With snap polls looming on June 24, the leader of Turkey’s nationalist MHP opposition party Devlet Bahceli, an ally of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, issued another in a list of growing threats and said the divided island of Cyprus belongs to his country.
“What else are we to do? Cyprus is Turkish and will remain so,” he was quoted as saying by Turkish conservative newspaper Yeni Safak in the wake of Turkish warships in position off the island’s coast, trying to prevent foreign energy companies from reaching waters where they are licensed to drill for oil and gas.
Turkey does not recognize the legitimate government of Cyprus, a member of the European Union Erdogan wants his country to join, and he also bars its ships and planes. Talks to reunify the island fell apart in July, 2017 at the Swiss resort of Crans-Montana when he said a Turkish army in the northern third occupied since an unlawful 1974 invasion is there “forever,” and after he insisted on the right to invade further when he wanted.
The European Union has backed Cyprus’ right to authorize energy research in its Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) that Turkey doesn’t recognize and Erdogan said unless Turkish-Cypriots are allowed to take part in the operation that they would begin drilling on their own, although they’ve been unable to find international partners yet.
Turkey, along with Greece and the United Kingdom, the island’s former Colonial ruler, and which still keeps a military base there, are guarantors of security but Bahceli said Greeks should not forget “the days when their grandfathers drowned in the bottom of the sea,” and accused the Greek government of “playing games” in the Aegean where Erdogan has sent fighter jets and warships to constantly violate Greek airspace and waters.
NATO, to which both countries belong, has said nothing and its leader, Jens Stoltenberg, said he wants no part of the tensions between them and is staying out of it.
Erdogan called the elections in a bid to create a stronger mandate although he had won near-dictatorial powers in a referendum held in the wake of a failed July, 2016 coup attempt trying to overthrow him.