Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said Turkey will not allow Greek Cypriot government to explore gas fields around the island of Cyprus by its own initiative and will not make any concessions regarding energy sources of the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus (TRNC), speaking on Monday at the Sixth World Forum on Energy Regulation in Istanbul.
Erdogan said, “We have always stated that any energy resource which could be drilled in the region will belong to the people of the entire island. Turkey is the key stakeholder country to any drilling of the island’s resources, and for using and delivery of them to the international markets.
“In Cyprus, if the two sides reach an agreement about using energy resources the same as it is done in Iraq, we will be the most pleased about the outcome. We have maintained our will for a resolution on the Cyprus issue until now. We will preserve our attitude towards the issue afterwards,” he added.
Erdogan mainly refers to the dispute between Turkey and the Greek Cypriot administration about who and how could make gas exploration off the island. The sea boundaries of each country’s Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) in the region have in the past been a controversial matter particularly between Greece, the Greek Cypriot administration and Turkey concerning the law of the sea.
A former version of the law issued in 1960, to which Turkey subscribes, states that the EEZ of the island which is declared by the Greek Cypriot administration is actually split between Turkey and Egypt.
Turkey did not sign up to the updated version of the 1960 law allowing islands to declare an EEZ as it would require Turkey to give up the vast majority of its drilling rights in the Aegean Sea to Greece and in the Mediterranean Sea to the Greek Cypriot administration.
So far, only 4.54 trillion cubic feet of natural gas has been found offshore Cyprus by Texas-based energy giant Noble in Block 12’s Aphrodite field closer to the Egyptian shores- well below some original predictions of up to 9 trillion cubic feet of reserves.
Plans for a possible Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG) plant have been put on hold as the amount of gas found so far does not economically justify its construction.
Joint Italian-South Korean energy consortium Eni-Kogas also began searching in Block 9 field closer to the southern Cyprus in October 2014, in spite of Turkey’s demand to suspend unilateral action over the island’s natural gas resources until a solution is found to the 40-year-old “Cyprus Problem.”
Peace talks between the Turkish Cypriots and Greek Cypriots were stalled when President Anastasiades withdrew from the negotiations after Turkey sent its Barbaros Hayreddin Paşa seismic vessel to the island.
Hopes were briefly raised for the resumption of talks when the Navigational Telex (NAVTEX) for the Turkish vessel expired on Dec. 31, 2014, but the NAVTEX was renewed shortly afterwards as the Greek Cypriot side had failed to cease drilling.
The Turkish vessel had remained docked at the port of Famagusta in the TRNC until early April 2015, the same month as the Turkish Cypriot elections.
The newly elected Turkish Cypriot President Mustafa Akinci following the elections spoke about his desire to start negotiations with the Greek Cypriots. In his Reuters interview, Akinci pointed out a “new dynamic” which is the newly found natural gas fields in the eastern Mediterranean that could help countries overcome their differences.
"There is a possibility for all sides to win," he added.
Cyprus was conquered by the naval forces of the Ottoman Empire in 1571, and was ruled by the Ottomans until it was leased to the British in 1878. The British annexed the island at the beginning of World War I, and Turkey - the successor state of the empire - was forced to cede the island to the Britain under the Treaty of Lausanne in 1923.
The island became independent in 1960 as the Republic of Cyprus and three countries, Turkey, Greece, and Britain, were made its guarantor states, according to the Zürich and London Agreements. Having a diverse population of both Greeks and Turks following the establishment of the Republic many disagreements emerged between the ethnic groups on the island which failed to resolve their differences.
A military coup by the Greek junta in a bid to unite the island with Greece in July 1974 led to Turkey exercising its right under the 1960 Treaty of Guarantee to conduct a military intervention in the island with the intention of protecting the Turkish population.
Since 1974, the island has been divided into two spheres of government, the south being governed by the Greek Cypriot government and the north being governed by the Turkish Cypriots.
The last major effort to break the deadlock and settle the Cyprus dispute was the Annan Plan, the UN proposal for the federation and consequent accession of a united Cyprus to the EU in 2004 initiated by the then Secretary General Kofi Annan. While the Turkish Cypriots approved the plan, the Greek Cypriots rejected it overwhelmingly and entered the EU alone.