The hydrocarbon resources in the Eastern Mediterranean have been a big part of decades-long political conflicts in the region, which have come to block their fair and equitable share among regional countries. The dispute in the region further was exacerbated in recent years by the unilateral efforts of the Greek Cypriot administration to explore the resources in the eastern Mediterranean by declaring putative exclusive economic zones (EEZ). Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu once again expressed Turkey's objection to these unilateral attempts and stressed that any project that excludes Turkey in the region is not based on realistic conditions.
In a joint press conference with the Greek counterpart Georgios Katrugalos in the Mediterranean resort province of Antalya, Minister Çavuşoğlu highlighted Turkey's rights to benefit from the hydrocarbon resources in the Eastern Mediterranean in accordance with international law.
"Any [energy] project which excludes Turkey is not realistic," the minister stressed.
The foreign minister said that after getting authorization from the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus, Turkish companies started exploration around Cyprus. "In the weeks and months to come, we will also start drilling work," he added. The foreign minister emphasized that Turkish Cypriots also have rights over the hydrocarbon resources around the island of Cyprus. "This is accepted by everyone," he stressed.
The minister said that with Greek Cypriots conduct unilateral drilling around the island, Turkey being a guarantor power for Cyprus is "more important than ever."
Greece and Turkey have been at loggerheads over energy exploration in the Eastern Mediterranean, particularly around the divided island of Cyprus.
The geopolitical factor of energy – an element experts and policymakers describe as a guarantee for connection and collaborative dynamic in the long term – has so far proved otherwise when it comes to the Eastern Mediterranean. With a view of protecting its own interests and the rights of the Turkish Cypriots, Turkey has been present in the region with seismic survey vessels and drillships. The country's seismic vessel Barbaros Hayreddin has been conducting surveys in the region since 2013 after the two sides signed an agreement that gives Turkey exploration rights for 30 years in 2011. Its first drillship Fatih also started operations with deep-sea well-drilling in October 2018 off Alanya, a district in the Mediterranean province of Antalya. Later, Turkey also started shallow well-drilling in Mersin, another Mediterranean province. The energy ministry is expecting the second drillship to arrive in Turkish waters soon.
In February 2018, Turkey blockaded Italian firm ENI's rigging operations in disputed Mediterranean waters by sending its military ships before the Italian company started rigging operations in the blocks unilaterally declared by the Greek Cypriot administration.
Furthermore, Ankara argues that some of the blocks – particularly Block 4, 5, 6, and 7 – on which the Greek Cypriot has commissioned international energy companies like the Italian ENI and French Total for explorations violate the country's 200-mile continental shelf as well as the 14-mile territorial waters of the Turkish Cypriot, which has been excluded from exploration efforts by the Greek adminis
tration in the south of the Cyprus island. Turkey and Turkish Cypriots vouch for an equitable share of the resources in the respective region, which is conditioned upon the peace progress in the island. The political conflict on the island which has not been resolved since 1974 is considered a primary reason impeding the exploitation of the resources among the regional people. Speaking of the negotiations, Minister Çavuşoğlu said, "Any future talks over the divided island of Cyprus must be result-oriented, not just for the sake of talking."
The framework of Cyprus negotiations should be specified before the start of new talks, the minister said and added that Turkey wants a solution for Cyprus that is acceptable to both sides.
Cyprus has been divided since 1974 when a Greek Cypriot coup was followed by violence against the island's Turks and Ankara's intervention as a guarantor power. The island has seen an on-and-off peace process in recent years, including the collapse of a 2017 initiative in Switzerland under the auspices of guarantor countries Turkey, Greece and the U.K.
Çavuşoğlu also announced that vessels between İzmir's Çeşme district and Athen's Lavrio port will begin trips on June 2.
Turkey's rights in the Eastern Med
Turkey has rights concerning the abundant energy resources in the Eastern Mediterranean, said Greece's foreign minister yesterday. "We know that Turkey has certain rights regarding energy resources in the Eastern Mediterranean," Katrougalos said. Turkey has rights based on international maritime law and Greece is "aware" of that, he added.
Katrougalos said on April 12, Turkish and Greek foreign ministry officials will meet to discuss confidence-building measures. The Cyprus issue will also be discussed, he added. Cyprus has been divided since 1974 when a Greek Cypriot coup was followed by Katrougalos and Çavusoğlu also discussed the situation of the Muslim minority in Greece's Western Thrace region. "These people are Greek citizens and we have to do whatever we can to provide peace and comfort to these people," Katrougalos added. Western Thrace is home to a Muslim Turkish minority of around 150,000 people. However, Greece refuses to recognize its status as a Turkish minority, recognizing it only through its religious affiliation as a Muslim minority. Greece has also banned Turkish groups from calling themselves "Turkish" and interfered in the Muslim minority's right to elect its own muftis or religious officials.