Turkey, Middle East

Turkey's activities in Eastern Med lawful: Academics

Turkey can freely navigate its continental shelf based on its sovereignty rights, says international relations expert

Gozde Bayar   | 25.07.2019
Turkey's activities in Eastern Med lawful: Academics


The Greek Cypriot administration’s exploration for hydrocarbon reserves in the Eastern Mediterranean has been receiving a great deal of attention in the region.

In an interview with Anadolu Agency, international relations expert Pinar Ipek said Turkey could freely navigate its continental shelf based on its sovereignty rights in the Eastern Mediterranean but research and drilling vessels were excluded from free passage since continental shelves are extensions of a country’s coastal territory, barring other countries from conducting such non-permitted activities.

Turkey has consistently contested the Greek Cypriot administration’s unilateral drilling in the Eastern Mediterranean, asserting that the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus (TRNC) also has rights to the resources in the area.

Ankara holds the position that the Greek Cypriot administration is not entitled to negotiate and conclude international agreements on its own and on behalf of the entire island.

Underlining that the Turkish drilling vessel Yavuz continues to operate within the borders of the continental shelf of the TRNC, Ipek said the move, which was declared illegal in declarations of the European Union and Greek Cypriot administration, actually "complies with the basic principles of international law".

"The problem of (boundary) delimitation of the continental shelf in the Eastern Mediterranean has continued to increase with the agreements signed by the Greek Cypriot administration and Egypt in 2003, Lebanon in 2007 and Israel in 2010 in terms of a so-called exclusive economic zone," Ipek said.

Since spring this year, Ankara has sent two drilling vessels -- the Fatih and more recently the Yavuz -- to the Eastern Mediterranean, asserting Turkey and the TRNC's right to energy resources in the region.

Turkey’s first seismic vessel -- the Barbaros Hayrettin Pasa, which was purchased from Norway in 2013 -- has been conducting exploration in the Mediterranean since April 2017.

Athens and Greek Cypriots have opposed the move, threatening to arrest the ships’ crews and enlisting EU leaders to join their criticism.

Ipek noted that Turkey and the TRNC signed a continental shelf delimitation agreement on September 19, 2011, with the TRNC issuing a license to Turkish Petroleum Corporation on Sept. 22.

"The Yavuz drilling vessel operates in areas in line with the license and the continental shelf of the TRNC," she stressed.

She added that the existence of two administrative structures on the island, Turkey’s refusal to recognize the Greek Cypriot side and the accession of the Greek Cypriot side to the EU could not prejudice Turkey and the TRNC’s right of sovereignty on the continental shelf.

According to the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), coastal states' continental shelves and exclusive economic zones (EEZs) in a semi-enclosed sea like the Mediterranean are determined in Article 83 and Article 74 which are also referred to in Article 38 of the Statute of the International Court of Justice, in order to achieve an equitable solution, she said.

However, no method is exclusively highlighted in those articles to determine the continental shelf, she added.

“The equidistance principles in maritime boundary claims were not even mentioned in the 1982 UNCLOS as they were in 1958. Therefore, Turkey did not sign the 1982 UNCLOS due to the absence of the equidistance principles,” she stressed.

Speaking on Turkey's fourth vessel, dubbed the Oruc Reis, which will be activated within the boundaries of Turkey and the TRNC’s continental shelf, she said it is a supportive act that marks the Turkish resolution on hydrocarbon activities and protection of the Turkish continental shelf in the Eastern Mediterranean.

“However, the Greek Cypriot administration and Greece are trying to apply the (legal) regime of islands in Article 121 by violating the principle of ‘equitable’, ignoring the provisions of Article 74-EEZ and Article 83-Delimitation of the continental shelf between states with opposite or adjacent coasts,” Ipek added.

She went on to say that the priority in determining the continental shelf or EEZ line is not whether the islands have these rights or not, but to look at the negative impact of the islands on the equitable solution.

“Unfortunately, Greece and the Greek Cypriots are proposing a continental shelf and EEZ that would cover all (Greek) islands, insisting on a full impact method for setting these borders. This is clearly contrary to both international law and the principle of equity in the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCRC) published in 1982,” she highlighted.

She also stated that it is incompatible with international law that either the EU, Greece or the Greek Cypriot administration describe Turkey’s sovereign rights to facilitate activities in the continental shelf in the Eastern Mediterranean as unlawful, adding these declarations were clearly made for political purposes.

On July 16, Turkey’s Minister of Energy and Natural Resources, Fatih Donmez, announced that the country will send a fourth ship to the Eastern Mediterranean region to continue its exploration and drilling.

"The MTA Oruc Reis seismic research ship, which has been conducting seismic surveys in the Black Sea and Marmara since August 2017, will be sent to conduct seismic surveys in the Mediterranean Sea," Donmez said on Twitter.

Giving an example of the TRNC’s proposal made on Sept. 24, 2011 to stop hydrocarbon activities simultaneously until a final solution is reached, she said the Greek Cypriot side has not accepted the proposal.

“Unfortunately, the Greek Cypriots continue to create political pressure based on the interests of multinational companies, ignoring the rights of the Turkish Cypriots. As a matter of fact, the TRNC did not receive a positive response to the natural gas cooperation proposal it made on July 13, 2019,” she added.

Public diplomacy as a tool for raising the issue

Turkey tries to protect its sovereignty in the Eastern Mediterranean within the framework of international maritime law, Mehmet Hasguler, deputy chairman of the Higher Education Planning, Evaluation, Accreditation and Coordination Council (YODAK), told Anadolu Agency.

Referring to Turkey’s drilling activities in the region, Hasguler said Turkey as a sovereign state has to adopt a similar attitude as a response to other countries which are conducting drilling activities.

As an international relations professor, Hasguler stated that holding drilling activities is one of the most ideal ways to protect the rights of the Turkish Cypriots and a natural sign of the country’s existence in the territorial waters and exclusive economic zone.

Speaking on the rights of Turkish Cypriots in the Eastern Mediterranean, he said Ankara protects the rights of Turkish Cypriots as much as possible and within the framework of agreements between the two states.

“On behalf of the TRNC, Turkey continues its natural gas exploration and drilling activities in the region. However, in my opinion, the missing part is public diplomacy. The experts and the academics from the TRNC universities within the EU countries should consider public diplomacy and should be backed by the scientific activities,” he stressed.

“The Greek Cypriots have a political orientation based on a deadlock on the island instead of cooperation and solution-oriented policies since they are backed by the EU.

“The Palestinian issue and Cyprus issue have been two major issues in the Eastern Mediterranean which remain unsolved. It is clear that the EU has perpetuated instability and disagreement on Cyprus island with the membership of the Greek Cypriot administration to the bloc,” he added.

In 1974, following a coup aiming at Cyprus’ annexation by Greece, Ankara had to intervene as a guarantor power. In 1983, the TRNC was founded.

The decades since have seen several attempts to resolve the Cyprus dispute, all ending in failure. The latest one, held with the participation of the guarantor countries -- Turkey, Greece and the U.K. -- ended in 2017 in Switzerland.

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