Bellicose talk as Turkey debuts a warship

McClatchy NewspapersSeptember 27, 2011 

ISTANBUL — Turkey officially accepted delivery of its first domestically manufactured warship Tuesday at a ceremony that underscored the country's push to become a regional power.

Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan used the occasion to criticize oil drilling in the eastern Mediterranean by Greek interests. He pointedly noted that the ceremony took place on the 473rd anniversary of the Battle of Preveza in northwestern Greece, where a fleet from the Ottoman Turkish empire defeated a much larger Christian force.

"I recommend the international community take the necessary lessons from the Preveza victory", Erdogan said. "Turkey's national interests in the seas reach from its surrounding waters to the Suez Canal and the Indian Ocean."

President Abdullah Gul said the delivery of the ship showed that Turkey was now capable of developing its own weapons. He urged his country to make greater efforts to develop an independent arms capability, no matter how much work that might require.

"Even countries whose national income is much below ours decided to make nuclear weapons because their rivals have them," Gul said. "They made it happen after deciding to do so."

Turkey has been critical of both Greek and Israeli oil exploration in the Mediterranean, and Turkey has threatened to use its navy to escort future efforts to break the Israeli embargo of the Gaza Strip. Turkey expelled the Israeli ambassador and abrogated several military agreements with Israel last month after Israel refused to apologize for the deaths of nine Turkish citizens who were on board a Gaza-bound Turkish ship when it was intercepted by Israeli commandos in 2009.

The ship delivered Tuesday, the TCG Heybeliada, is a 300-foot corvette that was designed with stealth technology and is equipped with an anti-ship missile system. It was built under Turkey's so-called MILGEM program, from the Turkish words "milli gemi" (national ship). More than 65 percent of the ship's components were built by Turkish companies.

A second ship, the TCG Buyukada, is undergoing sea trials under the program, which is overseen by the Turkish navy.

(Yezdani is a McClatchy special correspondent.)

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