A Turkish attempt to lure tourists with a “Turkish Aegean” promotional campaign – against a backdrop of historic Greek sites and the sound of the bouzouki – has provoked anger and shame in Athens.
With its western coasts stretching across the Aegean Sea, Turkey says the time has come to stop associating the region exclusively with Greece. Last December, it submitted a request to the EU Intellectual Property Office to trademark the term TurkAegean.
The approval of the application, which was made public last week, surprised Greek politicians. “Some people have simply not done their job properly,” Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis said.
Amid cries that their culture is being usurped, Greek officials have gone on the offensive. “It is clear that the government will exhaust every legal avenue to deal with this development,” Mitsotakis told reporters in shock at the end of last week’s NATO summit in Madrid.
With its ancient Greek name derived from Aegeus, father of the mythical king Theseus who founded Athens, the Hellenic heritage of the Aegean has rarely been disputed – even if the two NATO rivals have long sparred over issues of territorial sovereignty in the sea. .
Against the backdrop of mounting Turkish claims in the region, top Greek EU official, European Commission vice-president Margaritis Schinas, demanded that the decision be reviewed. In a succinct letter to Thierry Breton, his counterpart in charge of internal markets, Schinas reprimanded the EU body for not properly publishing Ankara’s request to use the term in its tourism campaign.
The Turkish-Aegean slogan, which predominates in the advertising of what Turkey also calls its “coastline of happiness”, has been rolled out with vengeance in recent days, further angering the Greeks.
“The Turkish Aegean Sea is one of the most exquisite regions that Türkiye has to offer,” Culture and Tourism Minister Mehmet Nuri Ersoy told the Financial Times, referring to an area of ruins including ancient Troy and the port city. Ephesus. once considered by the Greeks as the most important trading center in the Mediterranean.
“It has coastlines shrouded in clear blue waters, numerous historic sites dating back to the second century BC, and idyllic beaches for soaking up the sun.”
Proponents of rapprochement point to what TurkAegean makes clear: from spectacular coastline to music and food, the two countries have more in common than they might like to believe.
But the campaign also follows rising tensions between historical enemies over their opposing claims in the Aegean, mineral exploration in the eastern Mediterranean and war-torn Cyprus. More worryingly, communication through diplomatic channels has all but failed. On Friday, hopes for calm in the wake of NATO’s Madrid summit had waned dramatically after Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan reiterated that he would not meet Mitsotakis until he “raps himself back together”. In May, Erdoğan announced he would cut ties with Mitsotakis after Greek leader called on Washington not to sell F-16 fighter jets to Turkey during a speech to the US Congress.
Ankara has accused Athens of deliberately militarizing islands near the Turkish coast in violation of international treaties. Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu warned last month that Turkey would contest the status of Greece’s eastern islands if troops were not withdrawn.
Athens maintains that it has the right to defend itself on its own soil, pointing to repeated airstrikes by Turkish fighter jets and Ankara’s long-standing threat of war in the event of expansion of its territorial waters. Erdoğan has repeatedly invoked the Greco-Turkish War of 1919-22, which ended in military defeat for Athens, saying that, 100 years later, Greece should not fight a battle it would “regret” again.
Greek politicians said Ankara’s Turkish-Aegean campaign should be seen in the context of the strategy followed by the embattled Turkish president ahead of the 2023 elections.
“It is not just an innocent advertisement, but another argument used to ultimately question our sovereignty over the Greek islands in the Aegean Sea and our rights in maritime economic zones,” the former foreign minister said. left-wing Syriza MP George Katrougalos. “If they just say they have a coastline in the Aegean Sea, then of course that’s geographically correct. But the term implies, as an outgrowth of their propaganda, that all or most of the Aegean is Turkish and that is clearly wrong.”
With Greece already looking forward to a general election in September, analysts have not ruled out the possibility that tensions, intentionally or accidentally, could culminate in a military clash.
“There has been a very aggressive, almost apocalyptic upgrade of Turkish claims in the Aegean,” said Constantinos Filis, a professor of international relations at the American College of Greece. “It is as if Turkey is preparing the international public for what may lie ahead.”