Waiting for the president

Waiting for the president

The absence of President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan during the last few days changed the news coverage in Turkey. Major political issues were temporarily put on the back burner. Admittedly the row over the cost of the White Palace continued without respite, but the Turks chose to project social issues and human stories rather than high politics.

So, we cried with the Ermenek mine tragedy and rejoiced with the legal victory of the inhabitants of Yırca after the cancelation of the thermal plant in their village; we were sorry, though, for the brutal cutting of their olive trees. And we wondered how much our life will change if the government applies the new regulations banning cars from the center of Istanbul. Also, some of us noticed Kobane slowly disappearing from the front pages to make space for other issues like the disappearance of green areas around Istanbul.

Yet, during the last few days, “on the other side of the Aegean” and in the wider region of the eastern Mediterranean, there is a completely different picture. Frantic diplomatic developments have been taking place, destined to change the geostrategic balances in the area. They are developments which may require Ankara to adopt a clearer position or perhaps update its policies.

Last Saturday, a major tripartite agreement was reached by the leaders of Egypt, Greece and Greek Cyprus in Cairo. Antonis Samaras, Nicos Anastasiades and Abdel Fattah el-Sisi agreed to “boost cooperation in the field of energy, with the belief that the discovery of hydrocarbons in the eastern Mediterranean can contribute to supporting regional cooperation for the stability and prosperity.” The three leaders announced their readiness to delineate the Exclusive Economic Zones (EEZ) among their countries and asked Turkey to “stop harassing” the Republic of Cyprus (RoC), in its effort to exploit natural gas fields.   

The Greek Cypriot leader was more assertive, accusing Ankara of “provocative actions” which hinder the peace on the island and compromise security in the area. “For the negotiations to succeed, Turkey needs to show positive intention and adopt a constructive stance through positive and effective steps in this direction,” said Anastasiades.

For the Greek side, the “provocative actions” were Ankara’s decision on Oct. 20 to send the seismic vessel Barbaros to the RoC’s EEZ and announcement that it will continue its exploration work in the area until Dec. 30.

Besides sending Barbaros to the area, though, Ankara has not matched the diplomatic frenzy of the other side with any “tit-for-tat” action. It remains firm on its position of not recognizing the Greek Cypriots as a sovereign entity but only the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus. It insists that there should be a solution to the overall Cyprus problem first and then for both sides to share their resources. It also counts on maintaining the provision of guarantor powers, which gives it a say on the issue. The Turkish prime minister also hinted at the possibility of having a permanent division of the island if things continue as they are.

According to an exclusive news report published yesterday by the Greek newspaper Ethnos,  “President Erdoğan, intoxicated by his conceit which supersedes even the standards of the Ottoman Empire, turned down the pacifying intervention of a high-standing political personality last week and sent a clear message that he will not step back on the issue of Cyprus natural gas.”

The Turkish president, after having signed a framework deal with his Turkmen counterpart to supply gas to a new pipeline to the TANAP, is expected back in Turkey.

If the information in the Greek daily is in correct, we should expect a reaction from him regarding the agreement in Cairo. If not by him, then by PM Ahmet Davotuğlu. Is Ankara going to playing tough? As much as many of us would wish for the opposite, the impression is that the reaction from Turkey will not be mild. Let us not forget that besides the complexities of the Cyprus issue itself, this is also an election year.