Increasing tensions over maritime zones in the Eastern Mediterranean would dissolve if the Greek Cypriots agreed to share the island’s territorial waters and drilling rights with the Turkish Cypriots, Prime Minister Ersin Tatar said.
In an interview with the Associated Press (AP), Tatar said that an agreement should be reached before fresh negotiations to reunify Cyprus begin .
Following an attempted coup by Greece to annexe the island in 1974, Turkey, as a guarantor power intervened. In 1983, the Turkish Republic of North Cyprus (TRNC) was founded.
Prime Minister Tatar went on to say:
“For us, the hydrocarbons issue is a test to see if the two sides can agree or not. I believe that if we can agree on this matter, it will act as a catalyst to ensuring regional peace, Greek-Turkish friendship, as well as to resolving the Cyprus problem.”
Ten years ago gas reserves were discovered in the region leading to disputes over marine territorial rights. Since Turkey undertook its own exploration for gas, the rift over territory between Greece and Turkey has widened.
Turkey, as a guarantor country for the TRNC, has remained insistent that the Turkish Cypriots also have a right to share natural resources offshore Cyprus and has denounced the Greek Cypriot administration’s unilateral drilling activities in the Eastern Mediterranean.
Three sizeable gas fields have been discovered so far in as many blocks inside Cyprus’ exclusive economic zone (EEZ) off the island’s south coast where energy companies including France’s Total, Italy’s Eni and U.S. corporation Exxon-Mobil have been granted licenses by the Greek Cypriots, to drill.
“Let’s sit and talk about to whom these blocks belong,” Tatar said. “In this way, the crisis won’t get worse and everyone will know which blocks are theirs for drilling.”
Last September, Turkish Cypriot daily ‘Kıbrıs Gazetesi’ reported that President Mustafa Akıncı proposed that the Turkish Cypriots be permitted to share management of and profits from gas finds offshore Cyprus. The Greek Cypriot leader Nicos Anastasiades responded by saying the Turkish Cypriots lack the sovereignty as citizens of an unrecognised country (TRNC) to share management of natural resources. However, they could be informed of developments regarding gas exploration, an account could be set up funded by profits from gas sales, 30 percent of the profits was suggested. All this provided that Turkey adopts the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea and agrees to delineate its exclusive economic zone (EEZ) with respect to that of Cyprus, a move that, if accepted, would end Turkish drilling off the Cyprus coast and de-escalate tension. It would also mean Turkey recognising the ‘Republic of Cyprus’. This suggestion has proven to be unacceptable to Turkey and has left all sides at an impasse [Ed].
Regarding which Tatar said:
“Turkish Cypriots can’t have their rights … kept in the freezer in the hope that one day the Greek Cypriots agree with them. We must be able to claim our rights without a comprehensive settlement. Justice and the law necessitate that.”
Reunification or Velvet Divorce
Prime Minister Tatar also pointed out that decades of failed talks to reunify Cyprus under a federal roof make it necessary to consider “alternative models” for reunification, including a confederated partnership of two sovereign states within the European Union.
“If we can’t agree on coming together under a federal roof, a ‘velvet divorce’ is also a solution,” said Tatar. “It’s unrealistic at this point in time to say that ‘the only road is toward federation’ after all that has happened.”
Tatar said that there can be no agreements unless the Greek Cypriots recognise the Turkish Cypriot minority as equals regarding sovereignty and the power to make decisions at all levels of government, including the presidency.
He also dismissed any ideas of relinquishing Turkey’s right to military intervention and maintaining bases according to Cyprus’ constitution of 1960 which accorded guarantor status to Greece, Turkey and the UK. Following which suggestion, Greece said it would give up those rights and Britain said it had no objections provided all sides agreed to scrap guarantor rights.
The prime minister concluded by saying that Turkey’s military presence in North Cyprus has preserved the peace for nearly fifty years. He added that opinion polls indicated that over 85 percent of Turkish Cypriots support “the continuation of the effective and active Turkish guarantees.”
Daily Sabah, Kıbrıs Gazetesi