Those who seek to promote Islamophobia and anti-Turkey sentiment in the Greek Cypriot administration were busy last week. In an attempt to provoke Muslims and Turks, two hostile incidents occurred in Greek Cyprus. First, the Köprülü Hacı Ibrahim Ağa Mosque in Limassol city was attacked with Molotov cocktails by unidentified people. The attackers who aimed to burn the mosque wrote fascist sentences on the walls of the mosque. Then a Byzantine flag was hung on the Tuzla Mosque in Larnaca city.
Both incidents were not only fascist and Islamophobic acts. They also were related to the increasing tension between Turkey/Turkish Republic Northern Cyprus (TRNC) and Greece/the Greek Cypriot administration. In addition to the provocations in Greek Cyprus, we can add Athens’ recent war threats toward Turkey as Greece and the Greek Cypriot administration act together.
In a television interview last week, Greek Defense Minister Nikos Panagiotopoulos said that his country is ready for a military confrontation with Turkey while speaking about the developments in the Eastern Mediterranean. Obviously, the defense minister is trying to gloss over the recent one-sided activities of Greece and the Greek Cypriot administration as well as their bilateral and multilateral agreements in the Eastern Mediterranean sidelining Turkey, the country which has one of the longest coastlines of the sea in question.
Earlier in January, Greece Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis also visited the White House to complain about Turkey and asked U.S. President Donald Trump to take action against Turkey's oil and gas drilling activities in the Mediterranean Sea. The reports also claimed that Mitsotakis told Trump during his visit, “If our sovereignty is challenged, we will respond militarily.” Mitsotakis’ visit came after Turkey’s maritime border deal with Libya’s U.N.-recognized Government of National Accord (GNA).
The East Med dispute
With that agreement, Turkey and Libya established a maritime boundary line between the two countries and demarked their continental shelves in December 2019. Turkey also signed a military agreement with the GNA, which is fighting against putschist Gen. Khalifa Haftar for control of Libya. It must be added that Greece is on the same side with the countries that support Haftar, including the United Arab Emirates (UAE), Egypt, Russia and France.
Since the Turkey-Libya deal strengthened Turkey’s hand with regard to its oil and gas research and drilling activities, Athens now sees that the music at the party in the Eastern Mediterranean isolating Turkey has stopped. Besides, Turkey-backed GNA’s successful advance against Haftar forces is changing the dynamics on the ground in Libya. If Haftar, who is against the Turkey-Libya maritime deal, loses more territory and the U.N.-recognized GNA has the upper hand, Greece will not be able to get rid of the deal in question.
This month, Turkey has determined seven licensed areas in the Eastern Mediterranean under the Libya pact.
Last week, Hami Aksoy, spokesman for the Turkish Foreign Ministry, said in a statement that Turkish Petroleum (TPAO) recently applied for a permit for additional oil exploration and drilling activities in the Eastern Mediterranean within the boundaries of Turkey's continental shelf. Çağatay Erciyes, a senior Turkish Foreign Ministry official, also shared on Twitter a map of this continental shelf and Turkey’s maritime boundaries in the Eastern Mediterranean that were also declared to the U.N. after the deal with Libya. Turkish Energy and Natural Resources Minister Fatih Dönmez announced this week that drilling in the determined licensed areas will start in three to four months as part of the agreement with the Libyan government.
Land dominates the sea
Greece says that Turkey’s plans to drill oil in a maritime zone delimited under the Turkey-Libya maritime boundary deal is challenging Greece’s sovereignty as this area is near the islands of Crete (Girit), Kasos (Çoban), Karpathos (Kerpe) and Rhodes (Rodos). According to Greece, its continental shelf boundary should be drawn along a line connecting the Greek coasts of these islands, with other islands given the full continental shelf. It even adds the Kastellorizo/Megisti (Kızılhisar/Meis) island, which is just 1 kilometer away from Antalya, a district on mainland Turkey. Without a doubt, these claims by Greece are against both the rules of international law and the judgments of the International Court of Justice (ICJ).
The most fundamental rule regarding the delimitation of the continental shelf, “land dominates the sea,” clearly underlines that territorial aspects like continental size and the length of the coastline are determining factors in the demarcation of maritime areas. In this regard, the continental shelf of Turkey cannot be ignored but Greece rejects it. Both Greece and the Greek Cypriot administration tries to infringe upon the rights arising from the continental shelf of Turkey. When we look at the maps published by Greece and the Greek Cypriot administration, it is clearly seen that they aim to lock Turkey in the Antalya Gulf of Turkey. A map published by the University of Seville in order to back their claims is an example of this.
The adventurous policy
On the other hand, for a long time, backed by Athens, the Greek Cypriot administration has been seeking adventurous policy in the Mediterranean by concluding maritime delimitation agreements, conducting oil and gas exploration and issuing unilateral permits for such activities around Cyprus. Its provocative policies ignore the Turkish Cypriots' existing and inherent equal rights over the natural resources and the sea around the island. By allying with Egypt and Israel, the Greeks and Greek Cypriots have disrespected other coastal states and ignored their interests. The Eastern Mediterranean drilling activities of Turkey is to defend its own rights and the rights of the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus (TRNC).
The Greek Cyprus unilaterally declared its Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) on March 21, 2003, all-around Cyprus island, ignoring TRNC and Turkey's rights as if it is the only owner of the island. It has already made EEZ agreements with Egypt and Israel, respectively in 2003 and 2010. The Greek Cypriot administration, which continued its attempts in this period, declared 13 offshore exploratory drilling blocks in its so-called EEZ on Jan. 26, 2007 and started to announce licensing rounds offshore Cyprus, which received several bids, for exploration and drilling at these sites.
Turkey does not accept Greek Cypriot’s policy and activities in question for two basic reasons: First, an important part of maritime jurisdiction areas claimed by the Greek Cypriot administration is overlapping with the maritime jurisdiction areas Turkey predicts for itself. Secondly, the Greek Cypriot administration acts as the sole authority in Cyprus island while pursuing this policy and ignores the rights of Turks on the island and their state, TRNC.
Turkey and TRNC objected to all of these unilateral actions and proposed settlements with the Greek Cypriot administration in 2011 and 2012. Accordingly, all off-shore activities of Turkish Cypriots and Greek Cypriots should be ceased simultaneously until a settlement is made and both sides should determine jointly the future course of off-shore oil/gas activities, including revenue sharing and funding of a possible settlement. But the Greek Cypriots disregarded this offer.
As a reaction, Turkey made a continental shelf delimitation agreement with TRNC on Sept. 21, 2011. In addition to that, TRNC drew its offshore blocks and licensed Turkish Petroleum for exploration and drilling activities on Sept. 22, 2011. Turkish Research Vessel K. Piri Reis conducted its first 2D seismic survey from Sept. 27 to Nov. 1, 2011. Turkey completed six drilling studies so far, while the Yavuz drilling vessel is conducting a seventh in the Selçuklu-1 location to the west of Cyprus.
So, Turkish drilling procedures fall under two categories as Turkish Energy and Natural Resources Minister said in a television interview this week: the licensed areas that are issued by the TRNC to Turkey and the licensed areas that are issued by Turkey to Turkish Petroleum – Turkey's national oil company.
Anastasiades’ false promise
Interestingly, the leader of Greek Cypriot administration Nikos Anastasiades, in an interview with Politico, offered Turkish Cypriots a share of gas revenues if Ankara recognizes Nicosia’s energy exploration rights. However, Nicosia should recognize Turkey’s and TRNC’s energy exploration rights in the first place. In fact, Greek Cypriots do not even recognize TRNC as a sovereign state.
Anastasiades said, “I am ready to open an escrow account in favor of the Turkish Cypriot community, according to the population ratio.”
This is just a false promise aiming to put TRNC off its sovereignty rights by offering the Turkish Cypriots’ a bribe. In that way, the Greek Cypriot administration is trying to make TRNC accept the EEZ claim of Nicosia which is surrounding the whole island. In addition, this is an attempt to sideline Turkey which also has rights over the Eastern Mediterranean’s natural resources. Threatening Turkey saying that it should lose its status as a candidate for EU accession — it is not taken seriously by Turkey by the way — Anastasiades also wants TRNC to abandon its rights in the sea, break its connection with Turkey and bring Turkish Cypriots alone and weak in the international arena.
Any solution in the future?
While the ongoing Cyprus dispute has not been solved for years, the Turkish Cypriots cannot trust Nicosia, and the international community as well. Today, only Turkey recognizes the TRNC as a state while the international community recognizes the “Republic of Cyprus” as the sole state controlled by the Greek Cypriot administration ignoring the years of bloody attacks of the Greek Cypriots targeting Turkish Cypriots in the past. Turkey’s military intervention following the 1974 Cypriot coup d'etat initiated by the Greek military junta to protect Turkish Cypriots has been depicted as an occupation by the Greeks even though TRNC declared independence in 1983.
Also, the Cyprus reunification plan (Annan plan), which was brought in front of the people of the Island in a referendum in April 2004, was rejected by the Greek Cypriots by 75%, while 65% of Turkish Cypriots said “yes.” That means the Greek Cypriots do not want a unification plan which would give Turkish Cypriots their rights. Regarding the maritime dispute, the acceptance of the Annan Plan, which is rejected by the Greek Cypriots, would mean that after the solution the natural resources would be under the authority of the bicommunal Presidential Council.
In addition to that, just three years ago, in 2017, the Greek House of Representatives adopted a resolution calling on all schools to mark the anniversary of the 1950 plebiscite of joining the island with Greece. That means the Greek Cypriots are still dreaming of merging the island with Greece, which is called ENOSIS. If their dreams come true, the Eastern Mediterranean will be all for Greece, as well.
On the other side, the conflict between Greece and Turkey is nothing new. Ever since the Treaty of Lausanne, signed in 1923 by the Allies of World War I, started regulating the basics of Greek-Turkish relations, the historical rivalry has hardly lessened. Today, the disputes over the Aegean Sea such as maritime jurisdiction areas, the demilitarized status of Eastern Aegean islands and the ones related to Aegean airspace have not been solved yet. In addition, Athens still denies Turkish Muslim minorities living in Greece and pursues a discriminatory policy against them. Moreover, now Greece, with the Greek Cypriot administration is spearheading an isolation campaign toward Turkey in the Eastern Mediterranean. This campaign now has a name: EastMed Gas Forum.
As long as Greece’s provocations and hostile policies targeting Turkey continue, the tension between the two countries will escalate. Obviously, Turkey’s decision to reconvert Hagia Sophia (Ayasofya) into a mosque 85 years after it was converted to a museum will make it more furious. This is not surprising. Greece does not respect Turkey’s sovereignty in the sea and in the air. How can we expect Athens, the only European capital which does not have one single mosque and has converted almost all the mosques in the country to museums, cinemas, conference rooms and churches, to show respect to Turkey’s decisions over its properties on its soil, such as the Hagia Sophia which was already a mosque for centuries?
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