The Mavi Vatan Doctrine and Blue Homeland Anthem: A Look At Turkey’s Maritime Worldview

By Jeff Jager and Andrew Norris

According to its main proponent, retired Admiral Cem Gürdeniz, Turkey’s concept of mavi vatan represents an idea, a symbol, and a doctrine. As an idea, mavi vatan encompasses Turkey’s maritime interests; as a symbol, Turkey’s eponymous military exercise in 2019 demonstrated its maritime jurisdiction claims and the potential of the Turkish Navy and Turkey’s maritime capabilities; and, as a doctrine, mavi vatan guides the defense of Turkish sovereignty at sea, including the control of Turkey’s continental shelf and exclusive economic zone (EEZ). Mavi vatan has increasingly gained prominence both domestically and as a component of Turkey’s foreign policy, which in the last half-decade has become increasingly aggressive and securitized, with an anti-Western, anti-U.S. outlook as a central organizing principle.

Mavi vatan most visibly manifested itself through Turkey’s dispatch in August 2020 of the seismic research vessel Oruç Reis, under the escort of five warships, to conduct surveys of possible hydrocarbon resources in maritime zones claimed by Greece. This led to, among other things, a collision between one of the warships and a Greek warship shadowing the Turkish flotilla; France dispatching military assets to the Eastern Mediterranean in a show of support for Greece; and Greece vowing to procure more military hardware with which to confront Turkey. All of this has dramatically raised regional tensions, which were already fraught as a result of other manifestations of mavi vatan, such as the aforementioned 2019 military exercise and Turkey’s exploratory activities in waters claimed by Cyprus in 2019.

Aug 10, 2020 – Turkey’s research vessel, Oruc Reis, is surrounded by Turkish navy vessels as it transits the Mediterranean. (Photo via Turkish Defense Ministry)

The Turkish Presidency’s Directorate of Communication’s September 2020 YouTube release of the Mavi Vatan Anthem (Mavi Vatan Marşı) exemplifies the increasing prominence of mavi vatan in Turkish security affairs. The Anthem, which resembles in many ways the Turkish national anthem, is accompanied by a propaganda video highlighting the centuries-long history of the Turkish Navy protecting the mavi vatan. Gaudy and replete with symbolism, the Mavi Vatan Anthem reflects not only the significance and prominence of mavi vatan in contemporary Turkey, but also provides insights into Turkey’s mindset and worldview. The Anthem provides an example of how Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s pro-religious stance is now more formally shaping Turkey’s securitized foreign policy perspectives. This article, after providing some background and context, translates and analyzes the Mavi Vatan Anthem and the associated propaganda video to allow for a fuller understanding and discussion of it and its import.

Mavi Vatan Fundamentals

Mavi vatan establishes the defense of Turkish sovereignty in the maritime domain as its supreme objective. To achieve this objective, mavi vatan employs the principle of forward defense to pursue three goals: making Turkey a regional maritime power; buttressing Turkey’s maritime claims; and countering Western attempts to constrain Turkey. The underlying forward defense principle focuses on securitizing or militarizing Turkey’s foreign policy and defending Turkish sovereignty and territorial integrity as far forward from its land borders as possible, both of which rely on developing self-sufficiency in Turkey’s defense industry, which is already producing indigenous high-quality naval vessels.

By making Turkey a regional maritime power, the first goal of mavi vatan, Turkey aims to ensure it possesses the military capacity and capability to project power and protect Turkish interests in its surrounding seas (the Black Sea, the Aegean Sea, and the Eastern Mediterranean) and further abroad if necessary. This serves to enhance Turkey’s regional standing generally, and also allows it to shape more aggressively the outcome of regional disputes in a manner favorable to Turkey’s national interests. On a larger global stage, this enhanced power may serve as a deterrent to Western actors involving themselves in matters of interest to Turkey, and may also elevate the appeal of Turkey as a partner to other major powers, including Russia and China.

Mavi vatan’s second goal, strengthening Turkey’s regional maritime boundary claims, envisions Turkey declaring, delimiting, and defending maritime boundaries in the Aegean Sea, Black Sea, and Eastern Mediterranean. This goal represents perhaps the most common interpretation of mavi vatan, which analysts such as Ryan Gingeras at the Naval Postgraduate School now use as a “shorthand expression for Ankara’s maritime claims.” Through this second goal, Turkey aims for access to energy resources, increased influence, and domestic economic growth. As with the overall militarization of Turkish policy, this goal has the added domestic appeal of a strong and assertive Turkey “taking back” its rightful maritime birthright, with the bonus that this is being done at the expense of traditional foe (and NATO ally) Greece.

The desire to counter Greece links to mavi vatan’s third goal of preventing perceived Western attempts to constrain Turkey, colloquially referred to as a “second Treaty of Sevres” by Turks. Just as Western powers aimed to dismantle the remnants of the Ottoman Empire at the end of World War I in the Treaty of Sevres, so too in the minds of mavi vatan adherents the West (mainly Greece and the United States, but also the EU and other competitors in the Eastern Mediterranean) aims to dismantle the link between Turkey’s territory, its maritime jurisdictions, and the self-proclaimed Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus.

The Increased Prominence and Acceptance of Mavi Vatan

Mavi vatan has been increasingly accepted as a component of Turkish foreign policy. Though the concept of mavi vatan was first introduced in 2006, the first indications of high-level political endorsement emerged in 2019, when President Erdoğan twice appeared in photographs in front of maps showing mavi vatan boundaries. These photographs became front-page news in Turkey after Greek politicians and media strongly reacted to what appeared to be an endorsement in a military setting of a claim by Turkey to waters (and associated resources) claimed by Greece. President Erdoğan’s endorsement of the concept is both indicated by, and perhaps served as encouragement for, a recent proclamation by a Turkish Navy Commander in Erdoğan’s presence, without contradiction or rebuke, that “[w]e are proud to wave our glorious Turkish banner in all our seas. . . I submit that we are ready to protect every swath of our 462 thousand square kilometer blue homeland with great determination and undertake every possible duty that may come.”

Turkish President Tayyip Erdoğan appears in front of a map entitled “Mavi Vatan.” (Photo via Aydinlik)

Perhaps on cue from President Erdoğan, reference to and endorsement of mavi vatan has exploded in recent times amongst senior defense and military officials. In August 2019, Hulusi Akar, a retired Turkish Army general and former Chief of the Turkish General Staff now serving as the Turkish Minister of Defense, provided what appears to be the first public support from a senior defense official for mavi vatan during his speech commemorating Turkish Victory Day, which marks Turkey’s final victory over Greece in the Turkish War of Independence. Other such examples include the Turkish Naval War College using Mavi Vatan as the title of its respected journal and the Turkish Ministry of National Defense releasing a statement that Turkey will “defend all of our rights, interests, and advantages in our blue homeland, as we have until today and as we will until the end.” And as if to cement the centrality of this concept in Turkish strategic thinking, the February 2019 naval exercise, the largest in the history of the Turkish Navy, involving 103 Turkish Navy vessels and more than 20,000 troops and air units in the Black Sea, Aegean Sea, and Eastern Mediterranean, was named Mavi Vatan.

It is against this backdrop of Turkey’s enthusiastic and burgeoning embrace of the mavi vatan concept that the Directorate of Communications released the Mavi Vatan Anthem. The Anthem offers a fascinating glimpse into Turkey’s current military, diplomatic, and domestic mindset, as analyzed in the following sections.

The Mavi Vatan Anthem

Resplendent with garish imagery and jingoistic narration, with nationalist, Islamist, and neo-Ottoman themes, the Turkish Presidency’s Mavi Vatan Anthem provides a stark illustration of the extent to which the Erdoğan government has embraced mavi vatan and demonstrates the neo-Ottoman ethno-religious nationalism espoused by President Erdoğan. This section translates, explains, and analyzes the Anthem in manageable segments, accompanied by the corresponding video segment to allow for concurrent viewing and correlation by the reader.

Scene 1: The Martyred Father

Time: 0:00 – 0:55 (Link to Scene 1)

Scene Description: With a background of slow, melancholic, traditional Turkish music, the Turkish Presidency’s presentation of the Mavi Vatan Anthem opens with two Turkish Navy officers, serving as casualty assistance officers, notifying the conservative wife and children of (apparently fictional) Navy Commander (General Staff) Süleyman Mehmetoğlu that their husband/father has died in service (şehit in Turkish, literally “martyred”). The scene itself begins with Mehmetoğlu’s son reading to his younger sister (who is wearing a Turkish-flag bandana) from a book inscribed with a memorable quote by Barbaros Hayrettin Pasha, the famous 16th century Ottoman pirate turned Admiral in Chief of the Ottoman Navy, which reads: “He who commands the seas, commands the world” — a fitting introduction to the production that follows.

A ringing doorbell alerts the children and their mother to the arrival of two casualty assistance officers, one holding a folded Turkish flag and the other a model of an Ottoman-era sailing ship with the name Barbaros written on it. As the door opens, a voice-over reciting a poem begins, and the camera pans to show the children standing in front of their mother, who is wearing a long skirt and a headscarf, but whose head the video cuts from the scene. The casualty assistance officers present the flag and the model ship to the son, and, with the voice-over continuing, the son proudly hangs the flag from the balcony of the family home.

The video then cuts to a new setting, with a Turkish sailor raising the Turkish flag at the front of a Navy vessel, and then to a Turkish Navy officer saluting sailors as he comes aboard the vessel. We next see a framed photograph of martyred Commander Mehmetoğlu inside the bridge of the vessel, next to the model of the Barbaros and a framed photo of his young son (as earlier depicted in this scene). From this closing part of the scene, we learn that young Mehmetoğlu followed in his father’s footsteps as a commissioned officer in the Turkish Navy, and is both the captain of the vessel shown in the video and the officer we previously saw saluting sailors as he came aboard.

Translation of the first stanza of the recited, voiced-over poem:

Eyyy you are the blue sky’s white and red ornaments

My sister’s wedding dress

The last cloth of my martyr

My bright wavy flag

I read your legend

I will write your legend

I will dig the grave

of those who don’t look at you as I do

I will break the nest of the flying bird

that doesn’t salute you

Discussion and Analysis: Turks and well-versed Turkey-watchers would be able to identify the owner of the voice reciting the poetry, after hearing just the first “Eyyy,” as none other than President Erdoğan, who has dominated Turkey’s airwaves and politics since the early 2000s. In this first scene presenting the Mavi Vatan Anthem, President Erdoğan is reciting the first stanza of the famous poem titled “Bayrak” (“Flag”) by Arif Nihat Asya, an influential nationalist active in the early decades of Turkey’s Republican era. “Bayrak” was first read in January 1940 at the ceremony marking the end of the Allied occupation of Adana, and is a tribute to Turkey’s national banner, red with the white crescent star of the Ottoman Empire and Islam. In Turkey, “Bayrak” is to the Turkish flag what the Pledge of Allegiance is to the U.S. flag in America.

This first scene of the Mavi Vatan Anthem video presents two important themes of the mavi vatan perspective that the remainder of the video further highlights. The first theme might be labeled as an “historical lineage,” through the plot line of the son of the martyred Mehmetoğlu growing up to captain a Turkish Navy vessel and the historical connection between the Ottoman fleet commanded by Barbaros Hayrettin Pasha and the modern Turkish Navy. This plot line, neo-Ottoman at its core, helps establish the ancestry of the Turkish Navy and historical justification for modern Turkish claims on sovereignty and/or influence in waters once commanded by Barbaros Hayrettin Pasha for the Ottoman Empire. This opening scene’s use of “Bayrak,” the famous Turkish nationalist poem marking the Turkish victory over the Allies in the Turkish War of Independence, establishes the second theme: the anti-Western perspective of mavi vatan.

Scene 2: Preparing for Battle

Time: 0:52 – 1:33 (Link to Scene 2)

Scene Description: As traditional Ottoman music begins, Scene 2 begins with the martyred Mehmetoğlu’s son on the ship he captains, scanning the horizon through a pair of binoculars. The scene then transitions to imagery of a number of Crusader vessels in the water, then back to Mehmetoğlu’s son, and then to a turbaned Barbaros Hayrettin Pasha. Next, the video shows Barbaros Hayrettin Pasha’s staff planning an operation, interspersed with Mehmetoğlu’s son’s staff conducting planning operations. This back-and-forth between modern and Ottoman times serves to strengthen the linkage between the Turkish Navy and the Ottoman fleet. The video then cuts to Crusader sailors, cheering and with swords drawn, preparing for battle, and then to Barbaros Hayrettin Pasha and his sailors doing the same. The scene closes with Barbaros Hayrettin Pasha drawing his sword, ready for battle. The lyrics of the Mavi Vatan Anthem start at 1:18 in the video.

Translation of the first stanza of the Mavi Vatan Anthem:

The infidel Alliance formed a single nation

The Army of Islam took refuge in the Creator

The Lion of the Seas unsheathed his sword Zülfikar

In the Mediterranean, the target was the infidel Alliance

Discussion and Analysis: With its continued focus on Barbaros Hayrettin Pasha, Scene 2 of the Mavi Vatan Anthem tells the story of the Ottoman victory in the 1538 Battle of Preveza, in which the Ottomans’ defeat of the “infidel Alliance” (in English known as the Holy League between the Holy Roman Empire, Venice, the Spanish Empire, Genoa, and Malta) initiated centuries of Ottoman competition for dominance of the Mediterranean. In this first stanza, we see the “Lion of the Seas,” Barbaros Hayrettin Pasha, drawing his sword, named Zülfikar. Zülfikar was originally given as a gift by the Prophet Muhammed to his cousin Ali, who ruled as the fourth Caliph. The first phase of the Mavi Vatan Anthem, in its original Turkish, is küfür tek millet. In this context, we translate küfür tek millet as “infidel Alliance,” and the use of the phrase in the Mavi Vatan Anthem cleverly describes both the “infidel Alliance” against which the Ottomans were fighting, and the primary place of Islam and Muslims in Ottoman society. Historically, in Ottoman Islamist circles, the phrase küfür tek millettir represented, derogatorily, all non-Muslims in the Empire.

Scene 2 establishes the critical importance of Islam in the history of the Ottoman Empire and for the Republic of Turkey as it exists in 2021 under President Erdoğan, given the Islamist foundation of President Erdoğan’s politics. This scene also reinforces the overall anti-Western worldview of the Mavi Vatan Anthem and the mavi vatan perspective, depicting as it does “the infidel Alliance” as the target of Turkish/Ottoman aggression.

Scene 3: Ottoman Victory

Time: 1:34 – 2:25 (Link to Scene 3)

Scene Description: This scene, which covers the second, third, and fourth stanzas of the Mavi Vatan Anthem, begins with Ottoman sailors disposing of pages of the Koran in the sea, a proper disposal method for Islam’s holy book. They do so in preparation for impending combat with the Crusaders, with arrows drawn and cannons firing. Barbaros Hayrettin Pasha appears and gives the “forward!” hand and arm signal, and the Ottoman fleet engages the Crusader fleet. Battle scenes follow, quickly transitioning to Barbaros Hayrettin Pasha writing his victory message (fetihname) and giving thanks to Allah for the victory. The scene closes with an aerial image of the defeated Crusader fleet, on fire and sinking in the Mediterranean.

Translation of the second, third, and fourth stanzas of the Mavi Vatan Anthem:

They disposed of the written surahs in the sea

There is no other victor than Allah; the storm turned them around. Barbaros Hayrettin Pasha struck the Crusader Alliance with wave after wave of the fleet of Islam.

 

The Captain of the Sea with the victory at Preveza

Gave glory to Allah and wrote the victory for Allah

With prayer and praise to the Prophet

That day was the beginning of the history of the seas

 

With repute and fame, long live the Captain of the Sea!

The fleet should be inspired by the bravery of the sailors!

The Prophet’s Army comes wave after wave

Ottoman sailors and soldiers in the waters of the Mediterranean

Discussion and Analysis: The phrase Lâ gâlibe illâllah (translated here as “There is no other victor than Allah”) recalls the renowned words of Beşiktaşlı Nuri Efendi, the famous Turkish religious scholar, composer, poet, and author, who is routinely and was recently highlighted at various social and diplomatic events by President Erdoğan. In the Mavi Vatan Anthem, this phrase precedes mention of a storm that forced the Ottoman fleet to abandon the sea and return to its homeport. This appears to reference a major storm in 1541 that did force the Ottoman fleet to seek refuge, even if this conflicts with the overall timeline of the 1538 Battle of Preveza on which the rest of the lyrics and accompanying video appear to be based.

In the Mavi Vatan Anthem’s original Turkish, “Captain of the Sea” is rendered as Kaptan-ı Derya. Kaptan-ı Derya was the title given to the senior admiral serving as the chief of naval operations in the Ottoman Navy. Here, this title refers to Barbaros Hayrettin Pasha, who is shown writing his report of victory to the Ottoman Sultan-Caliph and the world and praising the Prophet. His praise to the Prophet in the original Turkish is rendered as Salat selam ile Resulallah, a verse of the Koran.

This scene is the first to explicitly mention the Battle of Preveza of September 1538. Combined with mop-up operations in 1539 and the Venice-Ottoman Treaty of 1540, the Ottoman victory at Preveza gave the Ottoman Empire dominance in the Aegean and Mediterranean Seas. Ottoman regional naval dominance was not seriously challenged again until the 1560 Battle of Djerba (against another Christian alliance), which the Ottomans also won, extending their naval dominance through to the Ottoman defeat at the Battle of Lepanto in 1571 (at the hands of yet another Christian alliance).

Scene 3 closes with imagery of modern Turkish Navy vessels, one with sailors in white dress uniforms saluting from its deck, accompanying the closing lyrics of stanza four, “The Prophet’s Army comes wave after wave/Ottoman sailors and soldiers in the waters of the Mediterranean.”

As discussed previously, mavi vatan’s first goal is to make modern Turkey a regional maritime power. The lyrics and imagery employed in Scene 3 hearken back to a time of unrivaled Turkish dominance of the regional maritime domain, linking modern Turkey’s future plans to its storied Ottoman past. At the same time, Scene 3’s depictions of and references to Ottoman battles against Christian alliances also strengthen the portrayal of mavi vatan’s anti-West worldview, aligned as it is with President Erdoğan’s pro-Islamist, anti-Western ideology. Finally, current tension and military posturing in the Mediterranean pits Turkey against France, Greece, and Cyprus (among others), replicating the historic competition between the Ottoman Empire and the Christian alliances against which it fought.

Scene 4: Turkey, the Ottoman Heir

Time: 2:26 – 3:29 (Link to Scene 4)

Scene Description: Scene 4 begins with one of the more striking images of the Mavi Vatan Anthem, with modern-day Turkish sailors in white dress uniform (including matching COVID-19 era facemasks) on the landing deck of a Turkish Navy ship, standing in formation spelling out “MAVI VATAN” and saluting in unison. The video then transitions to Barbaros Hayrettin Pasha addressing his sailors, who employ the same hand/arm saluting movement as used just previously by the Turkish sailors. The video then cuts to a panoramic view of 11 Turkish Navy ships sailing in formation, and then to enlisted Turkish sailors at work while embarked.

Next, Scene 4 turns to imagery of hand-to-hand combat between Ottoman and Alliance sailors, flipping the viewpoint between the two opposing forces. The video transitions to an astern view of the TCG Tekirdağ (P1207), a Turkish Navy Tuzla-class patrol boat, sailing at speed, with the Turkish flag flying, and then switches to Ottoman vessels flying the similar star-and-crescent, red-and-white flag of the Ottoman Empire.

Scene 4 then transitions to the TCG Heybeliada (F511), an Ada-class corvette, sailing through the straits at Çanakkale (also known as the Dardanelles, Hellespont, or Gallipoli) with a Turkish flag in the foreground and the massive hillside memorial of a soldier next to the words “Dur yolcu! Bilmeden gelip bastığın Bu toprak, bir devrin battığı yerdir” (discussed below) on the hills in the background. Next, Scene 4 transitions to the Mavi Vatan Anthem’s first depiction of a new character, Sultan Mehmet the Conqueror (alternatively Sultan Mehmet II, or, in Turkish Fatih Sultan Mehmet), before returning to a view of a Turkish Navy officer (Mehmetoğlu’s son from earlier in the video) saluting. The scene concludes with Sultan Mehmet the Conqueror on a white horse on the eastern shore of the Bosporus in Istanbul, looking westward across the water.

Translation of the fifth, sixth, and seventh stanzas of the Mavi Vatan Anthem:

We drew up the anchor from port and headed out on the Blue Homeland route The Oceans are on Barbaros the Conqueror’s route

The frigates of the Turkish fleet on the horizon

In the Mediterranean waters they stand ready for the motherland

 

It is a passion that started with my existence

From our faith, patriotism is our slogan

It is sacred and can’t be contained by the high seas

Truly the cause opens the sails to victories

 

For the Blue Homeland the crimson blood runs true

If we are martyred the reward is to sacrifice our lives to the cause

To the commander who advances the ships from the land

The Conqueror of the hearts should greet the ancestors

Discussion and Analysis: The memorial on the hillside at Çanakkale reproduces a small part of Turkish poet Necmettin Halil Onan’s longer poem, which commemorates the sacrifice of Ottoman soldiers in the defeat of Allied forces here during World War I. The words of the memorial translate to “Traveler halt! The soil you tread once witnessed the end of an era.”

In addition to imagery of the Battle of Preveza, Scene 4 powerfully uses references to two of the other most significant military victories in the long history of the Turkish military, both to celebrate Turkish military prowess and to demonstrate the continuity of sacrifice that links the mavi vatan perspective to millennia of Turkish fighting spirit and patriotism.

The first battle the scene references is the Battle of Çanakkale, in which the Ottoman Empire defeated Allied attempts to take the strategic chokepoint from 1915-1916. The Ottoman Navy played a critical role in defeating the Allied attempts to force the strait by sea on March 18, 1915, laying mines under the cover of darkness that sank three Allied battleships and forced the Allies to precipitously retreat. Today, much of the Gallipoli peninsula is a Turkish National Historic Park commemorating the more than 66,000 Ottoman soldiers and more than 50,000 Allied troops killed in action, in addition to another 150,000-plus wounded. The Battle of Çanakkale also played an enormously important role in the history of modern Turkey by providing the platform from which the talented and influential Mustafa Kemal, then a lieutenant colonel, gained national prominence and a national following. These were both critical factors enabling the launch of the Turkish resistance, the declaration of the Republic of Turkey, and, as Atatürk, his role as the new country’s first leader.

The second battle Scene 4 references is the Battle of Constantinople in the spring of 1453, in which the Ottoman Empire, led by Sultan Mehmet II, captured the city, permanently ending the Byzantine Empire, and establishing Turkish control of the Bosporus that has endured for 568 years (and counting). Scene 4 references this decisive Ottoman victory both in its lyrics, with two mentions of Fatih (in English, “the Conqueror”), and in visual images of Sultan Mehmet the Conqueror on a white horse looking west across the Bosporus to the European continent.

Scene 5: The Son of a Martyr

Time: 3:29 – 4:21 (Link to Scene 5)

Scene Description: Scene 5 begins with an image of Barbaros Hayrettin Pasha, followed quickly by a mosque at sunset and Mehmetoğlu’s son kissing the Koran, both in time with the eighth stanza’s lyrics professing the central role of Islam in Ottoman and Turkish military history. Scene 5 then briefly shows an aerial view of the Martyrs of July 15 hillside memorial in Istanbul, which honors the hundreds killed in the failed coup attempt of July 2016, and then the gravesite of Hamza, Prophet Muhammed’s uncle, at Uhud Martyrs’ Cemetery (in present day Saudi Arabia). This was the site of the Battle of Uhud in which Hamza and many other prominent early Muslims were martyred in the year 625. The scene then cuts to Sultan Mehmet the Conqueror on a white horse pointing to the European side of the Bosporus from the Asian side, before transitioning to images of a Turkish Navy band playing the music accompanying the video. Next, Scene 5 shows two Turkish Navy vessels sailing side-by-side and flying the Turkish flag, before reverting to Ottoman sailors in hand-to-hand combat. The scene closes with imagery of an Ottoman ship, and then transitions to various modern Turkish vessels before returning to an Ottoman ship firing a cannon at night in battle.

Translation of the eighth, ninth, and tenth stanzas of the Mavi Vatan Anthem:

Allah is our God, my Prophet is the Messenger of Allah

The Koran is my holy guide

The Saint of the Martyrs Hamza, Islam’s first military leader, is my leader

The son of the martyrs is my Ancestor Sultan Mehmed the Conqueror

 

Give me your ear, o world: I am the son of a martyr

Don’t forget that I am the scion of the crescent and star homeland

The blood that flows in my veins is the blood of my ancestors

We will give and take lives for the Blue Homeland

 

The scales of justice were unyielding in the midst of oppression

You are the hope of the desperate and wrathful against the enemy

To the help of the faithful who are crying for help

You are going to be the light in the darkness

Amen!

Discussion and Analysis: Hamza was the Prophet’s foster brother, companion, and paternal uncle. The Prophet gave him the honorific Sayyid ash-Shuhada after he was martyred protecting the Prophet at the Battle of Uhud.

Scene 5 employs highly evocative imagery of the “Martyrs of July 15” hillside and the Uhud Martyrs’ Cemetery that the vast majority of Turks would quickly identify, even if non-Turks would not immediately recognize these two sites of national cultural importance. Given the lyrics of the eighth stanza, the last full phrase of the Mavi Vatan Anthem (“You are going to be the light in the darkness”) appears to carry a double meaning, referring in religious terms to Allah as the “light in the darkness” and in military terms, to the Turkish Navy as the defender of the Turkish homeland. Scene 5 lyrics, accompanied by religious imagery in the video, reinforce the explicitly religious foundations of the Mavi Vatan Anthem.

Scene 6: Erdoğan and Atatürk

Time: 4:22 – 5:07 (Link to Scene 6)

Scene Description: The final scene opens with Mehmetoğlu’s son on the bridge of his ship, standing in front of a framed photo of Atatürk, with President Erdoğan in a voice-over reciting the second stanza of “Bayrak” as images of a Turkish Navy vessel, a rigid-hull inflatable boat (RHIB), a Navy officer saluting the Turkish flag, another RHIB, and an officer peering through binoculars are displayed. The scene next shows Sultan Mehmet the Conqueror and the Turkish flag, followed by shots of another RHIB and Turkish helicopters. This is followed by President Erdoğan at a rally, walking through a multitude of Turkish flags, then another Turkish Navy vessel, and finally an image of Barbaros Hayrettin Pasha. The video closes with a still shot of President Erdoğan, with arms raised and hands with four fingers extended, in front of a Turkish flag.

Translation of “Bayrak”’s penultimate and last stanzas:

You slowly wave in the winds

The dove of peace, the eagle of war

My flower that blooms in high places

I was born under you

I will die under you

My history, my honor, my poem, my everything

Choose a place, love a place

Wherever you want to be raised

Tell me, I’ll raise you up there

Discussion and Analysis: The framed photo of Atatürk behind Mehmetoğlu’s son at the beginning of Scene 6 has the following quote: “Ordular İlk Hedefiniz Akdeniz’dir,” which translates to “Armies! Your first objective is the Eastern Mediterranean!” This is the command Atatürk gave to his military at a critical point in the post-World War One Turkish War of Independence, just nine days before Turkish forces completed their rout of the Allies, forcing the Allied withdrawal from Anatolia and other Turkish territory, and securing the borders of the modern Turkish state (apart from the addition of Hatay province in 1939). Turkey now celebrates this victory annually on August 30, Victory Day and Turkish Armed Forces Day.

The Mavi Vatan Anthem video’s closing image of President Erdoğan is also noteworthy. Firstly, it features a quote from President Erdoğan, translated as “We’re strong in the Blue Homeland, We’re Secure in the Homeland.” Secondly, President Erdoğan’s gesture – both arms raised and both hands with four fingers extended and thumbs collapsed – is the sign of the rabia. Rabia literally translates as “four” in Arabic, but has become a well-known symbol of the Muslim Brotherhood, perhaps popularized globally by President Erdoğan in 2013. This four-finger hand sign is also claimed by President Erdoğan’s party, the Justice and Development Party (Adalet ve Kalkınma Partisi) as a party symbol, standing for “One Nation, One Flag, One Homeland, One State.”

In this final scene of the Mavi Vatan Anthem video, President Erdoğan’s recitation of the last two stanzas of “Bayrak” symbolically wraps the Mavi Vatan Anthem with the flag of the Republic of Turkey. In line with the nationalistic and religious themes of the Mavi Vatan Anthem and video, Scene 6 links mavi vatan to Atatürk’s most famous command during the Turkish War of Independence, and links modern Turkey and President Erdoğan to Atatürk, Islam, and the Muslim Brotherhood.

Conclusion

The Mavi Vatan Anthem is representative of the neo-Ottoman ethno-religious nationalism espoused by President Erdoğan. It garishly and jingoistically employs neo-Ottoman, Islamic, and nationalist themes, imagery, and lyrics to demonstrate the Erdoğan government’s embrace of the mavi vatan perspective, which has increasingly shaped Turkey’s domestic and foreign policies. These policies over the last several years have acquired a more antagonistic and militarized outlook centered on anti-Western, anti-U.S. principles. As such, the Mavi Vatan Anthem offers insight into the significance and prominence of mavi vatan in Erdoğan’s Turkey, and also provides a means through which Turkey’s own worldview can be understood.

Furthermore, the Mavi Vatan Anthem does not stand alone. It is part of a series of such videos released by the Presidency in the late summer/early fall of 2020 that link the history of the Ottoman Empire to the modern Republic of Turkey with music, imagery, and historical references (examples here, here, here, here, here, here, all on the Presidency’s YouTube page). Taken together as part of a sophisticated, high-production-value public diplomacy effort, this series of videos provides an opportunity for analysts and Turkey watchers to apply the translation, description, and analysis framework employed in this current article to conduct individual and collective analysis. Such analysis, if undertaken, would substantially contribute to understanding Turkey’s foreign policy outlook, particularly in the Eastern Mediterranean region.

Parallel Turkish-English Translation of BAYRAK (Flag) by Arif Nihat Asya

Eyyy mavi göklerin beyaz ve kızıl süsü
Kiz kardeşimin gelinliği
Şeyidimin son örtüsü
Işık ışık dalga dalga bayrağım
Senin destanını okudum
Senin destanını yazacağım
Sana benim gözümle bakmayanın
Mezarını kazacağım
Seni selamlamadan uçan kuşun
Yuvasını bozacağım
Eyyy you are the blue sky’s white and red ornaments
My sister’s wedding dress
The last cloth of my martyr
My bright wavy flag
I read your legend
I will write your legend
I will dig the grave
of those who don’t look at you as I do
I will break the nest of the flying bird
that doesn’t salute you
Ey şimdi süzgün, rüzgârlarda dalgalı
Barışın güvercini, savaşın kartalı
Yüksek yerlerde açan çiçeğim
Senin altında doğdum
Senin dibinde öleceğim
You slowly wave in the winds
The dove of peace, the eagle of war
My flower that blooms in high places
I was born under you
I will die under you
Tarihim, şerefim, şiirim, her şeyim
Yer yüzünde yer beğen
Nereye dikilmek istersen
Söyle, seni oraya dikeceğim
My history, my honor, my poem, my everything
Choose a place, love a place
Wherever you want to be raised
Tell me, I'll raise you up there

Parallel Turkish-English Translation of MAVİ VATAN MARŞI (Blue Homeland March)

Küfür tek millet olup kurmuştu ittifakı
Yaradana sığınmıştı İslam’ın orduları
Denizlerin aslanı çekmişti Zülfikâr’ı Akdeniz’de hedefti zilletin ittifakı
The infidel Alliance formed a single nation
The Army of Islam took refuge in the Creator
The Lion of the Seas unsheathed Ali’s sword Zülfikar In the Mediterranean, the target was the infidel Alliance
Yazılan sureleri bıraktırdı sulara
Lâ gâlibe illâllah terse döndü fırtına
Barbaros Hayrettin Paşa haçlı ittifakına
Dalga dalga vuruyordu İslam’ın filosuyla
They disposed of the written surahs in the sea
There is no other victor than Allah; the storm turned them around.
Barbaros Hayrettin Pasha struck the Crusader Alliance
With wave after wave of the fleet of Islam.
Kaptan-ı Derya Preveze zaferiyle
Hamd edip Allah’a yazdırdı fetihnâme
Salat selam ile Resulallah Efendime
Milat oldu o gün denizlerin tarihine
The Captain of the Sea with the victory at Preveza
Gave glory to Allah and wrote the victory for Allah With prayer and praise to the Prophet
That day was the beginning of the history of the seas
Kaptan-ı Derya şanın ve namınla yaşa
Bahriyeli yiğitlerin ilhamsın donanmada
Peygamberin ordusu geliyor dalga dalga
Bahriyeli Mehmetçikler Akdeniz sularında
With repute and fame, long live the Captain of the Sea!
The fleet should be inspired by the bravery of the sailors!
The Prophet’s Army comes wave after wave
Ottoman sailors and soldiers in the waters of the Mediterranean
Demir aldık limandan Mavi Vatan yoluna
Okyanuslar Fatih’i Barbaros’un yolunda
Türk’ün donanmasında firkateynler ufukta
Vatan için hazır kıta Akdeniz sularında
We drew up the anchor from port and headed out on the Blue Homeland route
The Oceans are on Barbaros the Conqueror’s route
The frigates of the Turkish fleet on the horizon
In the Mediterranean waters they stand ready for the motherland
Varlığımla başlayan bir sevdadır bizde ki
Vatan sevgisi imandan şiarı bizimkisi
Enginlere sığmayan kutsalımdır kendisi
Zaferlere yelken açan davanın hakikati
It is a passion that started with my existence
From our faith, patriotism is our slogan
It is sacred and can’t be contained by the high seas
Truly the cause opens the sails to victories
Mavi vatan kan kırmızı boyanır uğruna
Şehit düşsek mükafat can fedadır yoluna
Karadan gemileri yürüten kumandana
Selam olsun gönüllerin Fatih’i Atam’a
For the Blue Homeland the crimson blood runs true
If we are martyred the reward is to sacrifice our lives to the cause
To the commander who advances the ships from the land
The Conqueror of the hearts should greet the ancestors
Rabbimiz Allah Resulallah Peygamberim
Mukaddes kitap rehberim Kur’an-ı Kerim
Şehitler Seyyidi Hazreti Hamza önderim
Atam Fatih Sultan şehit oğlu Mehmed’im
Allah is our God, my Prophet is the Messenger of Allah
The Koran is my holy guide
The Saint of the Martyrs Hamza, Islam’s first military leader, is my leader
The son of the martyrs is my Ancestor Sultan Mehmed the Conqueror
Ben şehit oğluyum kulak ver ey dünya
Ay-yıldızlı vatanın evladıyım unutma
Ecdadımın kanından akar damarlarımda
Can verir can alırız mavi vatan uğruna
Give me your ear, o world: I am the son of a martyr
Don’t forget that I am the scion of the crescent and star homeland
The blood that flows in my veins is the blood of my ancestors
We will give and take lives for the Blue Homeland
Mazlumun ardısıra dimdik duran mizana
Umudusun muhtacın gazapsın düşmanına
Son kale yetiş diyen ümmetin imdadına
Karanlıklara ışık olacaksın âmennâ
The scales of justice were unyielding in the midst of oppression
You are the hope of the desperate and wrathful against the enemy
To the help of the faithful who are crying for help
You are going to be the light in the darkness
Amen!

Lieutenant Colonel Jeff Jager is a U.S. Army Foreign Area Officer with an area of concentration in Europe. A West Point graduate with three masters degrees, he is pursuing a PhD in international relations at Salve Regina University. As a FAO, he has served as an attaché in Cyprus, a liaison officer in Turkey, the Chief of the Office of Defense Cooperation in Lebanon, and a military advisor at the Department of State (his current assignment). He speaks Turkish (3+/3+/3 on the ILR scale). He may be reached at jeffrey.s.jager@gmail.com.

Andrew Norris is a retired U.S. Coast Guard Captain and holds a Juris Doctorate. His last assignment in the Coast Guard was as the Robert J. Papp, Jr. Professor of Maritime Security at the U.S. Naval War College. He currently works at the Naval War College and as a maritime legal and regulatory consultant. He may be reached at anorris@tradewindmaritimeservices.com, on Twitter @TWM_Services, and on LinkedIn at https://www.linkedin.com/in/andrew-norris-uscoastguard.

The views and opinions expressed are those of the authors and not necessarily the positions of the U.S. Army, the Department of Defense, or the U.S. Government.

The authors would like to thank a native Turkish speaking colleague, who requested anonymity, for his/her assistance with several questions regarding the imagery and lyrics of the Mavi Vatan Anthem video.

Feature Image: Screen capture from the Mavi Vatan Anthem video at 2:38.

2 thoughts on “The Mavi Vatan Doctrine and Blue Homeland Anthem: A Look At Turkey’s Maritime Worldview”

  1. European societies have to stop greek’s maximalist , racist claims and their blackmail actions against europe and other states. We didn’t forget how they bullied to Macedonia on it’s name. United Nations have to investigate greek violations in mediterinennean and aegean seas. Also violation against immigrants and human rights. On the other hand, we need to examine illegal membership of southern cyprus to europe. It’s illegal. Southern Cyprus known as passport trader to international terrorists and criminals. Also we need to stand with minorities in Greece such as Gagauzian christian Turks, muslim Turks ,Pomaks , Vlachs , albanians etc. Greece is imlepenting racist assimilation policy. They need to accept minorities with their own origin.

    1. Csaba, Greece is a European country that works and operates under the European law system. Please read foreign history books to get a descent education, as the ones that you have in Turkey are misleading. Macedonia is a Greek name, as Konstantinoupoli was (you changed it to Instabul – also greek “η στην πόλη” 🙂 ). No violations exist in Greece or the Greek republic over Greeks, and I suppose that since you refer to violations you have obviously not visited Greece. You would have found out that no minorities exist in Greece other than the Gypsies. The segregation you refer is clear inTurkey with the Kurds, and prior the riots of 1955, the Greek population of Konstantinoupoli was also clear.

      Your fake Mavi Vattan is unrealistic and opposes any international laws of the Seas (that Turkey refuses to sign) and claims that Greek islands (even inhabited) are Turkish. The Government of Cyprus (GoC) is the only internationally recognized government on the Island, represented at the UN and a FULL MEMBER of EU family, that Turkey, with the current status will never be part of. Our fellow Turkish Cypriots will hopefully understand that we must share a common future and return to be a part of the Government of Cyprus and not be ruled by Turkey. Many of the Turkish Cypriots enjoy a European Passport of the Government of Cyprus, as their representative E. Tatar has until recently 🙂 The one that you claim we trade to international criminals – bty the international passport scheme was banned by the GoC.

      Turkey is the real terrorist of the region as (1) violates the freedom of Kurds and their rightful claim to form a State (2) intervenes with regional conflicts in Libya, Syria, Azerbaijan-Armenia etc, (3) Occupies 37% of the Government of Cyprus since 1974.Concerning the Kurds why don’t you give them the same benefits you request from the Government of Cyprus to offer our fellow Turkish Cypriots?

      Nevertheless, hopefully Turkey will be talked into senses and understand that with illegal claims and violations over Greece and Cyprus will not gain anything.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.