Tensions rise between Cyprus and Turkey over proposed drilling
(21 September 2011)
On Monday 19 September, the Greek Cypriot government announced that it would continue with exploratory drilling off the coast of the disputed island of Cyprus. This announcement has drawn an angered response from the government of Turkey and its Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, stating that “frigates, gunboats and its air force will constantly monitor developments in the area.” The Greek Cypriot government has stated that the drilling will occur within its exclusive economic zone (EEZ) located to the south of the island. However the Turkish government believes this is in violation of existing agreements, as the EEZ is disputed. The island of Cyprus has been divided since 1974 between the Greek Cypriot south, which is international recognized, and the Turkish Cypriot north, which is only recognized by Turkey.
Turkey has recently been exerting its naval power in international disputes including with Cyrpus. In early September the Turkish Prime Minister had promised to send naval vessels to escort the flotilla of peace activists heading to Gaza, following confrontations last year with Israeli military that led to the death of nine activists, most of them Turkish nationals. Turkey believes that any natural resources found in the EEZ of Cyprus belong to both sides, and that any development projects should be delayed until the dispute over the island is resolved. In response, the Greek Cypriot President Demetris Christofias stated that Turkey had no right to protest its efforts to explore its EEZ, and that several countries as well as the European Commission had recognised its sovereign right to conduct such exploration.
It was reported that Texas-based Noble Engineering Inc. began exploratory drilling to the south of the island on Sunday, between the waters of Cyprus and Israel. Nobel Engineering has also recently been involved in the exploration of the Leviathan gas field within the EEZ of Israel. In response, Prime Minister Erdogan has said that the Turkish Petroleum Company would being exploration for hydrocarbon reserves off northern Cyprus, under naval escort, following a continental shelf agreement that would be made with the de-facto Turkish Cypriot state. The Greek Cypriot government has argued however that this agreement would be legally invalid and contrary to UN Security Council resolutions. Meanwhile the Turkish Energy Minister Taner Yildiz implied that the proposed exploration to the south of the island by the Cypriot government is "a political provocation aimed at consolidating the Greek Cypriot administration's status," and risked ending reunification talks regarding the island.
On Monday the European Union also issued statements urging the Greek Cypriot government and Turkey to focus upon resolving the political dispute regarding the division of the island, in particular urging Turkey to refrain from creating further tensions that could inhibit reunification talks. Cyprus is due to take over the revolving presidency of the European Union in the second half of 2012. Turkey has been eager to progress reunification talks with Cyprus before it takes the presidency, threatening to freeze talks if an agreement isn’t reached before this date.
Sources: ‘President says Cyprus takes necessary steps to deal with Turkish threats’, BBC Monitoring European, 18 September 2011; ‘Drilling off Cyprus will proceed despite warnings from Turkey’, New York Times, 19 September 2011; ‘Turkey rattles saber over Cyprus drilling’, Marc Champion, Wall Street Journal Europe, 20 September 2011