Lobby for Cyprus is a non-party-political human rights organisation campaigning for a reunited Cyprus.
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11 October 2011
Cyprus exploration of gas and oil threatened by Turkey’s actions
Constant impunity breeds arrogance, and what the world is seeing in the bellicosity of Turkey towards the Republic of Cyprus is the arrogance resulting from a history of impunity and appeasement

For more that 200 years the Republic of Turkey and its predecessor the Ottoman Empire established an appalling human rights record, expelling and killing minorities within its borders and neighbours by the millions. For reasons of expediency, the West always chose not to censure or punish Turkey for violations that included pogroms, mass murders and genocides. 

Today we can see the results of this appeasement. Sadly these results lie not in any criticism of 37 years of illegal occupation of one third of Cyprus, nor the destruction of more than 500 Greek, Armenian and Maronite churches, cemeteries and monasteries – Europe’s cultural heritage in Cyprus. Nor the illegal importation of 200,000 Anatolian colonists into occupied Cyprus in violation of the Geneva conventions. No, these results present themselves in Turkey’s outlandish and arrogant challenge to the sovereignty of the Republic of Cyprus in the matter of exploration of oil and gas resources in the territorial waters of the government controlled areas of Cyprus.

Using the pseudo-legitimacy of an arrangement made with its subordinate illegal regime in the occupied north, Turkey is raising tensions by sending warships and a research vessel into the waters of the free areas of Cyprus to the south of the island. Using NATO supplied military resources (just as it did in its 1974 invasion) Turkey is not only threatening the free areas of the Republic of Cyprus but also the state of Israel with which Cyprus has made arrangements for possible joint explorations. Turkey has stated that it will do “whatever is necessary” if the Cyprus government continues to exercise its sovereign right to explore for hydrocarbons off its own coast. 

Though it was long suspected there were deposits of gas and oil in the area, it was in June 2010 when a large gas deposit was found off the north coast of Israel that deposits were confirmed. Geologists suspect other fields exist as far as Cypriot territorial waters. The Republic of Cyprus signed an agreement with the US-based company Noble Energy to begin exploration. Thus, the entry of Turkey. Turkey claims residents of the occupied north will not benefit from gas and oil wealth, though Turkish Cypriot residents of the occupied north already have privileges in the free areas. Turkey is again using the Turkish Cypriots to further its own aims – in this instance to exploit the natural resources and wealth of Cyprus.

Showing how dangerous is the Turkish move, Israel is monitoring Turkish activity with unmanned drones circling the drilling area and Israeli airforce jets are reportedly overflying the free areas of the island and the occupied north.

To add to the tension, there are reports that a Russian aircraft carrier is expected in the eastern Mediterranean. A submarine is also reported to be on its way for “patrol purposes” as part of exercises with other countries. Russian support has been clear. It “totally supports the sovereign right of the Cypriot people for exploitation of natural resources… this is totally in accordance with international law and EU regulations”. 

The basis of Turkey’s actions is that just as it disputes the legitimacy of anything it doesn’t like, Turkey disputes Cyprus’ rights to develop what is known as its Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) – a designation under the United Nations Law of the Sea that grants offshore rights to signatories of up to 200 nautical miles. 

The European Commission has “urged Turkey to refrain from any kind of threat, sources of friction or action”. The EU’s Enlargement Commissioner stated: “We made it absolutely clear that it is Cyprus’ right to delimit its EEZ and to conclude treaties with third countries”. According to the Wall Street Journal, US Secretary of State Clinton has told Turkey to tone down its threats against Cyprus and a State Department official stated: “The United States supports Cyprus’ right to explore for energy”. The Cyprus News Agency quoted a British foreign office representative: “The UK recognises the rights of the Republic of Cyprus in its Exclusive Economic Zone, as do all states who have signed the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea.”

Turkey’s threats against Cyprus are not based on or supported by legal argument or substance as it has no right to question the delimitation of the EEZ or continental shelf agreements between Cyprus and its neighbours which are not even opposite or adjacent to Turkey’s own coastline. 

What also irks Turkey is that should the Republic of Cyprus find huge deposits of gas or oil in its EEZ, Greece could very well be the country that would transmit the gas or oil to Europe, thus challenging Turkey’s hope to be the sole such source.

But what Turkey has going for it, is that just as the world stood aside and observed the illegal invasion of Cyprus in 1974, and just as the world has done nothing but talk since the continued occupation of the north with Turkey’s 45,000-strong army, it seems likely that the West will do little, if anything at all to rein in Turkey’s current activities in the area.