Barbaros at Güzelyurt

Barbaros at Güzelyurt

After the collapse of the Cyprus intercommunal talks and with the Greek Cypriot side insisting on taking unilateral actions in utilizing the offshore wealth of the island, tension started to build up with the start of drilling by French Total in Cyprus’ offshore Block 11 on July 13.

Turkey has not yet carried out its vow to shun from Turkish market all foreign oil companies that actively participate in the Greek Cypriot monopolization of the Cyprus offshore wealth in total ignorance of the share of Turkish Cypriots, but plans are underway for some reciprocal actions. While the adamant Greek Cypriot President Nikos Anastasiades refuses to acknowledge Turkish Cypriot partnership in Cyprus’ offshore wealth stresses that once a deal is reached they will get a share as well. Turkish Cypriots, in collaboration with Ankara, have started undertaking moves, totally ignoring the Greek Cypriot objections as well.

One contentious issue is of course where the Greek Cypriot-exclusive economic zone ends and where the Turkish Cypriot-exclusive economic zone starts. If the island has only one exclusive economic zone, then Turkish Cypriots have a third of the share at every part of that zone under the 1960 Constitution and the founding agreements. If the two sides have their own economic zones, on the other hand, Greek Cypriots should not feel nervous with the mapping, and other seismic activities conducted by the Barbaros ship or with the start of exploration once the newly acquired exploration and drilling ship arrives in the region toward the year-end. As if the contentious divide between the two antagonists of the island was not a sufficient source of friction, there is as well the issue of the limits of the Turkish-exclusive economic zone as one of the eastern Mediterranean littoral countries with the longest shore and its rights as such under the international law.

The complicated and potentially very dangerous issue at hand is how to share the wealth of the Mediterranean between littoral states, what should be the dimension of the rights of the islands, where the median line ought to pass and such “technical” issues, but at the same time vitally important issues that each might become casus belli for one or the other… A settlement on the Cyprus problem would serve to a negotiated resolution of the question of sharing Mediterranean wealth as well. Or, perhaps, if the sides agreed to the proposals to form a multinational partnership company to utilize the wealth of the eastern Mediterranean and use a portion of it to the financing of a settlement could make a settlement far easier.

However, the “all mine” approach of Greek Cypriots and Turkey’s determination not to abandon Turkish Cypriots and their inalienable rights on and off Cyprus might turn the Cyprus oil and gas prospects very explosive.

Turkey’s Energy Minister Berat Albayrak heralded last week that the Barbaros seismic ship has completed 3-D scanning of the Famagusta region and now has started its work at the Güzelyurt (Morphou) Bay region. He said Turkey was determined to complete all seismic works in the Güzelyurt Bay area and undertake off Cyprus the first drilling in eastern Mediterranean before the end of this year. Was this good news? Indeed so for Turkish Cypriots as well as for Turkey, which because of Greek Cypriot adamancy has woken up to the need of having sophisticated research and offshore drilling capacity. As a country dependent on imported gas and oil it was of course great for Turkey in spending more in oil and gas exploration particularly in view of the fact of the rich finds of its neighboring territories. Why would Turkey not find rich resources within its territory, in its exclusive economic zone or in the Turkish Cypriot-exclusive economic zone?

Greek Cypriots might object that since the Turkish Cypriot state was not recognized it should not have an exclusive economic zone and that they are the sole legitimate government of the island. That understanding has been the impediment of a Cyprus resolution all along. The Turkish Cypriot state is still an unrecognized state. But it is a state, and tomorrow things might change. How long will the world allow Turkish Cypriots be held hostage by the Greek Cypriot greed to make the island a “totally Hellenic state?”
In 2004, it was the Greek Cypriots that shunned prospect of a resolution and the island entering the European Union as a reunited federation. They were not punished for that. On the contrary, just a week after the collapse of a U.N.-sponsored peace deal, with Greek Cypriot votes in simultaneous referenda the two people of Cyprus participated, they were awarded membership in the EU as the government of the entire island. At the latest round of Cyprus peacemaking talks in Switzerland, Turkey pledged for radical troop pullout and eventual termination of the guarantee system, but an adamant Greek Cypriot leadership could not agree to rotation of presidency and such regulations that would provide political equality to Turkish Cypriots.

Today, Barbaros is at the Güzelyurt Bay. Tomorrow it will be accompanied by a drilling platform. The day after perhaps the Turkish Cypriot state will start producing gas or oil… Greek Cypriots, who overwhelmingly voted in a recent poll against sharing the offshore wealth of the island with Greek Cypriots, perhaps might change their minds and claim share in a Turkish Cypriot finding tomorrow…