Turkey’s Demographic Games Come to the Caucasus

STEPANAKERT, NAGORNO-KARABAKH—For much of Europe and the Middle East, the refugee crisis in Syria was a human tragedy. Syrian children sell chewing gum in the streets of Mosul and pick produce on farms in Lebanon’s Bekaa Valley. Jordanian television highlights the plight of refugee girls who once dreamed of becoming doctors or lawyers taken as second wives in order to escape refugee camps. Syrians board rickety boats and rafts in a desperate attempt to reach Europe. Some do, but many don’t make it.

Turkey hosts the most Syrian refugees of any country and, to Turkey’s credit, the country and its people have dedicated substantial resources to their health and well-being. Where others see tragedy, however, Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan sees opportunity. Not only has he weaponized the threat of dumps of refugees on European shores in order to blackmail Europe into greater diplomatic concessions, but he has also used the predominantly Sunni refugees to wage demographic warfare against Turkish minorities whose identities Erdoğan resents or seeks to dilute. According to Turkish parliamentarians and provincial officials, Erdoğan’s top authorities offer Sunni Syrian Arabs an opportunity both to avoid refugee camps and to gain the privileges of Turkish citizenship so long as they settle either in predominantly Alevi areas in Hatay or in Kurdish towns and villages in southeastern Turkey. In both cases, Erdoğan’s goals are simple: utilize Sunni Islamists to dilute minority populations or tip the balance in close-held districts to his own party.

In Kurdish-dominated areas in Syria, Erdoğan has utilized a variation of the same strategy. While he couched Turkey’s military incursions first in terms of counter-terrorism and more recently in the rhetoric of creating a safe-haven or buffer zone in order to enable the repatriation of Syrian refugees, the reality of his policy has been to ethnically cleanse Syrian border regions to force out Kurds, Christians, and Yezidis and to replace them with Sunni Arab Islamist communities. In each case, the fact that diplomats looked the other way enabled and affirmed Erdoğan strategy.

It is that success, perhaps, that now leads Erdoğan and his ally Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev to replicate the strategy in Nagorno-Karabakh. Documents captured during the recent Armenia-Azerbaijan War as well as prisoner interrogations reveal that Turkey facilitated the transport of more than 7,700 Syrian Islamists to Azerbaijan in the months before the September 27 outbreak of fighting. Several journalists reporting from Azerbaijan independently confirmed the presence of Syrian mercenaries there.

With the ceasefire, many journalists have moved onto the next story but the Syrian mercenaries—at least those who survived the fighting—have remained in Azerbaijan. For all Aliyev’s rhetoric about Karabakh as the heart of Azerbaijan, few Azeris want to live there: Azerbaijan is an oil-rich country and most of the jobs and infrastructure are around Baku, 250 miles away. In Karabakh, those returning from the front suggest that Syrian mercenaries are both sending for their family members to come to Azerbaijan and seeking to then settle in southern areas of Karabakh that have now reverted to Azerbaijan. While Erdoğan and Aliyev might celebrate ridding the region of Christians, replacing them with mercenaries will be a ticking time bomb for the southern Caucasus. They not only will create tension within majority Shi’ite Azerbaijan, but if they try to link up with jihadists in the northern Caucasus, they could both destabilize the region and trigger greater Russian intervention in the region. 

Turkey planned the timing of the war perfectly. Erdoğan understood Washington was distracted both by looming elections and by the COVID-19 crisis. There is no longer any reason to be passive, however. Minsk Group co-chairs France, Russia, and the United States should demand that Azerbaijan detain all mercenaries. Just as many Islamic State veterans and their family members remain incarcerated at al-Hol, in northeastern Syria, so too should the Syrian mercenaries of the Nagorno-Karabakh war be detained as illegal combatants. To do nothing would not only pour fuel onto the fire of regional instability, but would also guarantee further religious violence and demographic games as Erdoğan and now Aliyev conclude that they can, quite literally, get away with murder.

Michael Rubin is a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute (AEI). You can follow him on Twitter: @mrubin1971.

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English farm to cull 10,500 turkeys as concern grows over wave of bird flu from Europe — RT UK News

More than ten thousands turkeys will be slaughtered at a poultry farm in northern England, following the discovery there of H5N8 bird flu. The culling comes amid fears of an avian flu outbreak originating in Europe.

Medical authorities confirmed that avian flu had been found at a commercial turkey fattening farm near Northallerton, North Yorkshire. All 10,500 birds at the farm would be culled to limit the spread of the disease, which was identified as the highly contagious H5N8 strain. The British public were reassured that the outbreak does not pose a food safety risk. 

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The discovery of the disease comes amid reports of a string of swan deaths that have been linked to avian flu. Poultry farmers across England, Scotland and Wales were ordered earlier in November to implement strict lockdown-style measures at their facilities to help prevent the spread of the illness. Recent outbreaks of the H5N8 strain have been detected in Cheshire, Devon, Gloucestershire and Hertfordshire. 

Christine Middlemiss, the UK’s Chief Veterinary Officer, expressed a “high level” of concern over the recent developments, noting that the “sheer volume of infections” was worrying. 

However, avian flu poses minimal risk to public health. Typically the virus doesn’t infect people, although animal to human transmission has been recorded in the past. However, contagious strains of the virus can spread quickly among bird species, sickening or killing the infected animal. 

Earlier this month, 190,000 chickens were slaughtered at two poultry farms in the Netherlands, after a strain of the H5 avian flu variant was detected. H5N8 has been found in wild bird populations in Europe, raising the possibility that it can spread rapidly with migrating flocks. 

The potential for animal to human transmission of bird flu has become more pronounced as health authorities continue to battle against Covid-19. 

Danish authorities recently ordered the culling of the country’s 17 million farmed minks, which are raised for their fur, after a mutated version of Covid-19 was found to have spread from the animals to humans. Denmark’s agriculture minister resigned over the order, which was ruled to be unlawful. However, the government moved ahead with the plans, arguing that it could obtain retroactive authority to carry out the animal slaughter. 

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Turkey’s is Sending a Message with its New Unmanned, Heavily Armed Gunboat

A pair of Turkish defense companies, METEKSAN and Ares, revealed a jointly built unmanned boat, named ULAQ. The small vessel is the first of what is planned to be a line of at least several unmanned surface ships of varying sizes and capabilities.

According to METEKSAN, their ULAQ has a some pretty impressive abilities for an initial prototype: “[The ] ULAQ…has been built from advanced composites, has 400 km range, 65 km/h speed, day/night vision capabilities, encrypted communication infrastructure, which can be operated from mobile vehicles and headquarters or from sea platforms such as aircraft carriers or frigates, will be used for missions like intelligence, surveillance, reconnaissance, surface warfare, asymmetric warfare, escort missions, strategic infrastructure protection.”

Artistic renderings of the ULAQ shows it with a centrally located weapons station with two types of missiles, the 70mm Cirit missile arranged in a four-missile pod, as well as two L-UMTAS missiles.

Though both missiles were originally designed as anti-personnel and anti-tank air-to-surface missiles respectively, it is presumed that they have been modified for maritime use. Both the missile systems and the boat itself were designed with “maximum indigenousness.” And here’s why that matters.

Tactics and Strategy

The timing of the small, armed but unmanned boat comes at a trying time for Turkey. The country’s eastern Mediterranean coast has been the scene of tensions recently. Relations between Greece and Turkey—both members of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization alliance—have been strained due to conflicting maritime claims in the Aegean Sea, part of the Mediterranean Sea that separates the two countries.

In particular, Turkey has sent fossil fuel exploration ships to parts of the Sea that are claimed by Greece, to which Athens replied by sending several Hellenic Naval ships to the area. This in turn prompted France and the United States to send warships to the area as well in a bid to keep the peace between the two treaty allies that nonetheless have experienced very strained relations in recent years.


Ares and METEKSAN’s press releases announcing the new drone boat left no room for doubt about what their ULAQ gunboat is intended for. The report even quoted METEKSAN’s CEO, who stated that “We have once again understood the importance of the ‘Blue Homeland’ defence, Economic Exclusive Zone protection, protection of maritime borders of the Turkish Peninsula especially with recently emerging disputes…May ULAQ bring the best of luck and success to Turkish Armed Forces and to Blue Homeland.”

Make no mistake—Ankara is putting its money where its mouth is when it comes to Turkish interests in the Mediterranean.

Caleb Larson is a Defense Writer with The National Interest. He holds a Master of Public Policy and covers U.S. and Russian security, European defense issues, and German politics and culture.

Image: Ares Shipyard.

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Gobble, gobble? – Socially distanced Thanksgiving weakens appetite for big turkeys | Business

IN BARNS OR pens, or already in freezers, 40m American turkeys await their fate. More than half of the whole turkeys sold in America each year are eaten over Thanksgiving, which this year falls on November 26th. Most of the rest are polished off the following month, at Christmas. Social-distancing rules and travel restrictions mean that celebrations will look rather different in 2020—and so will the market for meat.

Some 30% of Americans say they will spend Thanksgiving with their immediate family only, up from 18% last year, according to Butterball, a North Carolina firm which rules the roost of turkey producers, supplying one in three Thanksgiving birds. Flight bookings for November are a third lower than last year, reports Skyscanner, a search platform, suggesting fewer people are going home for the holidays. In Britain, where 9m turkeys are usually eaten over Christmas, 61% of people say they are less likely than usual to have guests on Christmas Day, according to Kantar, a data firm.

Birds bred to feed large gatherings are therefore out of favour. Walmart and Kroger, large American food retailers, both plan to offer more small turkeys. However, “a lot of supply for the holidays is locked in well before the fall,” says Beth Breeding of America’s National Turkey Federation, an industry group. It is too late for producers to switch to daintier varieties, since a hen takes 14-16 weeks to mature from hatchling to main course. Changing a bird’s diet or the temperature of its surroundings can reduce its size, and it can be slaughtered earlier. But many Thanksgiving turkeys have already been dispatched and frozen, to fatten up inventory for the “Super Bowl” of the turkey calendar, as a Butterball spokesman describes it.

Some consumers may therefore end up buying spare parts cut from big birds. Walmart plans to increase by 20-30% its stock of breast meat, for families who can’t manage a whole turkey. Such cuts command a premium but may mean that the leftover dark meat goes unsold. “Whole birds are easier to produce and with no waste, so producers like them,” says Richard Griffiths of the British Poultry Council. Some farmers are in a flap at the prospect that turkey could lose out to more petite meats. Kroger is buying in more ham, beef, pork-roast and seafood, as well as vegetarian “meatless roasts”.

Yet the signs are that most consumers want to stick to tradition. Although millions of people accustomed to their mother’s cooking will have to fend for themselves this year, convenience products will mostly stay on the shelf, believes Scott McKenzie of Nielsen, another data company. Lockdowns have encouraged homely hobbies: Americans are buying 81% more yeast than last year and 41% more seaweed for wrapping home-made sushi, Nielsen reckons. Mr McKenzie expects increased demand for “made-from-scratch” products over the holidays, and beyond: “Homebody habits are here to stay,” he believes. If that is true, the glut of large turkeys may have a happy outcome: more leftovers.

Editor’s note: Some of our covid-19 coverage is free for readers of The Economist Today, our daily newsletter. For more stories and our pandemic tracker, see our hub

This article appeared in the Business section of the print edition under the headline “Gobble, gobble?”

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Turkey’s Erdogan ousts central bank governor as lira slides

FILE PHOTO: Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan addresses members of his ruling AK Party (AKP) during a meeting at the Parliament in Ankara, Turkey, October 28, 2020. Murat Cetinmuhurdar/Presidential Press Office/Handout via REUTERS

November 7, 2020

By Orhan Coskun, Nevzat Devranoglu and Daren Butler

ANKARA/ISTANBUL (Reuters) – Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan fired central bank governor Murat Uysal on Saturday and replaced him with ex-finance minister Naci Agbal, acting after a 30% plunge in the lira currency’s value to record lows this year.

The decision to replace Murat Uysal gives Turkey its fourth central bank governor in five years and could stoke longstanding criticism about political interference in monetary policy.

The presidential decree was announced in the early hours Saturday in Turkey’s Official Gazette and gave no reason for the surprise move. But several officials close to the matter said Uysal was held responsible for the nosedive of the lira, the worst performer in emerging markets this year.

“The rise in the exchange rate really exceeded expectations very rapidly. Some steps were expected to have an impact, but that didn’t happen,” one senior official said.

Analysts said that while Agbal is a close Erdogan ally, he is seen as a capable manager who could take a more orthodox approach to policy. That could ease concerns that have driven Turks to snap up hard currencies at record levels.

“Uysal’s leadership had been utterly disastrous. Agbal cannot be worse, surely. He had a reputation as a decent technocrat,” Timothy Ash at BlueBay Asset Management said on Twitter. “Agbal is actually qualified for the job.”

The lira has continued to slide on concerns over the central bank’s depleted FX reserves, negative real rates, monetary independence, and the risk of Western sanctions over Turkish foreign and defence policies.

Analysts also fear U.S.-Turkish relations may come under more strain if Democrat Joe Biden defeats President Donald Trump in last Tuesday’s closely fought election, where the vote count has not been completed but is tilting Biden’s way.

Turkey, a G20 country and the largest economy in the Middle East, roared back from a recession last year on the back of surging domestic lending and state support for the lira – until it was hit hard by the COVID-19 pandemic.

The lira closed at 8.5445 against the dollar on Friday after touching a record low of 8.58, despite dollar weakness as votes were still being counted in the U.S. election.

Erdogan had appointed then-deputy governor Uysal to head the central bank in July 2019 after sacking predecessor Murat Cetinkaya, saying the bank had not cut interest rates to boost the economy.


Erdogan, a self-described enemy of high interest rates, has repeatedly called for lower borrowing costs. Last weekend, he said Turkey was fighting an economic war against those squeezing it in “the devil’s triangle of interest and exchange rates and inflation”.

Agbal had been finance minister from 2015 until 2018, when he was appointed to head the directorate of presidential strategy and budget.

An official from Erdogan’s ruling AK Party said Agbal faced a “difficult test” at his new post, but that he was a “strong name” who could help alleviate some of the pressure on the lira.

“We will see a stronger central bank governor,” the official said, adding Agbal “will act smart”.

He is not seen as someone who would accept political direction, the person added. “It is a difficult post, but steps to stop the rapid rise in the exchange rate must be taken.”

The lira’s slide, couple with inflation stuck near 12%, well above the bank’s target of around 5%, has ramped up pressure for tighter policy. Last month the central bank bucked expectations for a big rate hike and held policy steady at 10.25%, triggering sharp losses in the lira.

The bank, which also surprised markets a month earlier when it hiked rates, said it would stick with liquidity measures to tighten money supply. It raised the uppermost rate in its corridor, the late liquidity window, to 14.75% from 13.25%.

Erik Meyersson, senior economist at Handelsbank, said that while Uysal had taken the blame for Turkey’s economic woes, it was Erdogan who was “tying” the bank’s hands, adding that the post of central bank governor was “mere puppetry”.

Opposition parties criticised the move, saying it would strengthen Erdogan’s influence and politicise the bank.

“All we were missing was a party-tied central bank, and we got it. The central bank is now the AKP’s,” said Tahsin Tarhan, a lawmaker with the main opposition Republican People’s Party.

Agbal will face his first significant test on Nov. 19 when the bank’s monetary policy committee meets.

“Agbal is a realist. He knows the market dynamics. His feet are on the ground. He must have gotten a promise for some room. He is not a person who is amateur enough to sit at this position otherwise,” the senior official said.

(Additional reporting by Jonathan Spicer and Tuvan Gumrukcu; Editing by Mark Heinrich)

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Erdogan thinks big – Turkey’s strongman, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, takes to the world stage | Europe

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Sultan of censorship – Turkey’s president cracks down on social media | Europe

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Charlemagne – Fethullah Gulen shares blame for Turkey’s plight | Europe

YOU MIGHT think that by now Turkey had run out of handcuffs. But although the wave of arrests related to the bizarre coup attempt that rocked the country in the summer of 2016 has certainly slowed, it has not stopped. Every week seems to bring a new round-up of suspected members of the Gulen community, or cemaat, the Islamist movement that President Recep Tayyip Erdogan blames for the coup. At least 41 people, many of them soldiers, were detained on July 27th. Warrants for over two dozen others were issued last week.

Nearly 600,000 people, most of them suspected Gulenists, have been investigated since the coup; nearly 100,000 have been arrested. Most had only tenuous links to the movement, such as having an account at a Gulenist bank. Some appear to have been tortured in captivity. But while there is sympathy among Turks for individual victims of Mr Erdogan’s purges, there is practically none for the cemaat as a whole, and even less for its leader, Fethullah Gulen, an ageing imam living in exile in Pennsylvania. Ask almost anyone in Turkey, including Mr Erdogan’s most bitter foes, and you will hear that compared with Mr Gulen, Turkey’s leader is the lesser of two evils. Mr Erdogan is an autocrat and a bully. But no one helped him cripple Turkey’s democracy more than Mr Gulen and his sect.

The movement is a tough nut to crack. From the 1970s onwards, it attracted hundreds of thousands of followers, drawn mostly from among the poor and devout students who gravitated to its prep schools and dorms. After the end of the cold war, it began to market itself as the torchbearer of an enlightened Islam, setting up foundations abroad and winning a circle of Western well-wishers. But it was only when Mr Erdogan and his Justice and Development party came to power in 2002 that it started to flourish. Its sympathisers had previously trickled into Turkey’s bureaucracy. With Mr Erdogan’s encouragement, they took over entire institutions. (By one estimate, Gulenists held 30% of top jobs in the judiciary and 50% in the police.) With his approval, they orchestrated the arrests of thousands of Kurdish activists, army officers, secular types and journalists. “The Gulenists played a decisive role in enabling Erdogan to consolidate power,” says Gareth Jenkins, a security analyst.

The Gulenists’ success was their undoing. By the early 2010s, they had amassed enough power to pose a threat to Mr Erdogan. “There was a time when they virtually ruled Turkey,” says Gokhan Bacik, an academic formerly close to the movement, now living in exile. They overreached by trying to torpedo peace talks with Kurdish insurgents, going after Turkey’s intelligence chief in 2012, and implicating Mr Erdogan in a corruption scandal the year after. Turkey’s strongman responded by declaring war on the cemaat and removing its loyalists from the bureaucracy. The purges went into overdrive after the coup attempt.

Much about the night of the putsch remains unclear. Some 250 people died in what resembled an army mutiny accompanied by a series of terror attacks more than a traditional coup. The official version, in which Gulenist sleeper cells in the armed forces awoke to take over the country all on their own, seems as watertight as a teabag. To this day, Turkey’s government has not produced evidence of what the plotters planned to do once they seized power. The coup itself appears to have been the work of a small but diverse coalition. Yet there is no doubt that the Gulenists played a big part. At least some of the officers who directed the violence turned out to be graduates of the Gulen system. Two of the civilians involved appear to have seen Mr Gulen in America only days earlier. Analysts agree there is no chance Gulenist operatives would have acted without their leader’s approval. Mr Gulen denies involvement.

Mr Erdogan and his ministers fume that foreigners do not appreciate the damage the Gulenists inflicted on Turkey. They are partly right. “In many European countries, people think that because Mr Erdogan is a dictator, anyone opposed to him must be a democrat,” says Bayram Balci, head of the French Institute of Anatolian Studies in Istanbul. That kind of logic plays into Mr Gulen’s hands and lets him masquerade as a dissident.

No one, however, is worse placed to preach about the dangers of Gulenism than Mr Erdogan, whose government was once joined at the hip with the movement. By locking up everyone linked to it, including lawyers, teachers and charity workers, Mr Erdogan has ditched the rule of law in favour of a vendetta. He has not helped his case by accusing nearly all of his other opponents of treason or terror. “People [in America] might be more receptive to Erdogan’s side of the story if he had more credibility,” says Gonul Tol of the Middle East Institute, a Washington think-tank. “But he has none.”

Going but not gone

Today the cemaat seems to be a spent force. Inside Turkey, it has no room to breathe. Because it alienated almost every part of Turkish society, there is no one left to defend it, aside from a handful of human-rights activists. Abroad, the Gulenists are better off, but still on the back foot. Mr Erdogan has successfully pressed a few countries in Africa and Central Asia to sever links with Gulen schools and businesses. Funding has begun to dry up. Long-standing followers are leaving in droves and new ones are almost impossible to recruit. Mr Gulen commands blind obedience. His deputies, says Mr Bacik, are all theologians with no experience outside the group. There are no women in positions of power. For a movement that portrays itself as a modernising force in Islam, this is not a good look. Mr Gulen himself is approaching 80 and in poor health. When he dies, what remains of the cemaat is likely to crumble.

Its legacy in Turkey has been grim. “They have as much responsibility as Erdogan for the state of the country,” says Ms Tol. Much of the outside world seems to think there is only one villain in the story of Turkey’s descent into autocracy. Turks will tell you there is room for more.

This article appeared in the Europe section of the print edition under the headline “The other villain”

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Could Turkey’s Purchase of Russian Stealth Fighters Spell the End of NATO?

Key Point: Ankara’s revived interest in Russian military hardware comes during a time of acute strain in Turkey-NATO relations, an opening that the Kremlin has effectively been working to exploit.

Turkey’s plans to purchase the Russian S-400 missile system marked a major shift in Ankara’s defense orientation, eliciting a sharp response from Washington. Nonetheless, the S-400 deal barely scratches the surface of the blooming Turkey-Russia defense relationship and the threat that it poses to NATO’s military coherence.

The Kremlin and Rosoboronexport– Russia’s state arms exporting agency—are seeking to capitalize on the political goodwill from the S-400 sale with several other high-profile contracts, including Russian jet fighters and next-generation missile defense system. When the US defense department suspended F-35 transfers to Ankara “pending an unequivocal Turkish decision to forego delivery of the S-400” early last month, Russian and western defense commentators speculated that Russia would pounce with a snap Su-35 offer. It now appears, however, that Moscow has its sights set on a bigger deal. In an interview given to Turkish state media, Rostec chief Sergei Chemezov suggested that Moscow is open to inking a Su-57 contract:  “These fifth-generation Russian fighter jets [the Su-57] have outstanding qualities, and show promise for export.”

As if to lay on Moscow’s intent even more thickly, Chemezov added that Russia is “ready to cooperate” on a potential Su-57 sale so as to “support Turkey’s desire to develop its own defense industry.” This proposal echoes similar Russian overtures to China and India, reflecting Russia’s export-driven developmental strategy for the Su-57 platform. Turkish President Recep Erdoğan’s government has yet to comment on the prospect of purchasing the Su-57. The question of time preference—that is, how long they are willing to wait to receive their order—may figure prominently into Turkey’s decision. Given that the Su-57 is just now beginning to be slowly serially produced, the Turkish Air Force is unlikely to receive their first batch of Su-57’s until at least early 2020. Meanwhile, the F-35 is not only widely available for export but produced, in significant part, by Turkish firms based in Turkey.

Ankara has been less ambivalent in expressing its interest in Russia’s upcoming S-500 air defense system. “We concluded the S-400 issue, signed a deal with the Russians and will start co-production. Later, we may work on S-500s,” announced Erdogan in a recent interview. To be sure, such a purchase wouldn’t be without a clear military rationale. Having already bought into the Russian missile defense ecosystem with the S-400, it could make technical sense for Turkey to consider upgrading to its successor for the sake of systems coherency if nothing else.

Even so, the Turkish defense sector is well versed in leveraging Russia and the west against one another in pursuit of favorable import terms. For Ankara, these sorts of glib proclamations may be less of a concrete statement of intent to buy Russian hardware and more of a bargaining chip in future arms negotiations NATO. As with the successfully negotiated S-400 contract, Rosoboronexport can be expected to offer the S-500 at a fraction of the price commanded by its American counterparts.

The American defense industry is not wholly without countermeasures against Russia’s aggressive pricing model; in particular, Washington can offer Ankara the competing Patriot missile system at a discount. This is easier said than done, however; prospective subsidies must be negotiated with Raytheon (Patriot’s manufacturer), and a selective concession to Turkey may set a dangerous precedent for prospective F-35 clients to seize upon.

Ankara’s revived interest in Russian military hardware comes during a time of acute strain in Turkey-NATO relations, an opening that the Kremlin has effectively been working to exploit. It remains to be seen whether this proves to be a mere bump on road or will mark the beginning of a permanent reorientation in Turkish defense priorities.

Mark Episkopos is a frequent contributor to The National Interest and serves as research assistant at the Center for the National Interest. Mark is also a PhD student in History at American University. This article first appeared in 2019 and is reprinted due to reader interest.

Image: Reuters.

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Erdogan hails Turkey’s biggest ever energy discovery. The markets are unimpressed

President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said Turkey has found 320 billion cubic meters of natural gas in the Black Sea, its biggest ever energy discovery, and hopes to begin production by 2023.

The Fatih drilling ship located the deposit in the so-called Tuna-1 field, Erdogan said Friday in a much-trailed press conference in his Istanbul palace. Exploration is continuing in other fields, he said.

The lira reversed earlier gains against the dollar after the announcement. It was down 0.3% as of 3:42 p.m. in Istanbul. The Borsa Istanbul 100 index also gave up gains and fell as much as 1.8%, possibly reflecting disappointment over the size of the find.

Turkey bought three drilling ships in recent years as it dramatically expanded energy exploration in the Black Sea and contested waters of the eastern Mediterranean. It’s keen to find sizable energy reserves to ease its heavy reliance on imports from Iran, Iraq and Russia, and support one of the biggest economies in the Middle East.

The Fatih has been drilling to a depth of 3,500 to 4,000 meters (11,500 to 13,000 feet), Energy Minister Fatih Donmez said last month. TPAO, however, has no experience in deep-sea gas production and would likely need to enlist a major oil company to exploit a field. With oil and gas prices having slumped, the economics of developing such a find may be less attractive than in the past.

Tuna-1, some 150 kilometers from Turkey’s coast, is close to an area where maritime borders of Bulgaria and Romania converge and not far from Romania’s Neptun block, the largest gas find in the Black Sea in decades discovered eight years ago by Petrom and Exxon.

Romania has shallow-water gas projects, but a major deep-water find by eight years ago has still to be exploited. A company backed by the Carlyle Group is also exploring off Romania, aiming to get gas in 2021. Rosneft has explored in the Russian part of the Black Sea but without concrete results.

Turkey is mired in territorial disputes with Greece and Cyprus in the eastern Mediterranean as it searches for oil and gas in contested waters. France has temporarily increased its military presence to ward off Turkish steps, and German Chancellor Angela Merkel on Wednesday said the EU was concerned over the increased tensions.

Erdogan said he also expects “good news” from exploration activities in the eastern Mediterranean.

More must-read energy sector coverage from Fortune:

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