Yahya Bostan


Yahya Bostan 11 December 2014, Thursday

The struggle of Mediterranean countries for natural gas reserves off the coast of Cyprus is becoming a new era of crisis. Greek Cyprus infuriated the Turkish government when it started natural gas exploration activities off the coast of southern Cyprus recognizing it as its exclusive economic zone. Ankara then came up with two suggestions claiming that these natural gas reserves do not only belong to Greek Cypriots, but also to Turkish Cypriots on the island. The first one is that the natural gas reserves off the southern coast of Cyprus should be extracted by a new state that will be established by Greek and Turkish Cypriots after negotiations, allowing both parties to benefit from the gas and, therefore, the Cyprus question should be solved before natural gas exploration activities begin. The second one is that if the Cyprus negotiations cannot come to a conclusion, Turkish and Greek parties should form a joint commission to extract the natural gas and the revenue obtained should be used for a solution on the island. According to this formula, the natural gas to be extracted can be carried to Greece via Turkey and moved to Europe, enabling Greek Cyprus, Turkish Cyprus, Greece and Turkey to benefit from Cyprus’s natural gas reserves.

However, Greek Cyprus began natural gas exploration activities unilaterally, claiming that it represents the entirety of the island, whereupon Ankara sent the Barbaros Hayrettin Paşa Seismic Exploration Vessel along with the Gelibolu Naval Frigate to the areas that Greek Cyprus declared its exclusive economic zone. On Oct. 21, 2014, the vessel began exploring for gas in parcels 2, 3 and 9, which were claimed to be exclusive economic zones by Greek Cyprus.

Turkey’s counter-move sparked outrage in Greece and Greek Cyprus. Foreign Minister Evangelos Venizelos of Greece asserted that Turkey violated international maritime law. Their attempts were not confined to this alone as they also sought an alliance against Turkey in the Eastern Mediterranean. On Nov. 9, Egypt’s coup-maker President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi, Greek Prime Minister Antonis Samaras and Greek Cypriot President Nicos Anastasiades announced that they would cooperate to carry out joint energy exploration activities in the Eastern Mediterranean.

In the face of these developments, Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu, along with a delegation of nine ministers, visited Greece last week to hold the third meeting of the High-Level Cooperation Council between the two countries. According to diplomatic sources, Davutoğlu’s visit to Greece was very fruitful and yielded two important results. The first is that the two countries came to an agreement over the resumption of Cyprus negotiations that were suspended by Greek Cyprus. The Turkish and Greek parties, reportedly, will be engaged in talks once again in the upcoming days. The second result might be about alleviating the energy tension that is being experienced in the Eastern Mediterranean. On his way home, Davutoğlu gave clues of this to the journalists who accompanied him, saying everyone acknowledged that they could not extract the gas off the shore of Cyprus on their own. According to Davutoğlu, Greece stipulated that the Turkish party should withdraw the Barbaros Hayrettin Paşa vessel for the resumption of talks, to which Turkey responded suggesting that a solution mechanism should be formed first, and then they would respond. The two parties agreed on working on a formula that will allow Greek and Turkish Cypriots to jointly benefit from Cyprus’s gas. It is reported that a meeting will be held on this matter in the upcoming days, however, there are no details regarding the content of the formula.

The Turkish party is hopeful about solving problems with Greece and Cyprus in one way or another, thinking that at least psychological barriers have been removed, despite the existence of some deep-rooted problems. As a journalist who covered the negotiations on site, I witnessed many developments that made me think optimistically. However, I have concerns about the forthcoming period due to the ongoing economic crisis in Greece. The crisis nourishes ultra-nationalism in the country, which in return nourishes the gravity of the Cyprus issue in domestic politics. The country may hold an early election in line with the results of the presidential election to be held on Dec. 17. It is really hard to expect radical foreign policy initiatives from an unstable country where domestic policy concerns determine its course to such a great extent. I think Greece proved that it was not ready for this when they did not allow Davutoğlu to visit Western Thrace where a Turkish minority lives. I would say that it is imperative to strive to bring political and economic stability to Greece before seeking a magic formula to solve the energy crisis.

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