With the recent discovery of hydrocarbon resources in the region since the start of the millennium, the Eastern Mediterranean has become the new epicenter for energy diplomacy. Yet seismic exploration and drilling activities in the Eastern Mediterranean have also been a highly controversial issue due to the unilateral actions of the Greek Cypriot administration.
There is a saying that good fences make good neighbors. In contrast, however, the Greek Cypriot administration is flouting international law and the inalienable rights of the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus (TRNC) for its own greedy aspirations, which only serves to fuel tensions.
- Turkey’s rights in Eastern Mediterranean
The Turkish-flagged drillship Fatih launched its offshore drilling operations on May 3 in an area located 75 kilometers (42 nautical miles) off the western coast of the island. The area falls entirely within the Turkish continental shelf registered with the UN and in permit licenses that the Turkish government in previous years granted to Turkish Petroleum.
Turkey wants to see energy as an incentive for political resolution on the island and peace in the wider Mediterranean basin, rather than a catalyst for further tensions.
- Unilateral actions of Greek Cypriots
The Greek Cypriot administration has been pursuing a reckless policy in the region through unilaterally concluding Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) agreements with Egypt (2003), Lebanon (2007), and Israel (2010), and conducting exploration contracts and issuing permit licenses for such activities around the island.
Since the outset, Turkey and TRNC have rejected these attempts and declared that the delineation of the continental shelf as well as EEZs in a semi-enclosed sea like the Eastern Mediterranean can only be possible through agreements made among all the countries concerned and by observing the rights and interests of all the relevant parties based on international law and principles of equity.
From a legal point of view, bilateral agreements infringing upon third parties’ legitimate rights are null and void, and thus have no legal effect on third countries whose rights are violated by such agreements. Turkey’s objection to the Egypt-Greek Cypriot EEZ agreement was registered at the UN, given that the delineation line in that agreement violated Turkey’s continental shelf in the Mediterranean.
- Turkey's firm stance may prompt Greek Cyprus to reconsider its unilateral actions
The Greek Cypriot administration unilaterally identified 13 oil exploration blocks around the island of Cyprus and granted permit licenses to oil companies such as Exxon (the US), Nobel (France), Eni (Italy), Kogas (South Korea), Qatar Petroleum (Qatar), and so on for exploration and drilling activities.
However it is hugely important whether the Greek Cypriot administration represents the Turkish Cypriots and Cyprus as a whole in law or in fact. The short answer to this fair question is: “Absolutely not, not at all.”
Therefore Greek Cypriots are not authorized to negotiate and conclude international agreements or adopt laws regarding the exploitation of natural resources on behalf of the entire island in the first place. This provocative, unilateral policy compromises the Turkish Cypriots’ inherent inalienable rights over the natural resources of the island.
Turkish foreign policy has always been consistent and clear on that matter: “The Turkish and Greek Cypriots should benefit jointly from the island’s natural resources.”
-International law and Turkey’s position
The Greek Cypriot administration’s unilateral actions not only disregard Turkish Cypriots’ rights but also challenge Turkey’s maritime jurisdiction areas in the Eastern Mediterranean off the west coast of the island. Apart from the Cyprus issue, Turkey has declared that it has legitimate and legal rights in the Eastern Mediterranean, particularly to the west of longitude 32° 16’ 18” E as registered to the UN.
Islands are given limited or no effect in maritime boundary delimitation if their location distorts equitable delimitation. Therefore, Turkey does not recognize the Greek Cypriots’ illegitimate EEZ claims.
Turkey is of the opinion that the island of Cyprus cannot generate full EEZs based on simplistic equidistance delimitation methods west of the island as doing so distorts equitable delimitation under international law.
Indeed, the fundamental principle of Maritime Boundary Delimitation (MBD) is reaching an equitable solution. Under this principle, taking into account geographical and other relevant circumstances, islands may be given special treatment, as far as the MBD is concerned. In line with international jurisprudence, this special treatment may be partial or have no effect in generating EEZs or a continental shelf if the presence of the islands distorts equitable delimitation.
Turkey stresses that a final MBD in the Eastern Mediterranean can only be settled through agreements reached between the relevant coastal states based on international law and the equitable principle.
In this vein, Turkey concluded a continental shelf delimitation agreement with the TRNC in 2011 based on equitable principles. Furthermore, based on their inherent rights as co-owners of the island, the TRNC government granted offshore hydrocarbon exploration and exploitation licenses to Turkish Petroleum around the island in response to the Greek Cypriot administration’s unilateral activities.
Turkey has repeatedly pointed out that it is ready to contribute to a just, equitable and peaceful solution to all pending issues, including equitable delimitation of maritime jurisdiction areas with all relevant coastal states that it recognizes in accordance with international law, in order to further contribute to the stability of the whole Mediterranean basin.
-Unilateral actions disregarding Turkey, Turkish Cypriots in E.Mediterranean doomed to fail
In the license areas granted to Turkish Petroleum by the TRNC, first the R/V Piri Reis ship carried out seismic activity in 2011, followed by the Barbaros Hayreddin Pasa seismic vessel’s seismic activities as of 2014.
Concurrently the drillship Fatih is operating within Turkey’s own continental shelf in the Eastern Mediterranean.
Turkey’s second drillship Yavuz is also ready for hydrocarbon operations. Turkey’s technical capability due to its research vessel fleet reflect that it is indeed a serious player in the region.
Energy cooperation mechanisms in the Eastern Mediterranean which try to isolate Turkey are not realistic. It is self-evident that Turkey is actually key to the success of any cooperation instrument considering the fact that it has the longest continental coastline in the Eastern Mediterranean and its growing demand for energy resources.
The Greek Cypriot administration has made no effort to avoid irresponsibly jeopardizing the stability of the region, by disregarding the inalienable rights of the Turkish Cypriots, who are co-owners of the island’s natural resources, and continues rejecting every proposal for cooperation and instead insists on its unilateral activities in the region.
It is only prudent that third parties play a constructive role and acknowledge the fact that Turkey and the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus cannot be excluded from the energy equation in the Eastern Mediterranean.
According to Turkish Foreign Ministry sources, Turkey wants to see energy as an incentive for political settlement on the island and peace in the region on a wider scale, rather than a catalyst for further tensions.
As for the unilateral Greek Cypriot hydrocarbon activities, it is clear that Turkey will continue to protect the rights of the Turkish Cypriots as well as its own. Therefore, Turkey declares at every opportunity that Turkish Petroleum’s hydrocarbon activities within the TRNC’s license areas, as well as within Turkey’s continental shelf, will continue with seismic and drilling operations.
By Tugcenur Yilmaz