Turkey’s rights in Med Sea cannot be circumvented

Turkey’s rights in Med Sea cannot be circumvented

The United States, European Union, Russia and, of course, Egypt have all criticized Turkey for moving to drill for oil and gas off the island of Cyprus, an area it considers part of its territorial shelf. There are even attempts by Greek Cypriot leaders to get the EU and the United States to impose sanctions on Ankara for what they have branded as a “second occupation” of Greek territory by Turkey. As if Cyprus talks were not deadlocked and there was no hope of a resumption anytime soon, the Greek Cypriot National Council endorsed a plea by President Nikos Anastasiades that as long as Turkey’s ships stay in “Cyprus exclusive economic zone” there would be no Cyprus talks.

Of course, every country has its own interests that ought to come before the interests of others. Under Westphalian principles what is ethical and what is not might be arguable. Yet, every country must take care of its own interests without trespassing much the norms and rules of international law.

From where do the lines pass? Under international law, there are restrictions and peculiarities pertaining to every issue. For example, regarding islands territorial shelf is rather restricted particularly if there was a huge land mass within miles from it. Cyprus, for example, cannot have a territorial shelf while Turkey, one of the riparian countries with the longest shore, has a territorial shelf and with that capacity its territorial shelf precedes any unilateral or multilateral declaration of an exclusive economic zone conflicting with that particular area. Otherwise, if mini island states or territories surrounding a country declare a territorial shelf - be it in the China Sea or in the Aegean or the Mediterranean - that would mean suffocating the continental country.

Turkey exploring and drilling for gas and oil off Cyprus already started to produce some tangible results. Those expecting Turkey to surrender to unilateral Greek Cypriot hydrocarbon undertakings despite all Turkish warnings have all realized all of a sudden that the Turkish Cypriots and Turkey have rights on and around the island, and Turkey has territorial shelf rights in the eastern Mediterranean.

Could such a radical and unaccustomed move by Turkey for the defense of its littoral rights expand to the Aegean as well where Greece unilaterally declared its own at least 18 islands and established military garrisons and other facilities on some of them in full violation of the Lausanne Treaty? Can Turkey take such a step to claim back its Greece-occupied Aegean islands?

Turkey passing through a serious economic-financial crisis is, of course, a major handicap for the Ankara government, but can it give up its inalienable rights to avoid sanctions or find fresh credits to manage repayment from some $18 billion in old debts slated to mature over the next year?

It might be argued, as well, that Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan might be betting to finance a way out of the deepening crisis through gas and oil revenues with the Mediterranean riches. That might be great, but anyone involved in that business might say it, as well, that exploring, finding, taking out and economically benefitting from Mediterranean riches may require many years.

Greece, all of a sudden, realized that there was a need for Turkey to undertake moves in the Mediterranean in cooperation with its neighbors. Well said. However, was it not Greece, along with Israel, Egypt and the Greek Cypriot government, that established an axis of evil in the Mediterranean against Turkey and Turkey’s inalienable interests in the region?

In Turkey there is a saying: “The shameless thief makes so much noise that he silences the homeowner.”

Yusuf Kanlı,