President Erdogan expresses commitment to defend Turkey's rights to the waters of the Eastern Mediterranean and Aegean, saying "we will not leave the seas to bandits" amid tensions with neighbours in the region.
Turkey will never allow attempts to "extort" natural resources in the Eastern Mediterranean, Turkey's President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said on Sunday.
Ankara has long contested unilateral moves in the Eastern Mediterranean by Greek Cypriot administration of the divided island of Cyprus.
Speaking during a ceremony for the Turkish Naval Forces in Istanbul, Erdogan said that "Ankara will never allow attempts to extract natural resources from the Eastern Mediterranean to succeed, without including Turkey and the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus (TRNC)."
Last month, the Greek Cypriot administration invited oil companies to bid on a “license” to explore an area off the southern coast of Cyprus, a policy first undertaken in February 2016 with the aim of drilling for offshore hydrocarbon reserves.
Turkey, which for years has slammed the Greek Cypriot administration’s exclusion of the Turkish Cypriots in the TRNC, an independent state recognised only by Ankara, insists that a lasting peace deal for the island must be reached between the Turkish and Greek Cypriots before international agreements over the hydrocarbon reserves can be made.
The Turkish Foreign Ministry last month also accused the Greek Cypriot administration of violating Turkey's rights to the continental shelf in the region under international law. Major parts of the Greek Cypriot "license" areas lie within the boundaries of Turkey's Eastern Mediterranean region, it said.
"We will never allow efforts which are aimed at preventing Turkey from accessing the seas," Erdogan said on Sunday.
"Recent events in the Eastern Mediterranean and the Aegean have shown once again that our country’s navy should be as strong as the other elements (of the armed forces)," he added.
"We will never give permission to efforts aimed at preventing Turkey from accessing the seas."
The Turkish president's speech came during a ceremony at the Istanbul Navy Shipyard Command in the city's Tuzla district, marking the delivery of TCG Burgazada corvette, the third ship for Turkey's first indigenous warship programme, known as MILGEM. The ceremony also welcomed the Aydinreis submarine.
"We will not leave the seas to bandits"
President Erdogan emphasized that Turkey does not have eyes on any other countries' rights, laws and territories, adding "we only protect the rights of our country and our brothers."
Erdogan said those who thought they could take steps against Turkey in the Eastern Mediterranean and Aegean have started to realise they made a "huge" mistake.
"Just as we gave lessons to terrorists in Syria, we will not leave the seas to bandits," Erdogan said.
Turkey in October warned Greece it would not tolerate a shift in the Greek maritime border, a few days after Athens said it planned to extend its territorial waters to 12 miles to the west of the country.
Territorial waters are a sensitive issue between the two neighbours, who are separated by the Aegean Sea. Turkey and Greece have been at odds over their respective continental shelves for decades.
Turkey has previously warned it could not preclude military action to defend its interests.
Although Greece’s planned measure would not affect the Aegean region, off Greece's eastern and southern coasts, Turkey's Foreign Ministry in a statement released on October 23 recalled a 1995 declaration of Turkey's parliament which had authorised action, not excluding military action, to safeguard Turkish interests.
As a signatory to the UN Convention of the Law of the Sea, Greece has said it can extend its territorial waters to 12 miles from its coast from six miles at present, though it has not sought to do so in waters stretching towards Turkey.