NICOSIA – As Turkish warships are blocking foreign energy companies from reaching Cypriot waters where they are licensed to drill for energy, Turkish-Cypriots in the occupied northern third said they’ll launch explorations unless the government lets them share in the proceeds and coordination of the effort.
“Either we will do it together – by discussing, agreeing and moving together – or things will stop, or, we (Turkish Cypriots) will do the same thing: we will start exploiting and drilling as well,” said Kudret Ozersay, the self-declared foreign minister of the Turkish-Cypriot side of the island that was unlawfully invaded and seized by Turkey in 1974.
The legitimate government on other side, which is a member of the European Union that Cyprus wants to join, has given approval to several foreign companies to drill in several designated blocks offshore.
A drilling ship from the Italian energy company Eni was forced to veer off by the Turkish warships who reportedly threatened to sink it otherwise. As America’s ExxonMobil began to move into position, the US Navy sent ships from the Sixth Fleet around the waters although saying it wasn’t there to protect the US company, whose former CEO, Rex Tillerson, is Secretary of State and met recently in Turkey with President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
Asked whether the dispute could escalate, Ozersay said diplomacy would be the first tool: “We aim at cooling down the waters, not warming them up,” the news agency Reuters said in a report.
“For that reason in the most recent (incident) we did not use force. We did not even demonstrate force. There was deterrence there,” he said without referring to reports the Turkish warships warned they would sink Eni’s ship.
Our argument on the issue of maritime areas is not based on geography,” Ozersay said”, noting that Cyprus has has only licensed maritime exploration areas lying south of the island, where it exercises effective control, and not to the north.
“It is based on historic rights and the rights deriving from the partnership republic,” he said from his office, less than five kilometers (three miles) from a checkpoint where hundreds of Cypriots cross daily between the two sides, the report said.
“The thing is, not only the Turkish Cypriot side, but also the international community and the Greek Cypriot side accepts and acknowledges that we are the co-owners of those hydrocarbon resources,” Ozersay said.
Erdogan has demanded a share of any revenues found should go to Turkish-Cypriots even if it’s in Cypriot sovereign waters, which Cypriot President Nicos Anastasiades long ago said was a term he could accept.