Erdogan Says Turkish Military Will Protect Energy Drilling off Cyprus

Αssociated Press

Turkey's President Recep Tayyip Erdogan salutes his supporters at a technology fair in Istanbul, Saturday, Sept. 21, 2019. (Presidential Press Service via AP, Pool)

Just ahead of the United Nations General Assembly annual opening in New York, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, continuing to defy calls to stop drilling for energy in Cypriot waters, said his country's Navy and Air Force will guard its ships doing the work.

Erdogan has ignored calls from the legitimate government of Cyprus, the United States, Greece and soft European Union sanctions in insisting the drilling will continue unless Turkish-Cypriots take a hand in the licensing of foreign companies and have a bigger role on the divided island.

“Those who think that the wealth of the island and the region only belongs to them will face the determination of Turkey and Turkish Cypriots,” he said in a recorded message at a conference in Ankara, reported Kathimerini.

He said the country’s naval and air forces will ensure that Turkey and the self-declared republic of Turkish-Cypriots who've been occupying the northern third of the island since an unlawful 1974 invasion get their way, undercutting any hopes of restarting reunification talks.

That came after Turkish Defense Minister Hulusi Akar said Turkey would protect Turkish-Cypriots in another ominous sign of a military step-up after Cypriot President Nicos Anastasiades said Erdogan's real intent is to find a way to take over the island and create a “puppet state.”

“We have a clear stance as regards the fair distribution of reserves in the Eastern Mediterranean,” he said. “We have today the same decisiveness that we had in 1974 when we protected the rights of our brothers,” he said.

“As a guarantor country we will continue to protect our rights and those of our Turkish-Cypriot brothers within the framework of international law,” Akar said. Turkey, along with Greece and the  United Kingdom – the former Colonial ruler which still has military bases there – are guarantors f security for the island along with a UN peacekeeping group.

At that conference, Turkish Vice President Fuat Oktay reiterated Turkey’s plans to open the fenced-off ghost town of Varosha in the Turkish-occupied part of Famagustas and that properties would be returned to their rightful owners “on the basis of historical evidence,” not in line with a UN resolution requiring they belong to the people forced to flee during the invasion.

He suggested that property transactions made during British rule were void, adding that authorities would settle property issues drawing data from Ottoman-era archives, insuring all the properties go to Turks and Turkish-Cypriots and not to Greek-Cypriots who were living in them.

Analysts said the plan sketched out by Oktay amounts to a de facto expansion of occupation in an area that lies under the responsibility of the UN peacekeeping force in Cyprus (UNFICYP) which has done nothing about it.

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, who presided over a debacle at the Swiss resort of Crans-Montana in July, 2017 when the unity talks collapsed, has ignored Anastasiades' entreaties to step in and stop the Turkish drilling which is keeping the two sides apart.

That's even as Guterres sent American diplomat Jane Holl Lute on a failed mission to try to get Anastasiades and Turkish-Cypriot leader Mustafa Akinci talking again after the last round of talks fell apart when the Turkish side and Erdogan said they would never remove a 35,000-strong standing army on the occupied side and wanted the right to militarily intervene again.

That has cranked up fears of a military conflict as Greek Prime Minister and New Democracy leader Kyriakos Mitsotakis is due to meet Erdogan on the sidelines of the UN meeting to talk about the Cyprus dilemma and Turkish provocations in the Aegean and East Mediterranean too.