Nevertheless, the fact that Turkey already possesses a Somalia base will likely make expansion southward an appealing thought. In so doing, Turkey would develop a maritime presence from the middle of the Black Sea and Mediterranean, as well as the Red Sea and Indian Ocean.

Additional Reading on this topic:

Jane’s, Janes Fighting Ships Yearbook 2020 – 2021

Metin Gurcan, Opening the Black Box: The Turkish Military Before and After July 2016 (Wolverhampton Military Studies)

Soner Cagapatay, Erdogan’s Empire: Turkey and the Politics of the Middle East

Douglas Porch, The French Foreign Legion: A Complete History of the Legendary Fighting Force

 

BACK TO MAIN PAGE- Key Analytical Questions: the Eastern Mediterranean and Black Sea Regions, 2020-2030

How Will Migration and Covid-19 Impact Eastern Mediterranean Ferry Linkages?

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By Chris Deliso

December 11, 2020

The European migration crisis peaked in 2015, but never really went away. Since then, it has become a particularly pernicious problem with political, security and economic aspects.

New complexities in the debate were created by the world’s Covid-19 experience of lockdowns and civil unrest, raising the issue of citizens’ rights and freedom of movement. The conflation of this right with the philosophy of open-borders advocates is just one of the many complexities that will animate the debate in future.

PRECONSIDERATIONS: GEOGRAPHY AND COSTS FOR RUNNING GREECE- AN OPPORTUNITY FOR HOSTILE ACTORS

A fundamental but often overlooked aspect of the migration crisis in the Eastern Mediterranean concerns the logistical challenges Greece chronically faces in administering its territory. The same allure that is symbolized by owning thousands of islands can also be a headache, when it comes to keeping the often resource- and service-strapped residents of these islands in a fully functional situation.

While this has always been an issue, it became particularly acute following the 2008 financial crisis. In 2019 – even before the pandemic that destroyed the vital tourism industry and further hampered economic survivability – the government was considering ways to improve access to remote islands. In April 2020, a report estimated that ferry companies would need a 30 millon-euro monthly stipenfd to survive the blow Covid-related lockdowns meant that “ferry operators were forced to stop nearly 70 percent of all services as demand for transport dropped by 50 percent compared to the same period last year and revenue losses of up to 90 percent.” Other sources have said that even before the pandemic, the Greek government subsidies for the ferry industry reached 100 million euros annually.

Turkey has in its unique understanding of maritime law, and for historic reasons, always looked at the Eastern Aegean islands as falling under its control in an ideal future scenario. Turkey’s asymmetric warfare by use of illegal migrants at the Evros land border and Eastern Aegean islands is partly designed to damage the desirability of these areas as tourism markets, and partly to add to the service costs Athens already faces in its eastern hinterlands.

This is not a short-term game, though it may seem to be (for example, a one-off influx meant to get a reaction from Brussels and improve Ankara’s negotiating hand with the EU). While there is indeed some element of truth to this argument, it overlooks the ground-level and more long-term considerations at work of the asymmetrical campaign. It is actually a war of attrition designed to psychologically impact both local residents and the migrants themselves towards mutual distrust and dissatisfaction with the central government in Athens- as has been seen time and again with fires in migrant camps and violent events around them.

The underlying (and generally unstated) Turkish argument is that these islands are naturally better suited to administration from the nearby Anatolian mainland, rather than distant Athens. This is not an argument that will win over Greek hearts and minds, but the great risk is that by making an illegal migrant presence semi-permanent is that it becomes institutionalized.

This is already becoming the case, and it is dangerous because it draws in the political and financial interests of bigger players like the EU, UN and the Vatican, all with their own financial interests in sustaining the migration industry. The more institutionalized the migration industry becomes, the less incentive there will be for islanders to go back to their traditional tourism and agrictultural livelihoods in the long run. The migration war in the Eastern Mediterranean is thus an oddly complementary one for allegedly competing interests like those of Turkey and the EU/globalist system.

THE COVID-19 EFFECT AND SOUTHWARD EXTENSION OF GREEK INFLUENCE TO CYPRUS: A NEW EU-APPROVED FERRY ROUTE

However, all is not lost for the Greek side, which looks to its EU membership as a way of keeping not only diplomatic allies, but also economic clout that it could not otherwise muster. And this even includes subsidies for its ferry services.

Indeed, in one turn of events that was actually expedited by the Covid-19 crisis, the EU gave its approval for subsidizing a long-haul passenger ferry between Greece and Cyprus. The European Commission Directorate for Competitiveness ruled in July 2020 that “the maritime passenger route between Cyprus and Greece is considered a general economic interest service under the current EU rules and can thus be supported with state/government funds.”

 Ironically, this same route “was discontinued in 2000 after a sharp drop in the price of airline tickets, which made the line obsolete.”

Nevertheless, with the Covid-19 economic destruction of the travel industry, and widespread popular distrust around the world regarding vaccines against the so-called pandemic, it will take some years to see air travel return to its former levels. And, if all air carriers follow the draconian lead of some and mandate vaccines for travel, it is certain that many people will simply choose not to fly. This tendency will benefit the ferry industry in general and, while it may not be enough to make a Greece-Cyprus ferry economically profitable, it will help to ease into the estimated 6 million-euro state subsidy agreed in July.

At the same time, the Greek-Cyprus ferry line can be seen as one of many moves and countermoves carried out by these allies on the one hand, and by Turkey on the other. Heading closer to the 2024 50th anniversary of Turkey’s invasion of the island, both sides will try to solidify their presence. The creation of an EU-sanctioned civilian ferry heading specifically through waters that Turkey claimed (in its deal with Tripoli) for its own obviously increases the likelihood of provocations from the Turkish navy.

CONCLUSION

Both the migration crisis and Covid-19 present unique challenges for the maritime infrastructure system of the Eastern Mediterranean, and have at different times exposed weaknesses in logistics and economic models. As states seek to exploit their maximal geopolitical advamtages, we can expect to see further events that seem random but actually make sense in the larger and integrated context.

Additional Reading on this topic:

 Funda Yercan and Michael Roe, Shipping in Turkey: A Marketing Analysis of the Passenger Ferry Sector

Roudi Baroudi and Debra Cagan, Maritime Disputes in the Eastern Mediterranean: The Way Forward

World Bank, COVID-19 Crisis Through a Migration Lens

Christopher Deliso, Migration, Terrorism and the Future of a Divided Europe: a Continent Transformed 

Brendan O’Malley and Ian Craig, The Cyprus Conspiracy: America, Espionage and the Turkish Invasion

James Ker-Lindsay, The Cyprus Problem What Everyone Needs to Kn

Lonely Planet, Guide to Greece 2020

 

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What Will Happen If Energy Disputes in the Eastern Mediterranean and Black Sea More Political than Economic in Nature ?

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By Chris Deliso

November 19, 2020

Although regional states have for decades been locked in competition over the region’s largely offshore untapped energy resources, a good question remains regarding the extent to which resource competition is more of an economic or political issue.

Map by Euractuv

My own exhaustive research, interviews with industry experts and comments from officials has informed the consideration that as of 2020, disputes over fossil fuels deposits are being primarily generated to support territorial claims, and build up support from interested international parties (such as governments and energy corporations) to support these rival claims.

This is occurring at a time when Turkey is asserting its Mavi Vatan or ‘Blue Homeland’ maritime doctrine, while Greece seeks to expand its sea borders from 6 to 12 nautical miles, and while Cyprus attempts to assert the inviolability of its proclaimed maritime EEZ against Turkish hostile drillship activity.

At the same time, in summer 2020 Turkey also began seismic research in contested areas of Greek water claimed by Ankara under an otherwise unrecognized maritime border agreement it inked with the Tripoli-based GNA regime in Libya. In response, Greece achieved maritime border deals with Italy and Egypt, and agreed to go to Hague arbitration to resolve a maritime border dispute with Albania. Greece has historically criticized Turkey’s non-recognition of international maritime law and Ankara’s disinterest in international arbitration.

In this context, the 17 October 2020 announcement that Turkey had discovered hydrocarbons in the Black Sea, near the borders of Romanian and Bulgarian waters added an intriguing new element to the energy competition. President Erdoğan presented the find as complementary to the ongoing disputed explorations in Cypriot and Greek waters, and added that it could enhance the state’s capacity to develop its own energy sector and infrastructure. As with the other finds to be discussed, whether or not anything ever materializes (in terms of formal pipeline construction) is less important than the political implication that Turkey believes it has Black Sea energy potential, and can use this to offset its potential relationships, gains and losses in Aegean and Mediterranean fields.

ENERGY EXPLORATION EVENTS AS TRIGGERS FOR CONFLICT AND POLICIES ON MARITIME BORDERS

Even though commentators often conflate the concept of Neo-Ottomanism with the ideas and rule of President Erdoğan in Turkey, the pre-2003 Kemalist system was predicated on a similar vision. The difference was simply in the type of action or perceived provocation that would be required to incur a reaction from the military-led authorities in Ankara.

Energy was one such case. In 1973, following the announced discovery of oil off of Thasos – an island well to the west of Turkey – the Turkish government enacted a policy of ‘gray zones’ in the Eastern Mediterranean, which intended to thwart Greek maritime energy exploration on its own territory as a matter of course. This occurred at a time of pivotal tension between two governments that had arisen following respective military coups; unsurprisingly, the ultimate result of the energy dispute came in a peripheral manner with the Turkish invasion of Cyprus the following July.

The sentiment that energy resource competition is intrinsically linked to conflict remains today. Turkey views itself as unfairly restricted within the ‘Gulf of Antalya’ by Greek maritime claims, while Greek officials in 2020 questioned why Turkish energy research vessels were named after ‘conquerors and pirates’ rather than scientists or explorers. There is definitely an element of optics at work, in that all utilization of such vessels is inevitably featured in domestic and international media and conveys implicit meaning about the former Ottoman zone of control.

ISRAEL’S KEY POSITION, ROLE AND ALLIANCE STRUCTURES

The geographic location of major oil and gas deposits such as the Leviathan field in the maritime triangle between Israel, Cyprus and Egypt became critical in reshaping geopolitical alliances after work intensified in the energy industry around 2010 (as we reported at the time).

The possibility that Israel could for the first time possibly become a major energy player, and even the source of a new pipeline route to Southeastern Europe that could at the same time decrease Russian control over energy exports to the Continent, remade historic alliances.

This was exacerbated by the AKP government’s increasingly pro-Islamist stance and high-profile incidents such as the May 2010 Mavi Marmaris incident that brought Turkish-Israeli relations to an all-time-low. Thus, whereas in the prior Kemalist military-secular system Turkey had often been a preferred ally for Israel over Greek governments that were themselves often friendly to Israeli’ Arab enemies, the new reality provided an opportunity for rapprochement between Greece and Israel.

This reached its culmination in late 2019 and into 2020, when a US and EU-backed EastMed pipeline plan from Israel to Europe via Cyprus and Greece (including Egyptian cooperation) was signed.

At the same time, Turkey heading into 2020 was taking steps to improve its own diplomatic relations with Israel, and pushing the concept of an Israel-Turkey alternate pipeline. While the reality of volatile territories in between the two makes this somewhat tentative, the Turks have argued that it would be far cheaper than the alternate sea route. Of course, it would also give them all of the geostrategic leverage over their Greek and Cypriot rivals.

Since experts in the energy field believe the depth of resources, cost of extraction compared to expected market rates, and trends in terms of alternate energy options may make the whole project unfeasible, it is thus clear from the research (and reading between the lines of different diplomatic statements) that the ultimate ‘prize’ of an energy alliance with Israel is all of the other benefits that come with it. Turkey has not changed its Islamist course, but remains pragmatic enough to recognize Israel as a regional superpower, and knows that improving its relations with both Washington and Moscow can be achieved in certain respects through closer ties of any kind. Energy is one such relationship, and whether or not the stated projects ever materialize is less relevant than is the idea of being visible in the game and not conceding defeat to the other side. That is the approach both Greek and Turkish leaders are taking.

CONCLUSIONS

In additions to offshore hydrocarbons fields, the regional rivalry over energy is likely to become increasingly territorial as EU and UN-mandated renewable energy sources will both compete with and complement the established sources. And it will also require more access to territorial (including maritime territory) for things like wind farms and hydropower.

Thus, in all respects regional states (and the alliance structures they create and expand) will likely tend to manifest energy projects (especially in the political and media spotlight), even when they are not likely or credible, if they can in some way remain as sort of placeholders for national and territorial interests.

 Therefore, analysts would do well to consider the general hypothetical question of what elements will become most significant, should energy disputes in the region in fact be more politically than economic driven.

Additional Reading on this topic:

Constantinos Yiallourides, Maritime Disputes and International Law: Disputed Waters and Seabed Resources in Asia and Europe

Menahem Blondheim and Andreas Stergiou, Conflict & Prosperity: Geopolitics and Energy in the Eastern Mediterranean

Leigh Hancher and Antonis Metaxas, Transformation of EU and Eastern Mediterranean Energy Networks: Legal, Regulatory and Geopolitical Challenges

Michalis Mathioulakis, Aspects of the Energy Union: Application and Effects of European Energy Policies in SE Europe and Eastern Mediterranean

Ayşegül Sever and Orna Almog, eds., Contemporary Israeli–Turkish Relations in Comparative Perspective

 

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What Role Will Strategic Anniversaries Play in Regional Events?

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By Chris Deliso

November 18, 2020

Turkish President Erdoğan visited the divided city of Famagusta, Cyprus on 15 November, controversially calling for a ‘two-state solution’ to the Cyprus conflict. He gave the visit enhanced significance by pointing out that it was the 37th anniversary of the creation of the self-declared Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus (a status which no country save Turkey has ever acknowledged).

While few would have marked the date on their calendar as a potential indicator of new diplomatic escalations in the Eastern Mediterranean, in hindsight it was perfectly predictable- as was the official condemnation statement from Greece’s foreign ministry, which called the Turkish leader’s visit an ‘unprecedented provocation’ in violation of UN resolutions. Greece and Greek Cypriots oppose Turkey’s plans to build up the Turkish-controlled former Greek-inhabited empty area of Famagusta, known as Varosha.

THE GAUNTLET IS IN SIGHT

Emotionally and historically loaded anniversaries such as the above are only going to increase in number and intensity in the next decade, as Greece’s 2021 independence bicentennial will be followed immediately the centennial of the Greece-Turkish population exchanges and the 1923 creation of the Turkish state, climaxing with the 50th anniversary of Turkey’s invasion of Cyprus in 2024. Along with these are many other smaller accompanying anniversaries that will both have political resonance and be used as staging-points for announcements and events.

On 10 October 2020, I explored this question in a LinkedIn article titled ‘Anniversaries and Analysis: the Importance of Sophisticated Modeling for Eastern Mediterranean Events, 2020-30.’ The article gave a longer overview of some of the key events to come, by name and by type, as well as some suggestions for creating a system (ideally, though special software) for collating all relevant anniversaries with cross-categorical applications for future events as well.

This would provide anyone interested in the region with better and more precise advance warning of likely event triggers and dates at which certain events could manifest or be discussed in the media, by politicians, or in the form of public gatherings with political import.

My article also discussed complex overlapping anniversaries and (otherwise unrelated) unfolding events, and how this can be assessed in events mapping for the region.

BENEFITS OF ANALYTICAL EXCHANGE: CROSS-COORDINATION OF EVENTS AND ADVANCE WARNING

Even without an advanced technological platform in existence, simple awareness of the major ongoing and recurring anniversaries, coupled with an understanding of dates and periods to watch for other reasons (i.e., elections, military exercises, treaty deadlines, etc.) will give analysts a good degree of insight into what the more and less likely outcomes are for the target period in the region.

This is aided by the known tendency of regional political and religious leaders to associate certain national, ethnic and historic value and relationships to their cherished anniversaries- and of course, their orientation towards the anniversaries of the adversary. We can assess with a certain degree of likelihood how such regional actors will act and how they will orient the celebration of historic anniversaries to local and national objectives. In most cases, we will find that this approach contrasts quite significantly with that of Western European leaders (not to mention groups from elsewhere around the world).

An example of howunplanned contemporaneous events impact scheduled anniversaries is the 2020 Coronavirus pandemic, which has seriously undermined amd altered the trajectory of Greek bicentennial events, with the Greek 2021 committee having to change its entire approach to event support in advance due to public movement restrictions stemming from the crisis.

CONCLUSIONS

Taking some time to organize and document a large sample size of regional anniversaries will be of increasing value to any individual or organization tasked with analyzing regional events in the decade to come.

While anniversaries in the Eastern Mediterranean have always had a potent impact on political, religious and social affairs, what is striking about the upcoming period is the total stack-up of events in all countries in the area. Particularly with Turkey under the AKP government perceiving itself as being on a historic mission of restoring the former imperial greatness of the Ottomans, it is going to be a very complex and likely dangerous time in the region. An awareness of the key anniversaries will provide analysts with a timetable and schedule of events- allowing an opportunity to prepare for the reverberation of these events before they occur.

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How Will Natural Disasters and Environmental Issues Affect National Policies and Outcomes?

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By Chris Deliso

November 14, 2020

Greece and Turkey sit atop fault lines that have historically triggered earthquakes. These have had significant implications for public safety, the economy, political stability and diplomatic relations. In a region where so much remains rigidly fixed according to ‘red lines’ of policy and predictable political behavior, the unpredictable power of natural disasters – earthquakes as well as other uncontrollable events – adds an intriguing extra dimension to analytical calculations.

Image uploaded to ResearchGate by K. Rockwell and captioned:

“Tectonic map of the eastern Mediterranean region showing the North Anatolia fault zone relative to other faults in Turkey and the Aegean Sea (from Barka, 1992).”

RECENT SEISMIC ACTIVITY PROVIDES DIPLOMATIC EXAMPLE

On 30 October 202020, a 7.0 earthquake struck Greece’s eastern Aegean Sea near the island of Samos, and caused extensive damage along the Anatolian coast, including eight deaths in the Turkish city of Izmir. Early reports from the Turkish government stated 20 people had died and almost 800 were injured due to the earthquake.

 It was a reminder that the Black Sea and Eastern Mediterranean comprises an active seismic zone- just one of the historic environmental risk factors that can cause unexpected events, causing opportunities and stresses alike for the power

In a podcast presentation on Greek foreign policy with the London School of Economics’ Hellenic Observatory  on 5 November 22020, Greek Foreign Minister Nikos Dendias contrasted the Turkish response following the earthquake of the week previous to the “earthquake diplomacy” of summer 1999.

For those who can still recall, that was when major earthquakes hit both countries, leading to unprecedented bilateral cooperation and for Greece to drop its opposi5ion to Turkish EU membership negotiations. In the current case, Dendias noted, Turkey responded to an earthquake by merely continuing with its disputed offshore hydrocarbons research activity in Greek waters.

The reference to “earthquake diplomacy” was interesting because the natural disasters of 1999, and the humanitarian spirit that emerged in the neighboring countries, created a new and unplanned geopolitical situation in Europe. Numerous (mainly northern European) countries had to that point duplicitously told Turkey in private that they supported Turkish EU membership, but simply could not override the Greek veto. However, when Greece stopped objecting due to the unforeseen natural disaster, their bluff was called.

Thus, from 1999, EU countries that were never actually in favor of Turkish membership in the bloc were forced to come up with ever more hoops for the country to jump through, in order to keep the Turks out. This directly aided the rise of Erdogan and his criticisms of the EU – very often, wit some amount of accuracy – that the bloc has behaved unfairly and hypocritically in denying Turkish EU membership. Over time, this has merely hardened positions.

While one could hypothetically have projected such a reaction coming from the emotional reaction of like-minded Mediterranean peoples in the case of the 1999 earthquakes, no one to my knowledge modeled such a scenario before that time. And so, when media and politicians discuss and debate EU-Turkey relations today, the seminal role of the great unanticipated event – yet one that should have been historically predictable – remains forgotten, in the case of the 1999 earthquakes as setting the context for subsequent geopolitical events.

COMMODIFICATION OF ENVIRONMENTAL EVENTS IN THE UN FRAMEWORK

Beyond earthquakes, maritime disasters such as storms and floods have also historically afflicted the region, playing a strong role particularly in the life of the islands and coastal areas. Such phenomena are particularly strong in winter, though now more common throughout the year as even freak tornados and sea-storms have ravaged the Greek coast in recent years.

While such events have always been common factors of life, the more recent inclusion of a new contextual element – the mantra of ‘climate change,’ as codified in the 2015 Paris Climate Accords – will prove increasingly tempting for both local officials and international bureaucrats and bankers looking to expand their portfolios in response to (and in line with) events of nature.

A short video by reporter John Stossel reveals the incoherence and inconsistencies of the Treaty, which was nevertheless lionized by the media and politicians supporting the UN worldview as a great success.

For a more in-depth study of the topic, see a May 2017 publication by the Competitive Enterprise Institute, “The Legal and Economic Case Against the Paris Climate Treaty: Canceling U.S. Participation Protects Competitiveness and the Constitution,” by Christopher C. Horner and Marlo Lewis. Of course, President Trump kept his campaign promise, and on 4 November 2020 the US officially left the Paris Accords, leading the UN to publish a statement that it “regretted” the decision.

For its part, Greece tends to be (regardless of political party in power) a dependable member of the globalist camp, often calling on the primacy of international law- especially when it comes to it s territorial disputes with Turkey. The latter has always been more nationalist and independent-minded, but has especially been so since the AKP came to power in 2003.

In 2017, following the US withdrawal from the scheme, then-Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras of the leftist Syriza party announced at a Paris climate meeting that Greece would continue its pledges to the treaty.

“We are reconfirming our commitment today and we jointly sent a very important message which we hope everyone will heed,” Kathimerini reported Tsipras as saying. Since then, his successors in the more conservative Nea Dimoktratia government have been less vocal about the treaty, but they have not sought to pull out of it either. Greece’s EU membership means its foreign policy must align with that of Brussels, and its perennial role as a debt-slave nation means it could not conduct an independent policy even if it wanted.

Therefore, it is most likely that Greece will continue to use weather conditions as a financial instrument to benefit from, within whatever mechanisms the UN and bankers allow.

The case of non-EU member Turkey is somewhat different. The country enjoys much more independence in policy formation, and has thus far successfully resisted pressure to join the scam. But to a large extent, this seems to be not out of principle but rather over the terms.

An August 2020 article from Climate Home News explained Turkey’s decision not to ratify the Paris Accords- making it the only G20 country not to do so, and only one of seven in the UN not to do so. The articles got unwittingly close to the heart of the scam behind the Accord in discussing Ankara’s rationale for objections.

“Turkey has a peculiar beef with the Paris Agreement, stemming from its decision to sign up to the convention as a developed country,” the report read. “Turkey has since argued that it is a developing country and has won special circumstances, allowing it to opt out of supplying finance. But it still cannot access climate cash, a condition President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has said must change if Turkey is to ratify the agreement.”

In other words, the whole thing is a shell game for financiers, and the Turks are wise to it.

Without saying it in as many words, this article reveals that the Turkish leader understood the scam of the Paris Accords, and about how the entire premise of it was on the mass reallocation of wealth under the pretense of climate change-linked problems.

Turkey is also in the position of several OPEC countries, which refuse to join the Paris deal because of their fossil fuel energy production. Since Turkish foreign policy continues to envision offshore energy extraction as an imperative – even and particularly because this involves a territorial dispute with Greece and Cyprus – Turkey will remain tied to a policy of resistance when it comes to the Paris Accord. Even if nothing ever comes of the offshore extraction due to technical or market reasons, the territorial claims underlying the policy will likely keep retention of the policy an imperative for the Turkish government.

CONCLUSIONS- MORE OF THE UNEXPECTED, AND EXPECTATIONS UNMET

As the risk of earthquakes and other natural disasters remain chronic, analysts must continue to keep in mind their potential for causing short-term disruption to economies, public safety and even political stability. Istanbul itself is overdue for a major earthquake, and large-scale destruction in that city would obviously have massive impact for Turkey and the region.

In other regards such as climate-change obligations, the already destroyed tourism-based economies following 2020 Covid-19 restrictions are going to be slow to recover. Some industry insiders believe it will take until 2025 or 2027 to return to levels of 2019. In 2020, Greece suffered a roughly 85% decrease in tourism.

It is likely that future restrictions on the industry will see environmental and public health measures seamlessly converge, further restricting the profitability of small- and medium-sized enterprises particularly and contributing to poverty. And all of this is not even considering the risk of armed conflict, which will remain high through the Eastern Mediterranean anniversary season of the 2020s.

Additional Reading on this topic:

Naci Görür, Integration of Earth Science Research on the Turkish and Greek 1999 Earthquakes

 E. Boschi, et al., Recent Evolution and Seismicity of the Mediterranean Region: Proceedings of the NATO Advanced Research Workshop, Erice, Italy, September 18-27, 1992

Beth Shaw, Active Tectonics of the Hellenic Subduction Zone

 

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How Could the Istanbul Canal Project Affect Regional Stability?

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By Chris Deliso

October 28, 2020

Frequently overlooked because its future is unclear, the Istanbul Canal project tops the list of analytical issues because it has relevance for the entire balance of economic, military and political power between Greece and Turkey – and, quite possibly, for the environmental health of the Black Sea and Aegean/Mediterranean Seas.

My first key analytical question concerns a project that may never happen. However, its implications are so significant that it must be considered from several viewpoints.

In April 2013, Hurriyet Daily News reported  that the Turkish government was moving ahead with something that then-Prime Minister Erdoğan whimsically called a “crazy project”: to connect the Black Sea and Marmara Sea by means of a new canal, something that would effectively make the historic core of Istanbul’s European side into an island.

First declared by the Turkish leader during his 2011 re-election campaign, the canal as of 2013 was slated to be a 45-to-50-kilometer waterway that will “link the inner Marmara Sea to the Black Sea, according to plans. The canal will be 25 meters deep and up to 150 meters wide.” The original budget was set for $12 billion, with a completion date of 2023, to match the national independence centennial.

The government’s argument (then and thereafter) was that a new canal would lessen the congestion of tanker traffic from the Bosporus, limiting the risk of vessel collisions in the busy waterways surrounding Istanbul. Nevertheless, safety standards in the Bosporus have been modernized in recent decades and collisions are very rare.

As of 2020, construction had not started, but domestic opposition in Turkey (especially in Istanbul, where an opposition candidate had won Erdoğan’s former mayoral post) was rising on cost, environmental and corruption concerns.  In January 2020, it was reported that property along the planned canal route had been purchased by close relatives of the Turkish president and his close allies, the Qatari royal family.

In December 2019, the new Istanbul authorities announcing they were withdrawing municipal support for the Protocol that oversees construction plans. Despite this development, the national government continued with its plans, announcing the first tenders in March 2020.

WHY THIS HAS GEOSTRATEGIC IMPORTANCE

It is highly likely that the idea of a new Istanbul canal emerged from the general trajectory of naval policy innovations that have included offshore energy exploration in contested waters and a declared Exclusive Economic Zone with the factional government in Tripoli. In this analysis, a second canal becomes important as a legal response: it would allow Turkey to go beyond the 1936 Monttreaux Convention, which grants free passage to all vessels using the Bosporus and which limits military vessels within that strait to countries sharing a Black Sea border.

Erdoğan himself alluded to an unspecified ‘political’ aspect of a new canal in discussing the issue in 2020. As critics have noted, it would not make sense for commercial shipping to pay fees to go through a new canal considering the existing presence of the Bosporus, which in any case has not seen a major accident in many years.

Thus, where the political calculations become more serious is in terms of how Turkey could leverage the facilitation of non-Black Sea powers’ navies into that sea by use of a new canal. Whether the great power in question by China, the US or some other, the question remains as to how Turkey could seek to trade political favors by allowing such an engagement. Would it allow a US fleet access to the Black Sea, perhaps, in exchange for allowing it to annex northern Cyprus? Would it allow Chinese vessels into the sea in return for some military or economic cooperation?

The only guarantee is that such a scenario would be highly negative for Greek interests, as the canal represents a potential maritime asset that Greece cannot match.

ECOLOGICAL ISSUES

Local opponents of the canal project have cited fears that construction will destroy forests, contaminate groundwater, and eliminate a lake that is vital for the drinking water of 20 percent of city residents. Making Istanbul an island would also have the result of exposing it to more extreme weather in future. But the biggest fear is actually much more far-reaching. In January 2020, Marc Pierini of Carnegie Europe argued that opening an artificial waterway that would flood both the Black and Marmara Seas with new water could lead to an international environmental disaster capable of permanently changing the hydrological balance of the seas.

If such an event were to happen, it could also have a severe impact on the economies of all regional countries, particularly if maritime species were adversely affected. Nothing similar to what Turkey envisions has been tried in this region since the Suez Canal, and there is no firm guarantee that it can be completed in a way that does not harm the environment. Thus, far from being an issue of simple national will, it is one that affects all nations having a maritime border- from Russia to Spain.

WHAT THE PROJECT SAYS ABOUT THE TURKISH PRESIDENT- LEGACY ISSUES

An interesting and completely overlooked aspect of the Canal Istanbul project is what it says about the man who envisioned it. Since 2003, President Erdoğan has systematically dismantled the entire Kemalist system upon which modern Turkey was founded, opting instead for the romantic-imbued former great Islamic empire of the Ottomans. Yet with the canal project, it seems that he is not content to compete with either the man who conquered the city (Mehmet II) or the one who expanded the empire to its greatest degree (Suleiman the Magnificent).

No, with the canal project’s plan for a historic change to the very physicality of the city, what we are seeing with Erdoğan now is perhaps a personal competition with the very man who built the city in the first place- Emperor Constantine the Great. Indeed, there would be no greater way for the Turkish leader to put his stamp of authority (and by extension, the Turkish nation’s in general) on the storied city than by fundamentally altering its very physical existence for the first time since the 4th century. Whether or not he actually has this intention is immaterial, because it will become part of the nationalist narrative, should he succeed in completing the project.

Additional Reading on this topic:

Hatice Ecemis-Yilmaz, Legal Status of the Canal Istanbul in International Law

Nihan Unlu, The Legal Regime of the Turkish Straits (International Straits of the World

 

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Chris Deliso

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