Ioakeim D. Ampartzidis

Recent developments in the Cypriot EEZ

Since the beginning of 2019, we are witnessing an apparently growing tension in the Εastern Mediterranean region, particularly in the Cypriot EEZ. The discovery[1] of oil giant ExxonMobil and Qatar Petroleum consortium at the Claucus-1 target in Cyprus’s Block 10, has acted as a catalyst and provoked a severe deterioration between Cyprus and Turkey.

Turkey’s reaction to the findings was to illegally deploy numerous drilling and explorations ships, accompanied by a military flotilla within the Cypriot EEZ, searching for natural gas discoveries. Ankara demands the Republic of Cyprus (the “Greek-Cypriot administration” for them) to stall its energy program and share equally its energy resources between the two ethnic communities of the island, as prerequisites for the revitalization of the Cyprus problem talks, in order to mutually suspend her hydrocarbon activities.

Turkey’s maximalist and revisionist approach derives from a successively and simultaneously anthropogeographical-machiavellian approach of the state and its need to expand and control its vital space.  This aggressive lebensraum approach denotes acquisition of land, sea, space and their resources for national empowering and economic self-sufficiency.

Therefore, it is necessary to examine what fuels Turkey’s fierce responses in the Cypriot EEZ and how the neo-Ottoman Turkey is willing to exercise its revised regional strategic role. Given that, as Onuf suggests, a crucial element to understand Turkey’s policies is to focus on the social factors which direct Turkey’s actions to shape the “world of its making”.[2]


Turkish state as a superorganism seeking for Lebensraum

The concept of “Lebensraum” was firstly introduced in the 1890s by the German political geographer Friedrich Ratzel, (1844-1904) into a conservative ideological framework of German right. Linked to social Darwinism and Malthusianism, Lebensraum-organic state theory, at a nation-state level, drives régimes/political authorities to define the conditions and the opportunities which provide the socio-political and geographical justifications by considering violence, war and the land Expansion[3] as necessary means of survival.

According to the German thinker, living space is defined as:

The geographical surface area required to support a living species at its current population size and mode of existence (Ratzel,1901) … The exact boundaries of a species’ Lebensraum were relative to its member’s metabolic requirements and environment and expanded as population grew. [4]

Even though today, organismic thinking of states is considered an anathema for modern IR scholars, the neo-Ottoman lebensraum doctrine of Turkey fit to Alexander Wendt’s constructivist theory of states as superorganism.

Wendt suggests that:

it is the participation of individuals in a collective thought process (in this case, in a ‘narrative of state’), whose boundaries are instantiated by the practices that produce and reproduce that process, which enables superorganisms to survive.”[5]

In other words, it seems that the neo-Ottoman lebensraum concept in Turkish foreign policy agenda is playing out as if the Turkish state as a “subject “ forms and implements its foreign policy agenda under the “collective consciousness” of its political elite who seek for perpetual expansion of its vital space. Significantly enough, it seems that there is a consensus among the main political forces in Turkey for the national aspirations depicted by the neo-Ottoman lebensraum concept.


Neo-Ottoman version of Lebensraum (vital space)

  1. National Oath – The territorial part of the Turkish Lebensraum[6]

Turkey’s view regarding its vital space drives its national aspirations since the establishment of modern Turkey, through the Treaty of Lausanne, in 1923, which defined the contemporary international borders in the region. Historically, during the last session of the Ottoman Parliament in 1920, the then Ottoman Turkey approved the “National Oath”[7] which was the basis of Turkish claims in the Treaty of Kars and in the Treaty of Lausanne.

The National Oath etched the specific geographical borders of the future independent Turkish land including the actual political borders of the Turkish Republic, but also provinces such as Kirkuk, Thessaloniki, Aleppo and Mosul as strategically important ex-Ottoman provinces.[8]

Turkish president references to the “National Oath” and ambiguous historical narration for the re-examination of the Treaty of Lausanne, confirm the existential anguish of modern Turkey, as the broader Middle East is reshaping once again, and its self-belief that “will either broaden its influence or lose it completely”.[9]

National Oath presents the territorial part of the neo-Ottoman lebensraum doctrine which Turkey has already put into full operation in Cyprus, Syria and Iraq through its recent military invasions.

  1. Blue Homeland – The nautical part of the Turkish Lebensraum

During the ratifications of the National Oath, Cyprus was an imperial British colony, a status which was re-confirmed under the Lausanne Treaty. Since the ‘60s but especially soon after the Turkish invasion in Cyprus, the Greco-Turkish clash over the Aegean Sea and Cyprus entered a new era of escalation which continues until today.

The Turkish invasion in 1974 was the outcome of a systematic injection of the religious-historic factor of Islamic-Ottoman legacy through the political agenda of the Turkish Islamic movements. Nevertheless, the proclamation of the Cypriot EEZ (2004) and particularly the discovery of the Aphrodite field (2011), have revealed a gap in Turkish grand strategy which had to be covered immediately.

The “Blue Homeland”[10] doctrine, which has been issued for the first time as a term in 2006[11] by a Turkish admiral and then has been shaped and endorsed by Erdogan’s regime, has designated the maritime areas where Turkey should have jurisdiction.

According to the Turkish defense analyst, Dr. Can Kasapoglu, the Blue Homeland drill program was not merely a military exercise but an ongoing strategic political and military concept[12] of Turkey which is formed on a trilateral basis where naval power is at the epicenter.



We have to bear in mind that Cyprus (in geographical terms) is a small but essential part of the equation  of a broader sea area (which extends from the straits of Giblartar, across the horn of Africa, the Mediterranean Sea to the Red Sea and the Gulf), that Turkey acknowledges as an extended zone of influence whose immediate control is vital for her national interests.

Ιt is therefore reasonable to conclude that Turkey’s  reaction to the Cypriot drilling program is the manifestation of the Blue Homeland. The nautical part of the neo-Ottoman lebensraum is the political-military agenda of Ankara which aims to expand the National Oath concept on the sea and “restore” the Ottoman empire’s legacy.

The Turkish invasion in Cypriot EEZ, its illegal drilling program and its broader actions in the East Mediterranean (Greece, Israel, Libya, Egypt etc) are indicators on how Turkey perceives its broader national rights in the region and the way it is planning to support them in the years to come, if a window of opportunity appears.

Therefore, the neo-Ottoman lebensraum concept of Turkish foreign policy as an outcome of collective thought of the Turkish state as a superorganism can be a way to analyze the current and future developments not only in the Cypriot EEZ but in the broader periphery of Turkey.

[1] Peliminary interpretation of the data shows the existence of an offshore natural gas reservoir estimated between 5-8 tcf.

[2] Nicholas G. Onuf, World of Our Making (Columbia: University of South California Press, 1989).

[3] Morad Kavianirad,Chamran Booye,  “Role of Lebensraum as a Concept in Forming Iraq Foreign Policy and Political Behavior” SID, Geopolitics Quarterly, Volume: 8, No.1, Spring 2012, pp. 8.

[4] “Man’s prime means of adaptation was culture, which Ratzel saw as technology, intellectual traits, and social organization. A state, for example, was simply the result of a people’s adaptation to an environment”, Ibid, pp.53.

[5] Alexander Wendt, ‘The state as a person’ Cambridge University Press, Review of International Studies, Vol. 30, No. 2 (Apr. 2004), pp. 311.

[6] Hayat alanı in Turkish.

[7] Misak-ı Millî in Turkish.

[8] Sinan BAYKENT, “Misak-ı Millî or the ‘National Oath’: Turkey’s new foreign policy compass?”, Hurriyet Daily, Oct. 30th, 2016. (accessed 10-05-2018).

[9] Ibid.

[10] Mavi Vatan in Turkish.

[11] Working Paper: The ‘Two and a half wars’ theory and the Mavi Vatan naval exercise: Strategic Culture and the new phase of Turkish strategy, Eliamep,  Zenonas Tziarras, March 15th, 2019. (accessed 24-08-2019)

[12] “Firstly, the concept has a pronounced power projection aspect. Coupled with Turkey’s burgeoning forward-basing posture across the horn of Africa and the Gulf, Turkey aims at pursuing its national interests in an enhanced zone d’influence. Secondly, this understanding adopts a more active role for the Turkish Navy in energy geopolitics competition, coercive efforts, and naval diplomacy. Thirdly and finally, the sustainability of the concept depends on maintaining the uptrend in Turkey’s indigenous defense industry.” ‘The Blue Homeland’: Turkey’s largest naval drill, Anadolu Agency News, February 27th, 2019 (accessed 25-08-2019).