Hydrocarbons to determine political future of Cyprus: Op-ed
Mustafa Ergün Olgun
The 1959–60 London and Zurich Agreements, accepted by the representatives of the two equal co-founder communities (Greek and Turkish), together with the three guarantor powers (the United Kingdom, Turkey and Greece), granted Cyprus independence from the U.K. as a bicommunal partnership republic. As signatories to these international agreements, the Greek and Turkish-Cypriot communities separately possess international legal personality and are equal subjects of international law.
The Greek-Cypriot side used the “doctrine of necessity” argument in 1963–4 in unilaterally and forcibly changing the unchangeable “partnership governance” provisions of the Constitution, claiming that it was not functional. This resulted in the unlawful transformation of a bicommunal partnership republic into a Greek-Cypriot unitary state.
Turkish-Cypriot and Greek-Cypriot communities have since been living and exercising authority on their respective territories separately. United Nations-led negotiations have proven “reunification” to be an elusive goal nor has there been any sharing of assets or resources, with the Greek-Cypriot side refusing both separation (1983) and the establishment of a new bicommunal partnership (2004).
Most recently, the maritime hydrocarbon exploitation initiatives of the Greek-Cypriots, who claim to have an exclusive right to manage these natural resources, have added a new and alarming dimension to the Cyprus issue.
The Greek-Cypriot position that, as the “recognized authority” for the whole island, they will not discuss their hydrocarbon initiatives with the Turkish-Cypriot side violates the terms of international agreements relevant to Cyprus. Moreover, this position only helps to perpetuate the conflict by negating the agreed objective of equal power sharing.
Some parts of the Greek-Cypriot Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) plots licensed to international oil companies overlap with the Turkish continental shelf, registered with the U.N. in 2004, adding yet another dimension to the dispute.
The Turkish-Cypriot side, as co-owner, has persistently objected to the signing of maritime-border agreements by the Greek-Cypriot side on the grounds that these are being conducted without their participation or consent. The Greek-Cypriot side has also been refusing repeated Turkish-Cypriot offers to co-manage hydrocarbon exploitation in all relevant areas.
The unilateral hydrocarbon initiatives of the Greek-Cypriot side have, as a result, compelled both the Turkish-Cypriot side and Turkey to respond in order to protect their own rights and interests by starting their own exploration initiatives.
Turkey objects to the exclusive economic-zone claims of the Greek-Cypriot side on the grounds that a) it is hijacking the co-ownership rights of the Turkish-Cypriot community; b) the delimitation of an EEZ or continental shelf in a semi-enclosed sea like the Mediterranean should be effected by agreement with all relevant stakeholders, which the Greek-Cypriot side has not done; and c) its claims distort equitable delimitation under the principles of international law.
The Greek-Cypriot side is now focused on consolidating what they have seized under the pretext of the doctrine of necessity. To this end, they have long been trying to construct a protective “ring” around their hegemonic vision through the building of alliances with regional and international actors. One major achievement in this regard was their unilateral European Union membership in 2004. They are now trying to build political and military alliances (recently, in particular, with Israel and France) and energy alliances with international oil companies.
All of these developments have turned what seemed to be a bicommunal problem into a basically Turkish-Greek international problem that is challenging security and stability in the region, together with the U.N. Secretary-General’s good-offices mission in Cyprus.
With the sidelined power-sharing talks in the shadow of the Greek-Cypriot and Greek hegemonic vision, the combined Eastern Mediterranean/Aegean maritime jurisdiction-areas dispute and the effects of polarization in the region, the political future of Cyprus will be determined by the choice of the Greek-Cypriot side between two broad options. The first is to accept the Turkish-Cypriot cooperation offer to jointly manage hydrocarbon resources in all admissible areas as co-owners, with the ultimate objective of sharing power and prosperity as two politically and sovereignly equal co-founder parties of a new partnership state. The second is to ignore the Turkish-Cypriot and Turkish sides and continue with unilateral exploration/exploitation and “status-quo-maintenance” strategies.
The choice of the first option would signal a significant change of mentality and approach – from competitive to cooperative – and could prepare the ground for reformulated negotiations aimed at a sustainable settlement that will respect the equal sovereign rights and status of the two parties. The pursuit of the second option would inevitably put the final nail in the coffin of the so-called partnership talks and prepare the ground for the legitimization of a two-state outcome.
In addition to the intrinsic responsibilities of the Greek-Cypriots, Turkish-Cypriots, Greece and Turkey, important responsibilities now rest on the shoulders of third parties – including the U.N., EU member states and the relevant oil companies.
These actors must now get to the real source of the problem, explore new and mutually compatible solutions based on equity in order to end the unilateralism and risky escalation connected with the hydrocarbons issue in Cyprus and the broader eastern Mediterranean and help transform hydrocarbons into a facilitator to resolve disputes rather than an accelerator for further disagreements in the area.