Athens considers this campaign both cultural usurpation and a threat to Greek sovereignty in the Aegean. Al Monitor published a column about this new source of tension in the 18th of April 2023
IZMIR, Turkey — Aegean frenemies Turkey and Greece softened their belligerent rhetoric toward each other as they headed for mid-May elections. They helped each other in the face of natural disasters, hinted at a moratorium on risky military exercises, agreed to back up each other’s nominees in international organizations and even revived their high-level talks after a year.
But with the tourism season, a newish conflict flashed up around the slogan “Turkaegean,” which Turkey uses in its tourism campaigns in Europe and the United States. Athens first objected to the term last summer after Ankara registered it as a trademark with the EU Intellectual Property Office (EUIPO) and the World International Property Organization (WIPO). The Greek reserve to the name is multifold. While some Greeks consider it an issue related to Greece’s tourism image and a usurpation of the Greek culture, others claim that it is a declaration of Turkey’s expansionist dreams because it came at a time when Ankara repetitively questioned the Greek sovereignty over the Aegean Islands.
“This is not an innocent advert but another argument being used to ultimately question our sovereignty over Greek islands in the Aegean and our rights in maritime economic zones,” said George Katrougalos, the former foreign minister from Syriza. “The term implies, as a corollary of [Ankara’s] propaganda, that all, or most, of the Aegean is Turkish.”
Despite the softer tone between the NATO allies since February, the name battle’s “Season 2” heated up again this week following a full-page ad in The New York Times earlier this month and a video clip that showed young people enjoying sandy beaches and olive groves on Turkey’s Aegean coast on Bloomberg TV. French daily Le Monde also comes with a full-page ad on “Turkaegean” on April 19.
With just weeks to go until the parliamentary polls on May 21, the Greek opposition attacked Kyriakos Mitsotakis’ New Democracy government for failing to prevent Turkey from using the term even in the United States, where the US Patent and Trademark Office had provisionally refused an application to register the trademark due to minor clerical errors.
Syriza party heavyweight Alexis Charitsis said the government’s fight against the Turkish use of the term had been a big fiasco, as proven by the ad in the Times with the slogan “Turkaegean, the coast of happiness.”
The Greek government said it employed Steptoe & Johnson, a Washington-based American litigation firm, Greek sources said Tuesday. According to the Greek daily Katimerini, Steptoe & Johnson will prepare a report backing Greece’s claims at a cost of about $70,000. Turkey is also preparing its own judicial arguments, a Turkish official confirmed, saying that a decision was unlikely until 2025.
Athens also labors in Brussels to reverse the EUIPO acceptance of the Turkaegean application by the Turkish Tourism Development and Promotion Agency in December 2021. Under the decision, Turkey can use the term « Turkaegean » in all its advertising campaigns, including for TV, radio, online, tourism accommodation and car rentals, and dozens of other listed services until July 16, 2031. To reverse the decision, the Greek government and Greek deputies in the European Parliament have submitted half a dozen resolutions warning that the term both confuses potential tourists by “inextricably linking the Aegean Sea with Turkey” and challenges the sovereign rights of Greece in the Aegean Sea. European Commission Vice President Margaritis Schinas, who is from Greece’s ruling New Democracy, sent a sharply worded letter to Internal Market Commissioner Thierry Breton demanding a review of the decision. “EUIPO’s internal controls and procedures have not proved sufficient to identify and notify a case with obvious and potentially serious implications for the external relations of the EU, the sovereign rights of Greece, and the protection of consumers and the EU tourism sector,” he said.
The European Commission replied that Greece had missed the deadline for objecting to the EUIPO but could make an invalidity request to annul it, which Athens did.
“We have had a small victory as the EUIPO accepted our request for an invalidity petition, and the litigation process has started,” Greek Infrastructure and Development Minister Adonis Georgiadis said.
On the other hand, Ankara maintains that it will continue to use the slogan “Turkaegean, the Coast of Happiness” in its tourism campaign this year.
“Why shouldn’t we?” asked a Turkish bureaucrat familiar with the file and the litigation, adding that there was an extensive campaign to promote Turkey’s Aegean coast through ads and advertorials. “There is no decision that prevents us from using it. Moreover, it is pure paranoia on the part of Athens. Anyone who looks at the map knows that there are two coasts on the Aegean, and one belongs to Turkey.”
The same bureaucrat said that Ankara was not worried about a reversal. “A ruling on invalidity would set a difficult precedent and contradict previous decisions, such as the registration of the Swiss Alps in WIPO.”
Though few Turks would dispute the Hellenic roots of the sea — derived from Aegeus, the father of Theseus who founded Athens — Turkish officials point out that there is more to the Aegean than Greece. “We will do this campaign even more strongly next year and show that the Aegean is not a region of Greece but also a region of Turkey, a tourism brand,” Turkish Deputy Tourism Minister Nadir Alpaslan — who resigned from his post last month to enter politics — said last November.