Erdogan stokes tensions in eastern Mediterranean with claims Turkey in 'struggle for independence'

The Turkish president made inflammatory comments at a Victory Day parade, referencing Ankara's claims on the gas-rich sea region

Turkey's President Recep Erdogan, center, follows a military honour guard during a ceremony at the mausoleum of Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, founder of modern Turkey, in Ankara, Turkey, Sunday, Aug. 30, 2020. Turkey marked the 98th anniversary of the decisive War of Independence battle against Greek forces Sunday as the threat of a new conflict with Athens looms in the eastern Mediterranean.(Turkish Presidency via AP, Pool)

Turkey marked the 98th anniversary of the decisive War of Independence battle against Greek forces on Sunday as the threat of a new conflict with Athens looms in the eastern Mediterranean.

“Turkey’s struggle for independence and future continues today as well,” Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said in a message to commemorate Victory Day.

“It is absolutely not a coincidence that those who seek to exclude us from the eastern Mediterranean are the same invaders as the ones who attempted to invade our homeland a century ago.”

Tensions are mounting between Turkey and Greece over Turkey’s searching for potential gas and oil deposits near the island of Cyprus, which like Greece is an EU member country. Turkish and Greek armed forces have been conducting war games in the area.

EU member Greece claims the waters are part of its continental shelf and has enlisted the support of the 27-nation bloc, which has condemned Turkey’s “illegal activities” and warned of potential sanctions against Ankara.

Turkey says Greece and others are denying its rights to explore for energy resources in the Mediterranean.

On Saturday, Turkey began its own manoeuvres until September 11 off its south coast. Turkey’s Defence Ministry also released cockpit footage of what it said were Turkish jets in mock dogfights with Greek F-16s between Crete and Cyprus.

“No one should have any doubts about our resolve in this matter and our unshakeable belief in victory,” Mr Erdogan said.

In an interview with broadcaster AHaber on Saturday evening, Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said Greece extending its territorial waters from six to 12 nautical miles would be a "cause for war." Earlier this week, Athens announced plans to extend its maritime border with Italy to 12 nautical miles.

EU leaders will discuss whether to impose the additional measures at a summit in Brussels between September 24 and 25 should Turkey fail to stop what the Europeans consider to be “illegal activities” in the eastern Mediterranean.

“Turkey has to abstain from unilateral actions. This is a basic element to allow the dialogue to advance,” EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell told reporters in Berlin after a meeting of EU foreign ministers on Friday.

He said the EU is keen to establish a “healthier relationship” with Turkey, which is a candidate for membership of the bloc, although its accession talks are virtually frozen.

“We must walk a fine line between preserving a true space for dialogue and at the same time showing collective strength in the defence of our common interests,” Mr Borrell said.

Mr Erdogan laid a wreath at the tomb of Mustafa Kemal Ataturk in Ankara later Sunday. Turkey would “not bow to threats, intimidation and blackmail, especially in the eastern Mediterranean,” he said at the ceremony.

Ataturk led the Turkish troops in the independence struggle following First World War and went on to establish modern Turkey.

In other commemorations, troops marched through Ankara while in Istanbul people waved flags from cars in an impromptu procession. Turkish warships will visit 20 ports around Turkey and northern Cyprus for sunset flag ceremonies.