Drill Baby Drill: Gas, Guns, Greeks & Turks in Cyprus

♠ Posted by Emmanuel in ,,, at 9/20/2011 01:54:00 PM
Territorial disputes are usually magnified when energy or mining resources are at stake. In Asia, we have endless international rows over (supposedly) energy-rich islands in the South China Sea. Despite no major finds having been exploited to date, there is always the potential which keeps neighbours at loggerheads as each signals "keep off" to other interested parties.

Now, consider the even more convoluted story of Cyprus. Turkey invaded the island in 1974 when Greece's then-military leaders mounted a coup on the disputed island. To make a very long story short, this attempt did nothing but flare up military tensions between Turkey and Greece, which respectively supported Northern Turkish Cypriot and Southern Greek Cypriot factions on the island. Even now after (mainly the Greek portion of) Cyprus' accession to the EU, tensions remain--an island still divided.

It seems that old conflicts die hard as traditional divides between North and South flare up once more, this time over energy drilling by the Greek Cypriot government. In part, I attribute this turn towards exploration to the EU cracking down more on tax havens. (It is widely touted as such on the Internet by various hawkers.) Cyprus having been a longtime offshore centre for such activities, it is doubly vulnerable to edicts from Brussels to crack down on tax havens issued at the behest of revenue-strapped European states since it is now part of the EU, after all. However, drilling particularly irks the Turks since it is a clear assertion of territorial sovereignty to exploit resources when (EU-mediated) "reunification" talks are in progress. Certainly, the Turks are getting bellicose once more in threatening to send warships to Cyprus if this tomfoolery continues and we party like it's 1974...
Turkey said it was ready to send warships to escort research vessels that would explore for oil and gas off the coast of Northern Cyprus, responding to what it said was a provocation by the island's Greek Cypriot south.

Monday's saber-rattling came as Texas-based Noble Engineering Inc. began exploratory drilling farther south between Cyprus and Israel late Sunday, despite Turkish warnings to halt the project, the semiofficial Cyprus News Agency reported. Noble was operating under license from the Republic of Cyprus, the island's internationally recognized government in the Greek Cypriot south.

The developments raised the stakes in a dispute over drilling rights around the divided island. Turkish leaders say the Republic of Cyprus shouldn't drill for oil and gas on the continental shelf that it delineated with Israel in an agreement last year. Any drilling or maritime agreements, Ankara says, should wait until the island—divided since 1974, when Turkey invaded Cyprus in response to a Greek-backed coup—is reunified, so both the Greek and Turkish populations can benefit.

Turkish Energy Minister Taner Yildiz on Monday described the Cypriot exploration project as "a political provocation aimed at consolidating the Greek Cypriot administration's status," and so short-circuiting reunification talks for the island, Turkey's state Anadolu news agency reported.
Are you kidding? This conflict has been one of the longest lasting territorial disputes extant, with little signs of a "unified" Cyprus coming into being. Consider how diplomatic (non-)recognition is in place, for instance:
Mr. Yildiz also reiterated a Turkish warning that it would make its own agreement with the de facto government of Northern Cyprus to delineate the continental shelf north of the island, if Noble Engineering were to proceed with its drilling plans. Ankara would then authorize the Turkish Petroleum Corp. to send research vessels to begin exploration in the Turkish and Turkish-Cypriot waters, he said. "The research will be carried out together with a [navy] escort," Anadolu reported Mr. Yildiz as saying.

The Republic of Cyprus is a European Union member state, but isn't recognized by Turkey. By contrast, Turkey is the only country to recognize the administration of the government of the island's ethnic-Turkish North. The two sides are divided by a United Nations-monitored green line...

A spokeswoman for the European Union's foreign-affairs service said Monday in Brussels that the EU urged "Turkey to refrain from any kind of threat or sources or friction or action" that could damage relations in the neighborhood or border settlement talks.
Why is Turkey so gung-ho on the matter? Speculation is that it sees itself as an energy provider to the EU--something that would be compromised if a (nominal) EU nation does so itself:
"The main reason Turkey is reacting so strongly is that it wants to be the gateway for any new gas to come to EU markets," the executive said. A major Greek Cypriot find would undermine that goal, he said, as Cyprus would then export gas to the EU via Greece.

Selcuk Unal, spokesman for Turkey's foreign ministry, dismissed that claim as "childish," saying Turkey was already an energy hub. "The question here is why now? Why are the Cypriots hurrying to start drilling now? They could have done it years ago. The reason is that it coincides with a crucial moment in reunification negotiations, which is why we find that this is all a provocation," he said.

Turkey has sought to force the pace in Cyprus's reunification talks lately, threatening to freeze relations with the EU if reunification hasn't been agreed upon by the time Cyprus takes over the bloc's rotating presidency in the second half of 2012. Mr. Yildiz repeated that warning on Monday.
As it was before it ever shall be...very complicated. Turkey certainly would benefit from exporting more energy to the EU. At the same time, it goes berserk on the diplomatic front sometimes when the Cyprus issue is brought up--a Greek satellite state of sorts in current form. Plus, don't forget that Turkey is still in the (very, very early) process of EU accession talks despite France and Germany not wanting it in the EU. Now drill and you have an even bigger headache to spoil already tense Turkey/EU relations.

No wonder that there are scholars who've devoted their lives' work to the Cyprus issue alike my dear old department chairperson at Birmingham, Thomas Diez. With so much interesting stuff going on, there's certainly more than enough material to last a lifetime!