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Turkey’s Isolation from the Eastern Mediterranean Gas Forum: Ideational Mechanisms and Material Interests in Energy Politics

Authors: Pınar İpek & V. Tibet Gür 

Affiliation: TOBB University of Economics and Technology (Ankara, Türkiye),  and  Rutgers University (New Brunswick, New Jersey, USA)  

Organization /Publisher:  The Global Research in International Affairs (GLORIA) Center/Turkish Studies (Routledge)

Date/Place: May 16, 2021/ the UK 

Type of Literature: Journal Article 

Number of Pages: 31


Keywords: Eastern Mediterranean Gas Forum, Regionalization, Cooperation, Energy, Eastern Mediterranean, Türkiye




The article discusses the patterns of inter-state enmity and amity in the regionalization process during the formation of the Eastern Mediterranean Gas Forum (EMGF). The authors use a constructivist approach to analyze the changes in foreign policy objectives and identify the role of ideational mechanisms as a factor in constructing material interests in the lack of cooperation between Türkiye and other regional states, with particular reference to Türkiye’s isolation from the EMGF. The discoveries of offshore natural gas resources, first in Israel and later around the island of Cyprus, have escalated political disputes in the region and created new patterns of amity. In the case of hydrocarbon politics, Türkiye, Republic of Cyprus, and Greece’s policy discourses differ in cooperative and conflictual contexts. 


The authors assume that the ideational mechanism plays an essential role in policy changes. Contextual ‘frames’ are identified and used to analyze and measure how policy elites think about an issue; i.e., how that issue is framed in their minds and reflected in their speeches can profoundly impact their attitudes and policy choices. A dataset of 286 press releases and statements by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Türkiye, Greece, and RoC, as well as related archived speeches of the respective presidencies between 2010-2020, were framed in five different contexts: cooperative economic, conflictual economic, cooperative security, conflictual security, and socio-cultural. 

The authors use Amitav Acharya’s theoretical framework to explain ideational mechanisms that constructed material interests in the regionalization process during the formation of the EMGF. The authors’ three ways that ideas and material interests shape the politics of regional orders are 1) cognitive priors, 2) redefined causal ideas, and 3) exogenous ideas. 


Cognitive priors are preexisting ideas of individuals and societies about the world and other actors. Thus, cognitive priors reflect how actors interpret inter-subjective structures beyond rational cost and benefit calculations. The authors’ findings demonstrate that the dominant ‘conflictual security’ framing in the RoC and Greece’s discourse persistently translated into policy guidance from 2010 through 2020. Türkiye’s official policy has regularly emphasized the country’s obligation to protect the rights of Turkish Cypriots in developing hydrocarbon resources in maritime jurisdiction areas of Cyprus Island. In short, the authors claim that cognitive priors and socio-cultural ideas embedded in conceptions of Turkish national identity have constructed material benefits at the expense of economic incentives for cooperation between Türkiye and RoC in the region.


Causal ideas describe how initial cognitive priors embedded in policy discourse are transferred, or how new ideas are introduced in the social construction of material or normative instruments to achieve policy goals. During 2017-2020 the Turkish policy shifted conflictual security and conflictual economics. The shift in policy preferences can plausibly be explained by cognitive priors and redefined causal ideas in Türkiye’s interactions with Israel, the RoC, and Greece. The causal ideas that diverted the attention of Turkish policy elites were the changing relations with Israel since 2008, the Arab Spring of 2011, Türkiye’s 2015 General elections, and the 2016 coup attempt. Exogenous ideas are the involvement of the EU and US as international actors in conflict resolution. Thus, the preexisting beliefs and locally produced ideas serve as the lenses through which international actors’ ideas and norms are interpreted, and briefly highlight how the stalemate in Türkiye’s relationship with the EU and the political tension between Türkiye and the US have shaped new ideas (i.e., blue homeland) in Ankara’s shift to an increasingly assertive foreign policy.


Türkiye’s increasingly independent foreign policy, based on the regional projection of soft power and its accession negotiations with the EU in 2005, have complemented its causal ideas fostering multilateral cooperation and dialogue to protect Turkish Cypriots’ existing and inherent equal rights and interests. While Türkiye diplomatically opposed the RoC’s bilateral Exclusive Economic Zone agreements in 2003, 2007, and 2010, which delimited RoC’s maritime economic zones with Lebanon, Egypt, and Israel, the cooperative framing in its discourse continued. Though in 2008, Turkish and Israeli officials decided to explore the feasibility of a so-called Med-Stream project aimed to connect their countries by five pipelines that would carry water, electricity, fiber optics, natural gas, and oil. However, Türkiye’s cooperative policy between 2003 and 2010 has been lost in the corresponding framing of ‘conflictual security’ in RoC’s discourse towards Türkiye. Further, Türkiye’s causal ideas were redefined when the RoC unilaterally began drilling in the disputed maritime jurisdiction areas in September 2011. Türkiye concluded with its own continental shelf delimitation agreement with the TRNC in the same week, and the TRNC issued a drilling license to the Turkish Petroleum Corporation in September 2011. In other words, since Türkiye’s sovereign rights and thus material interests were directly threatened by the foreign energy firms’ drilling activities on behalf of the RoC in 2011, Türkiye has been forced to defend its rights and has increasingly contested the RoC’s acts—and started redefining its causal idea. 


The main reason for Türkiye’s policy shift is based on the strategic vision of the Turkish Navy, known as the “blue homeland.” Thus, a memorandum of understanding on the role of Libya in maritime borders delimitation in the Eastern Mediterranean resulted between Türkiye and the UN-recognized government of Libya in Tripoli in December 2019, which charted a mutually expansive maritime border between the two states. This diplomatic move aimed to prevent the completion of the proposed East-Med pipeline, transporting natural gas to European markets from Israel and Cyprus. Additionally, the Turkish Navy undertook unprecedentedly extensive navy exercises in the Black, Aegean, and Mediterranean Seas.


The authors conclude that ideational mechanisms are operating to create specific conditions of cooperation or conflict, and further, that social constructs—the inclusion of ‘us’ and the exclusion of ‘them’—are influential in the patterns of amity or enmity among Türkiye, Greece, and the RoC. The authors note the role of a strong Navy, and claim that deeply rooted nationalist discourses explain Türkiye’s ambitious and independent regional foreign policy. Overall, the authors fail to recognize that Türkiye’s ‘isolation’ from the EMGF is being presented as a ‘lack of cooperation’ despite the member states choosing to exclude Türkiye from the start. 


By: Razia Wadood, CIGA Senior Research Associate 



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