Ignoring European Union calls not to block foreign energy companies from exploring for energy in Cypriot waters, Turkey plans to start drilling for oil and gas at the same it’s demanding a share of any potentially lucrative discoveries be shared.
That comes though warnings from Turkish-Cypriot self-declared officials on the northern third of the island that has been occupied since an unlawful 1974 invasion that they will take steps to find oil and gas for themselves.
Turkey does not recognize much of Cyprus’ Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) and its warships kept away an Italian company licensed to drill in a bloc, but American oil giant ExxonMobil – with ships from the US Sixth Fleet nearby – was able to proceed.
“We will continue to monitor the Greek Cypriot actions on the hydrocarbon issue and take balancing moves in order to protect the legitimate rights of the Turkish Cypriots,” Ozdil Nami, who calls himself Economy and Energy Minister told Al Jazeera.
Only Turkey recognizes its own self-declared Republic in the occupied territories where a government has been set up, with Mustafa Akinci the current leader.
His talks with Cypriot President Nicos Anastasiades to reunify the island fell apart in July, 2017 at the Swiss resort of Crans-Montana when Akinci and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said they would never remove an army in the occupied territory and wanted the right to militarily intervene.
Nami said a Turkey-based company, is also set to start exploration and exploitation of natural gas and oil reserves off Cyprus unless the Greek Cypriots halt their own activities and work with Turkish-Cypriots in a joint venture.
The legitimate Cypriot government has signed EEZ agreements with Egypt and Israel as well as foreign companies, including France’s Total.
The Turkish-Cypriots signed an agreement with the state-owned Turkish Petroleum Corporation (TPAO) in 2011 to explore and exploit hydrocarbon resources in an area they declared as theirs.
Nami said the Turkish-Cypriots repeatedly told the Cypriots not to begin energy exploration until a reunification deal was made but all talks have failed for more than four decades.
“We have similar working committees on certain issues such as electricity sharing and cultural heritages. These joint groups work together on the field. Why can’t we do a similar thing on the hydrocarbon reserves? There is no answer,” he told Al Jazeera.
Anastasiades recently said, in an interview with Al Jazeera, that there is a “convergence” between the two sides on the exploitation of Cyprus’ natural resources, and blamed Turkey of “using excuses in order to intervene in the sovereign rights of the republic”.
Nami said Anastasiades was trying to mislead the public opinion by claiming that there is such an agreement.
“(The) hydrocarbon issue was among the issues we agreed on in case the Cyprus dispute was resolved and a federal government was formed. But that never happened. So, he is not talking about the situation at hand when he talks about an agreement,” he said.