Following the discovery of hydrocarbon reserves in the Eastern Mediterranean in the early 2000s, seismic surveys and drilling activities of countries in the region, including Turkey, continue to remain a hot topic.
Besides the uncompromising stance of the Greek Cypriot side on the Cyprus issue, its unwillingness to share hydrocarbon resources with the Turkish Cypriots and its abuse of European Union (EU) membership and developments in the Middle East make it difficult for the countries of the region to cooperate in the energy field in the Eastern Mediterranean.
Also, Turkey’s recent dispatch of its first drilling vessel Fatih for drilling activities in the Eastern Mediterranean restarted debates on this issue and brought them back on the agenda.
Turkey has consistently contested the Greek Cypriot administration’s unilateral drilling in the Eastern Mediterranean, saying Turkish Cypriots also have rights to the resources in the area. The unilaterally declared exclusive economic zone of the Greek Cypriot administration violates part of Turkey’s shelf, particularly in Blocks 1, 4, 5, 6 and 7. Saying unilateral exploration deprives the Turkish Cypriot minority of benefiting from the island’s natural resources, Turkey has ramped up efforts in the eastern Mediterranean and sent its drilling vessel Fatih to the east of Cyprus until Sept. 3.
Besides exploration and drilling activities on its continental shelf declared in accordance with international law in this context, Turkey announcing at the highest level that it will be carrying out drilling activities under the licenses given by the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus (TRNC) shows a determined attitude that could prompt the Greek side to cooperate on matters such as energy and help find a solution for the Cyprus issue.
Following the discovery of hydrocarbon reserves, the Greek Cypriot administration continues to increase its efforts to make bilateral agreements on the delimitation of maritime jurisdictions with countries with coasts on the Eastern Mediterranean.
The Greek Cypriot administration, which signed the so-called Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) delimitation agreements with Egypt in 2003, Lebanon in 2007 and with Israel in 2010, has also unilaterally declared 13 exploration sites.
Objecting to these steps of the Greek Cypriot administration from the beginning, Turkey and TRNC argued that, on the issue of sovereignty, the Greek Cypriot side cannot sign unilateral limiting agreements by disregarding the rights and solution parameters of Turkish Cypriots.
Turkey, which placed on record before the United Nations that the boundary line designated in the Greek Cypriots’ EEZ agreement with Egypt had violated its own continental shelf, made this agreement in legal terms null and void.
Turkey on every occasion has expressed that it does not rule out any solutions related to the issue of resolving the maritime jurisdiction disputes, however it has indicated that
a fair delimitation on the west of the island would be possible only after a comprehensive political settlement in Cyprus.
The Greek Cypriot administration licensed foreign energy companies such as the U.S.’ ExxonMobil and Nobel, French Total, Italian Eni, South Korean KoGas, Qatar Petroleum, British BG and Israel’s Delek and Avner to conduct exploration and drilling activities at unilaterally declared 13 parcels in the south of the island.
On the other hand, the determined stance of Turkey and TRNC that resources around the island of Cyprus will not be able to be used unilaterally may lead the Greek side to think again about its unilateral steps taken.
In this context, both the hydrocarbon
exploration activities carried out by Turkey on its continental shelf and activities performed in the areas licensed to the Turkish Petroleum Corporation (TPAO) by TRNC may play an important role.
In response to the unilateral steps of the Greek Cypriots, the TRNC granted exploration licenses to TPAO in the northern and eastern regions of the island, and in 2011 the Piri Reis vessel was first sent to the site for research.
Currently, Turkey has its first seismic vessel, the Barbaros Hayreddin Paşa, and the country’s first drilling vessel Fatih in the Eastern Mediterranean. By adding a second drilling vessel, the Yavuz, Turkey displays that it is actually a serious energy player in the region.
Despite a statement in support of the Greek Cypriots from Greece, the U.S. and the EU, Turkey maintains its persistence on the issue of taking steps in the Eastern Mediterranean by following international law and the fair share of maritime sites around the island and energy resources.
In this scope, Turkey’s deterrent naval strength and determined stance on the issue of maritime sites reveal that the Greek side would not be able to implement their own energy plans in the Eastern Mediterranean in the current conditions.
Therefore, every step to be taken in the Eastern Mediterranean without Turkey and the TRNC seems doomed to not produce profitable results.
In 1974, following a coup aimed at Cyprus’ annexation by Greece, Ankara intervened as a guarantor power. The decades since have seen several attempts to resolve the dispute, all ending in failure. The latest one, held with the participation of the guarantor countries, Turkey, Greece and the U.K., ended in failure in 2017 in Switzerland.
The TRNC, established in the northern third of the island in 1983, is only recognized by Turkey and faces a longstanding embargo in commerce, transportation and culture.