Cyprus Gas Crisis
Violation of the sovereign rights of the ‘‘Cyprus Republic’’?
Violation of the co-founder partnership rights of Turkish Cypriots ?
By Irfan Çelik
Courtesy of the Cyprus Observer newspaper
Greek Cypriot president Anastasiades on Tuesday, 7th October suspended talks on reunifying the ethnically divided island in response to Turkish Cypriot plans to search for oil and gas in waters where the Greek Cypriot government has already licensed companies to drill.
Greek Cypriot government spokesman Nicos Christodoulides said the decision was the result of what he called Turkey’s “provocative” and “aggressive” actions that violate Cyprus’ sovereign rights and international law. Christodoulides said Cyprus won’t be deterred from continuing with its own drilling and accused Turkey of undermining regional stability. Cypriot President Nicos Anastasiades made the decision after consulting with party leaders who are urging the international community to speak out against Turkey’s actions.
For a correct evaluation of the Cyprus Gas Crisis and the underlying causes of the problem a Timeline analysis shall be helpful:
TRNC Foreign Ministry press statement reads as follows:
Illegal hydrocarbon exploration activities of the Greek Cypriot Administration in the Eastern Mediterranean
At a time when the negotiations are ongoing, the commencement of drilling activities by the Greek Cypriot Administration within the framework of its illegal hydrocarbon exploration activities carried out in the Eastern Mediterranean in Parcel 9 allegedly situated in its so-called Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) and carried out by a Bahamas registered ship named SAIPEM 10000, in total disregard of the rights of the Turkish Cypriots over the Island, is not only a disconcerting development but also unacceptable as the area overlaps with the areas which are licensed by our State to the Turkish Petroleum Corporation (TPAO). Moreover, it is not possible to understand this confidence undermining behaviour since the Greek Cypriot side repeatedly highlights the importance of Confidence Building Measures.
Particularly at a time when the United Nations Secretary-General has appointed a new Special Advisor on Cyprus in order to assume an active role in the ongoing negotiation process and a new phase of the negotiation process has commenced, the provocative activities of the Greek Cypriot side, such as the commencement of drilling activities in Parcel 9 and the signing of a Framework Agreement on the joint exploitation and mutual use of hydrocarbon reserves within its maritime borders with Egypt, are indicative of the lack of will of the Greek Cypriot side towards reaching a settlement and that the Greek Cypriot side will continue its policies of exacerbating tension in the Eastern Mediterranean.
The Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus has already underlined, through its previous Press Statements, that the Turkish Cypriot side will not condone the unilateral activities of the Greek Cypriot side aimed at creating a fait accompli and usurping the legitimate rights and interests of the Turkish Cypriot people, who are one of the co-owners of the Island of Cyprus. The TRNC Government continues to take the necessary steps in this regard. Within this framework, the Turkish Cypriot side in cooperation with Turkey will send a seismic Exploration Ship with the necessary technical capacity to the areas in which TPAO was given exploration licenses by the TRNC to conduct exploration on behalf of the Turkish Cypriot people, the co-owners of the natural resources of the Island. Based on the results of the data received from the seismic exploration, it is anticipated that drilling platforms will also be sent to the relevant areas.
As the Turkish Cypriot side, we are of the belief that until a comprehensive settlement is reached, the exploration, extraction and processing of the natural resources around the Island, which is co-owned by the two peoples, should be carried out through the mutual cooperation of the two sides rather than through unilateral initiatives. In this connection, it is necessary to recall that the proposals of the Turkish Cypriot side made through the UN Secretary-General on 24 September 2011 and 29 September 2012 constitute the outline of a constructive cooperation. We invite the Greek Cypriot side to cease its unilateral activities bearing in mind that the negotiation process is at a sensitive stage.
It is the expectation of the Turkish Cypriot side that the Greek Cypriot leadership abandons its unilateral and illegal activities and focuses on the UN negotiation process, which resumed with the agreement of the two leaders on the Joint Statement of 11 February 2014, with the aim of finding a settlement.
Turkey issued a notice to mariners (NAVTEX) advising that it was reserving areas south of Cyprus for seismic surveys from October 20 to December 30.
The surveys will be carried out by the Barbaros Hayreddin Pasa, a seismographic research vessel. However, the coordinates reserved under the notice, trespass into offshore blocks 1, 2, 3, 8 and 9 of Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ), claimed by the Greek Cypriot government.
Block 9, the area reserved by the Turkish advisory, directly borders, but does not overlap, the area where the Italian-Korean consortium ENI-KOGAS is currently conducting exploratory drilling for natural gas, on licence from the ‘’Republic of Cyprus’’.
It is the first time Turkey has reserved areas south of Cyprus. Prior advisories had reserved areas southwest of the island, which are also claimed by the Greek Cypriot government to be inside their EEZ. Moreover some of the locations, according to the Cyprus Mail, encroach into ‘‘Republic of Cyprus’’’ territorial waters, as the reserved area stretches from off the coast of Famagusta, off the coast of Larnaca and reaching waters south of Limassol.
Though the Turkish NAVTEX does not overlap the area where ENI is currently operating, it could hamper future ENI operations at other locations within block 9, sources said.
Of additional concern to Greek Cypriot government is Turkey’s stated intent – again for the first time explicitly – to conduct drilling operations for hydrocarbons south of the island. Essentially the Turkish NAVTEX has bisected the region between Cyprus’ southern coast and Egypt. The following map shows the areas in which the TRNC government plans to issue further licences to the Turkish Petroleum Corporation (TPAO) for gas exploration.
EEZ agreements fall under the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), of which Turkey is not a signatory.
On 4th October, on the back of the Turkish NAVTEX, the Turkish foreign ministry issued a press release denouncing the “Greek Cypriot Administration’s (GCA) continuing unilateral research activities of hydrocarbon resources in its so called Exclusive Economic Zone without taking into account the Turkish Cypriots’ detailed and concrete cooperation proposals for a fair sharing.”
The statement added: “Turkey calls on the international community to act in order to prevent the provocative and unilateral steps of the GCA. Until it is done, all kind of support to the TRNC’s future steps of conducting seismic research activities, acquiring a drilling platform and dispatching it to an area to be determined, which are necessary to protect its inherent rights over these resources, will be provided by us.”
Prior to that statement, the Turkish armed forces announced that the warship TCG Gelibolu would continue to monitor the activities of ENI’s drillship in block 9. The TCG Gelibolu is participating in an ongoing Turkish Navy operation, dubbed ‘‘Mediterranean Shield’’. Under ‘‘Mediterranean Shield’’, Turkish ships are “conducting maritime security operations to provide for the safe and secure movement of vessels at sea and to deter terrorism”.
Anastasiades pulls out of talks
On Tuesday, 7th October Cyprus suspended UN sponsored talks on reunifying the island in response to Turkey’s plan to search for oil and gas in waters where the Greek Cypriot government claims to have internationally recognised drilling and exploration rights.
‘‘President Nicos Anastasiades has pulled out of talks with Turkish Cypriot leader Dervis Eroglu for the time being’’ , the Greek Cypriot government announced, following a meeting with Greek Cypriot party leaders to decide on a response to Turkey’s announcement that it was reserving areas for seismic surveys south of the island and within ‘‘Cyprus’ ‘’offshore blocks.
Government spokesman Nicos Christodoulides said the party leaders had accepted the recommendation of the Greek Cypriot president to suspend meetings between himself and Turkish Cypriot leader Dervis Eroglu and between chief negotiator Andreas Mavroyiannis and his Turkish Cypriot counterpart Kudret Ozersay.
The two leaders were due to meet on Thursday, 8th October and UN Special Adviser Espen Barth Eide was due on the island on Tuesday ahead of the meeting. Greek Cypriot government spokesman said: “It is clear that Turkish actions leave no other option to the Republic of Cyprus.”
He added that the president was in contact with European and other leaders to keep them informed on Turkish movements in the region. “We expect all states and especially our partners in the EU, and the permanent members of the UN Security Council to respond to the actions of Turkey,” he said.
After the cancellation of Thursday’s meeting between the leaders of the two communities in Cyprus and the UN Special Adviser Espen Barth Eide, the UN issued a statement saying that Eide would now be meeting separately with the leaders today.
“He will hold meetings with both leaders, their negotiators, leaders of political parties as well as with several other key interlocutors, discussing the way forward in the negotiations,” the UN statement said.
Mountain out of a molehill?
The UN did not comment on the Greek Cypriot side’s decision but sources close to the negotiations told the Cyprus Mail that while he was on the island Eide would engage in ‘‘shuttle diplomacy’’ with the two sides. “He wants them to keep their eyes on the prize,” said the sources. It is understood the UN does not want to become involved in the row as it sees its role as a facilitator rather than mediator in the negotiations and did not want to make a mountain out of what could yet be a molehill, according to the sources.
After meeting Anastasiades on 8th October, Eide urged the sides to avoid further escalation.
“I think it’s very important now that everybody acts responsibly and avoid further escalation and that we as soon as possible create an understanding that the oil and gas resources, as President Anastasiades has repeatedly stated, is for all Cypriots,” he told reporters afterwards.
“It’s a serious issue that we also see in all the parts of the world when you have maritime disputes. It illustrates one of the points that I have raised earlier in my presence here which is that oil and gas can be either a blessing or a curse. If it is well managed it will be a source of wealth for all Cypriots, if it becomes a source of tension it will be a problem for everyone and then it will be more of a curse than a solution.”
Later on Wednesday Eide also met with Eroglu. In statements to the press, after meeting with Greek Cypriot and Turkish Cypriot leaders, Eide, said that “both leaders have reconfirmed their strong commitments to move towards a solution.” He noted that both leaders strongly believe that a solution can be found, adding that his early conversations on some of the substantive issues reinforce his own belief that a solution can be found rather quickly, given that there are talks and given that there is a level of trust.
Eide said that he has been encouraging both leaders to find the way to move back to the negotiating table as soon as possible. “Because my sense is that if we start talking, as we were planning, we will actually see rapid progress on this substance. But then we have to get back to the table and we are trying to explore ways to get back to the table,” he noted. “I continue to talk to both sides about how to develop the ideas for finding a solution to the Cyprus problem,” he said. “I recognize that this is a very tense moment because the situation has become more complex given the developments at sea.
He reminded both leaders statements that the status quo is unacceptable and added that “if and when there will be a united Cyprus with a negotiated solution, bi-communal, bi-zonal federation with political equality then oil and gas discoveries will be a blessing for all Cypriots. If we are not getting there, it will probably be a curse for both Cypriots because it will create more tension,” he said. He noted that his ambition now is to continue to develop bridging proposals and added that he will continue to discuss with them and when they are ready to talk, the UN will have more ideas to share with.
Fuele says negotiations for Cyprus should continue
EU Commissioner for Enlargment Stefan Fule said on Wednesday, 8th October that the negotiations of the Cyprus problem should continue. Fule, who was speaking at a press conference on the progress reports of the pre-accession countries, was asked to comment on the recent Turkish NAVTEX and sovereign right of the ‘‘Republic of Cyprus’’ to explore and exploit its hydrocarbon reserves in its Exclusive Economic Zone.
In reply, Fule talked about the need to continue the negotiations between the leaders of the two communities in Cyprus, under the UN auspices. He said that the joint declaration of the 11th of February 2014 between the two communities in Cyprus as well as the appointment of the new UNSG’s Special Advisor, are encouraging and positive developments.
Fule noted that an agreement for a just and viable solution of the Cyprus problem would not only strengthen the stability in the region, by giving a new impetus to Turkey’s EU accession course, it would also open up a series of alternative proposals for the exploitation of hydrocarbon reserves for economic benefits to all Cypriots. Concluding, he expressed the hope that constructive measures are taken so that there is again a positive climate.
US recognizes Cyprus’ rights in its EEZ
US State Department statement by Spokesperson Jennifer Psaki on 8th October has stressed that the US recognizes Cyprus` rights as regards its Exclusive Economic Zone. “We recognize the Republic of Cyprus’s rights about its resources in its Exclusive Economic Zone. We continue to support strongly the negotiation process conducted under the UN Good Offices to reunify the island into a bizonal bicommunal federation”, Psaki said on Wednesday.
She added that “we continue to believe that the island’s oil and gas resources as well as all of its resources should be equitably shared between the two communities into the context of an overall settlement. And we certainly believe it is important to avoid actions that may intensify tensions in the region.”
Asked about the decision of Greek Cypriot President Nicos Anastasiades to suspend the meeting he would held with the Turkish Cypriot leader, Psaki said “we welcome the arrival of the special envoy Espen Barth Eide to the island. We continue to support the negotiation process. We encourage the parties to show the necessary commitment and courage to reach a just and lasting comprehensive settlement. We hope that settlement talks can progress successfully.”
Eroglu says Greek Cypriots are ignoring the rights of the Turkish Cypriots
TRNC President Dervis Eroglu said ‘‘the decision to suspend the negotiations on the grounds that the ‘sovereignty’ of the ‘’Republic of Cyprus’’ was being violated was incompatible with the realities of the Cyprus problem and was an expression of the Greek Cypriot side’s determination to ignore the rights of the Turkish Cypriot people’’.
Eroglu said that before leaving for the UN General Assembly in New York last month, he had asked Anasatasiades to suspend the planned operations in Block 9 for a short time, but was ignored. The Greek Cypriot side, he said, was responsible for what had happened with Turkey because it had ignored warnings and suggestions.
Eroglu said he had proposed the creation of a joint committee on hydrocarbons and that the Turkish Cypriot side had been ready to discuss giving water to the south of the island from Turkey.
Anastasiades had used the activity of the Turkish navy as an excuse to break off the talks, Eroglu claimed, adding that the rights of the Turkish Cypriots would be protected with the full support of Ankara.
Deafening silence from the West
The suspension of the talks produced a rare moment of unity between the Greek Cypriot government and the Greek Cypriot political parties yesterday but a few parties couldn’t resist a dig at why Cyprus’ ‘turn to the West’ had been met with a deafening silence in the face of Turkey’s actions in the island’s EEZ. All of the Greek Cypriot opposition parties were probably happy that an excuse had arisen to pull out of the negotiations, the Cyprus Mail reports.
Anatasiades: I had no other choice
“I am really saddened that due to the developments I was compelled to decide on the suspension of my participation in the talks,” Anastasiades said in a written statement responding to comments earlier in the day by Turkish Cypriot leader Dervis Eroglu.
However, he said, at a time when the Greek Cypriot side was proposing measures for building confidence in order to create a new momentum, Turkey, “ignoring the benefits that she herself would have from the solution of the Cyprus problem” was carrying out actions that flagrantly violated the sovereignty of the Republic, strongly undermining efforts to find a solution for all Cypriots.
Anastasiades said however that he had repeatedly stated that the natural wealth of Cyprus belonged to the state and that the achievement of a solution would help the entire population of Cyprus benefit “on the basis of population ratios”.
International response lukewarm
Despite a unanimous decision by the Greek Cypriot party leaders and the Greek Cypriot government during their meeting at the palace on 7th October to call on the UN, the US, the EU and the UK to put pressure on Turkey, for the most part, the island’s ‘‘strategic partners’’ were reticent to criticise Ankara, the Cyprus Mail says.
The US view is that while ‘‘Republic of Cyprus’’ had the sovereign right to develop its resources in its EEZ, Washington continued to believe that the natural gas and oil reserves of the island, as well as all its resources, “must be fairly shared between the two communities in the framework of a comprehensive settlement”.
Britain, through a Foreign Office spokesman, told the Cyprus News Agency the incident, which had raised tensions in the region, was regrettable, and though London recognised the sovereignty of Cyprus over its EEZ, “this incident underlines the importance of a comprehensive settlement”.
“We therefore hope that settlement talks can progress successfully. There is an opportunity for Turkey to continue to demonstrate the positive role that it can play in supporting the prospects for a settlement,” he added.
In addition to pulling out of the talks, the Greek Cypriot side was said to be considering other actions involving the international community that reportedly include official complaints to the UN Security Council, the EU, and the European Parliament, writing letters to US President Barack Obama and Russian President Vladimir Putin, attempting to freeze Turkey’s EU accession chapters, and studying legal ways to counter Turkey’s ‘‘violation’’ of the EEZ. But so far only Greece has taken any concrete steps, making a strong demarche to Turkey’s ambassador in Athens, and summoning him to the foreign ministry in Athens.
Political analyst James Ker-Lindsay told the Cyprus Mail on 7th October that the international community’s position was that Cyprus is sovereign. “But to them there is a difference between what Cyprus is legally entitled to do and what is the sensible thing to do,” he said. “Sabre rattling can get out of hand quickly. Turkey is serious. The second Turkey starts this they are committed. These are not idle threats.” Ker-Lindsay said Turkey could not allow a small country like Cyprus to make it look weak, even though Cyprus has every right not to be intimidated and to be able to exploit its full sovereignty.
Empty rhetoric will not curtail Turkey
An editorial in the Cyprus Mail says that Turkey’s maritime advisory was aimed at unnerving the Greek Cypriot government and it appears to have achieved its objective. ‘‘In the last two days, the government spokesman and the foreign minister have been making strongly worded public statements, giving the impression that the government is at a loss over what to do’’
‘’When our politicians are faced with an awkward, difficult-to-handle issue, they resort to brave rhetoric and threats, under the illusion that this will reassure the public and give the impression that they are in control of the situation. Perhaps they feel obliged to react in this way because this is what the media and the hard-line parties demand. If there were no knee-jerk public reaction, newspaper commentators and opposition politicians would accuse the government of not defending our national interests and sovereignty.
It’s as if the only way to defend the country’s interests is through grandstanding and defiant rhetoric geared for domestic consumption. Such sensitive issues are not resolved by playing to the gallery but through diplomacy and consultations behind closed doors. In this case, the government could have issued a two-sentence statement, expressing dissatisfaction over Turkey’s action, and subsequently engaged in consultations with foreign governments seeking help or advice over how to proceed. The threat of quitting the negotiations could have been raised with foreign ambassadors and the UN instead of being turned into a public issue.’’
Why should Greek Cypriot Administration refrain from unilateral hydrocarbon actions?
Because, the founding agreements and constitution of the Cyprus Republic, previous convergences and the Greek-Cypriot-rejected Annan plan all underlined that Turkish and Greek Cypriots were and still are ‘‘co-founders’’ and “co-owners” of the island and its entire natural resources.
The independence negotiations in Zurich and London were long and difficult, but in 1960 it was agreed by way of compromise between all five participants; Britain, Greece, Turkey, the Turkish Cypriots, and the Greek Cypriots; that the new Republic of Cyprus would be a bi-communal Republic with a single territory but a unique Constitution which embodied an agreed political partnership between Greek and Turkish Cypriots, and which prohibited the political or economic union of Cyprus with any other State.
The bi-communal structure was fundamental to the 1960 accords, on the basis of which the Republic of Cyprus achieved independence, and recognition as a sovereign state from the international community. Accordingly, from its very inception the Republic of Cyprus was never a unitary state in which there is only one electorate with a majority and minority. The two peoples of Cyprus were political equals and each existed as a political entity, just as both large and small states exist within the structure of the European Union.
UN Secretary-General Annan acknowledged in the Annan Plan for Cyprus settlement that “the relationship between the Turkish Cypriots and the Greek Cypriots is not one of majority and minority but of political equality where neither side may claim authority or jurisdiction over the other.”
EU Accession of South Cyprus
Turkey and Turkish Cypriots were already antagonized with the unilateral EU application and accession – which was not legally possible under the Treaty of Guarantee which stipulated that Cyprus in part, or in whole, shall not become a member of any economic, political or military organization to which, both Greece and Turkey are not members. Furthermore, Turkey and Turkish Cypriots had made it clear that they would not accept any such fait-accompli and respond in kind.
Over the years since then, the gas issue has popped up many times in the Cyprus talks and has created many complications, but the Turkish Cypriot side never threatened to withdraw from the negotiation process because of natural gas-related unilateral undertakings by Greek Cypriots. Yet, each time Greek Cypriots took a step, Turkish Cypriots and Ankara reminded them that such steps for which Turkish Cypriot consent was not given were not legitimate, not binding on Turkish Cypriots and if and when Turkish Cypriots take similar steps, such steps would at least be as legitimate as the steps taken by Greek Cypriots.
Now, Greek Cypriots have declared that because Turkey, in agreement and at the request of Turkish Cypriots, sent a seismic ship and a navy boat to a disputed part of the eastern Mediterranean, they have withdrawn from the talks. Furthermore, they, through various channels, have started threatening Turkish Cypriots of closing down the crossing points.
The international powers have until now, deliberately connivanced the equal legal communal rights of Turkish Cypriots provided by the Republic of Cyprus constitution and guaranteed by the Article 4 of the Treaty of Guarantee.
If the Greek Cypriots still belive that this constitution is valid, then until a comprehensive settlement is reached, the exploration, extraction and processing of the natural resources around the Island, which is co-owned by the two peoples, should be carried out through the mutual cooperation of the two sides. Unilateral initiatives and/or actions are definitely not acceptable and such an arrogant and dominant policy by the Greek Cypriot administration necessitates the intervention of Turkey under Article 4 of the Treaty of Guarantee, which is irrespective of the validity of the constitution of Republic of Cyprus, whether Greek Cypriots like it or not, is still valid.
Britain and the US have, in their own interests, encouraged the world to treat the Greek Cypriots alone as the government of all Cyprus, despite Britain’s own acknowledgement that “Cyprus Government” could mean only a government which acts with the concurrence of its Turkish Cypriot and Greek Cypriot members. There has been no concurrence since 1963, and there is no “doctrine of necessity” which allows one partner to assault and terrorise the other and then claim the right to run the State alone.
Therefore, the Greek Cypriot claim of ‘legality’ is definitely not valid.
Regarding their claim of ‘sovereignty’ and their right of granting exploration, extraction and processing rights for the Cyprus natural recources as ‘the’ sovereign power of the island, the Greek Cypriots think that their unlawful and unconstitutional acceptance to EU and their unlawful international recognition by the UN and other international powers, automatically granted them full sovereignty; however, this is not the case.
In the opinion of Mr.Monroe Leigh, the distinguished American international lawyer “The mere fact of international recognition, no matter how widespread, cannot excuse or confer legitimacy upon the violations of both constitutional law and international treaty law through which the Greek Cypriot regime usurped the name as well as the government of the Republic of Cyprus.” [Written opinion 20.7.1990].
Further more, although sovereignty, in the sense of an ultimate power within a State, is still generally and rightly accepted as a prerequisite for the legal existence of a State, regardless of the relativity of the notion of sovereignty towards international powers; it is an undisputable fact that constitutional provisions of the Republic of Cyprus for co-determination have left open the the question of sovereignty and that the right of intervention under the Treaty of Guarantee is inconsistent with the idea of sovereignty of the Republic of 1960. Therefore, one arrives, at the important conclusion, that the Republic of Cyprus was never a State in the legal sense of the notion; because it was never sovereign.
The distinguished philosopher, Michael Moran, of Sussex University, made the following diagnosis of Greek Cypriot attitudes: “It was because they were under a kind of ideological spell, a collective mental condition similar to what Marxists used to call “false-consciousness” that the Greek Cypriots could embark upon their particular course of action in December 1963 with all the zeal and confidence they did. Brainwashed through at least a hundred years of school-teaching and sermonising into a set of beliefs pathologically at odds with any plausible account of historical and political realities; lacking contact with a counterbalancing tradition of rational criticism; for the most part incapable of ironic scepticism towards theological obfuscation—the Greek Cypriot leaders were effectively de-sensitised to the equally important rights of the Turkish Cypriots. In this way they were able to treat their Turkish compatriots with such consistent and irrational abuse, hardly noticing that this was in fact what they were doing.”
The Greek Cypriots have no incentive to settle so long as they continue to be treated as the “Government of Cyprus,” and enabled to keep the Turkish Cypriots for so long as they please under an embargo against their trade and communications without any authority under Chapter VII of the UN Charter.
Greek Cypriots are definitely running out of time. They will either come to terms with the equal sovereignty rights of Turkish Cypriots and within the framework of the Joint Declaration, shall become one of the constituent states of the [Con-]Federal Republic of Cyprus, or shall consent for an agreed partition of the island.
As Mr Eide said, ‘‘oil and gas can be either a blessing or a curse. If it is well managed it will be a source of wealth for all Cypriots; if it becomes a source of tension it will be a problem for everyone and then it will be more of a curse than a solution.” It is up to our Greek Cypriot neigbours to choose.