Ankara’s Energy Game

Written by Dr Yiorghos Leventis*

One thing is for sure: the Eastern Mediterranean is going through interesting times. Historically, I guess, we have always been living in such times. The Mediterranean, as the etymology of the geographical name denotes, constitutes the middle of the earth, the place where multiple trade routes meet and intersect. The battle for the control of such trade routes is perennial, from ancient to modern times. In modern times Cyprus' political legacy stems to a large extent from its acquisition by the British Empire. Benjamin Disraeli got hold of our island in an effort to thwart the advancing Russian Empire from entering into the Mediterranean sea. That was the reasoning behind the British decision at the Congress of Berlin, 1878, of propping up the Ottomans, the collapsing empire of the time, described at the time as 'Europe's sick man'.

Disraeli's decision in 1878 was to be vindicated time and again. As oil started to be pumped out of the Middle East, Cyprus served as London's outpost securing the uninterrupted flow of the vital energy resource for the formidable industrial machine of the British Isles. It is no coincidence that Sir Anthony Eden exclaimed in strong and unyielding words, the British government's position in Cyprus clear and flat. Without bothering to clothe it in the familiar language of imperialistic idealism, Sir Anthony defined Britain's stake in one word: oil.

Our country's industrial life and that of Western Europe, depend today, and must depend for many years, on oil supplies from the Middle East. If ever our oil resources were imperiled, we should be compelled to defend them. The facilities we need in Cyprus are part of that. No Cyprus, no certain facilities to protect our supply of oil. No oil, unemployment and hunger in Britain. It is as simple as that. (Conservative Party Convention, Norwich, UK, 11 June 1956)

Four years later with the Zurich-London agreements just reached and signed, Eden stressed: The value of the compromise will depend upon the spirit in which it is worked and upon acceptable arrangements for our military bases.

Now at the end of 2011, it is becoming clearer week by week that the Exclusive Economic Zone the Republic of Cyprus is entitled to, is blessed with substantial natural gas if not oil reserves. The outcome of the exploitation, the degree to which this vital natural resource will prove to be a blessing and not a curse will depend upon the spirit in which it is worked, to borrow the all-too-relevant Eden remark of 1960.

To my mind there is no doubt that the discovery of vital natural resources in the sea of the island may be a potential catalyst for a settlement. We may recall that the donors' conference in Brussels on the UN plan in 2004 failed dismally to secure the necessary funds to finance the proposed settlement. A few years down the line, with the discovery and prospective exploitation of our natural resources, one can easily infer that the prospects are coming into place for Cypriots to self-finance a just and thus viable settlement of the intractable Cyprus problem.

Having said that, it is my humble opinion that the settlement of the Cyprus imbroglio hinges upon a constructive stance by Ankara, be it the rising regional power with high stakes in the island. At a time when efforts to reach a settlement are heightened:

i) through a more active involvement of the UN Secretary General: Ban Ki Moon appears to be fully engaged in the negotiating process: he has urged the two leaders to iron out their remaining differences, to use the UN jargon (New York meeting, Oct. 2011) and scheduled to meet them anew in January to take stock of the progress made.

ii) through a compromising stance of the RoC government pledging that any prospective proceeds out of the natural resources exploitation are guaranteed to be used for the interests of both Cypriot communities - a commitment, it should be noted, that comes on top of a raft of post-2004 measures in favour of the Turkish Cypriot community,

it is unfortunate, to say the least, that the Turkish President calls Cyprus 'half a country' and the EU 'a miserable union'. Slipping tongue or truthful admission of perennial Turkish perception of our island? But then again slip of tongue tells the truth or is not so? Gul's comments do not augur well, all the more so, having been uttered in London at the conclusion of an official visit to the UK (23 Nov 2011), the champion, par excellance of Turkish full participation in the European Union. Interestingly, David Cameron, the British PM steered clear of any statement on the Cyprus front avoiding at the same time a response to Gul's arrogant remarks.

In the light of the increased UN efforts to reach a settlement and the compromising stance of the Greek Cypriot side, one would have expected at least the avoidance of derogatory if not inflammatory statements which are bound to be perceived as unacceptable interference in the internal affairs of the Union, if not by all certainly by the absolute majority of its member-states; more so by the two heavy weight Turco-sceptics. I would seriously doubt that Gul's London remarks would gain any ground for his country's EU membership chances in the corridors of power in Paris or Berlin.

It is incumbent upon Turkey as the rising regional power, already a major energy hub, member of the G20 (17th biggest economy in the world), staunch NATO ally with the second biggest army in the Alliance boasting a military manpower equivalent more or less to the demographic size of the entire Greek Cypriot community[1] to show a measure of compromising attitude if not straightforward magnanimity with a view to a lasting settlement in Cyprus. However, one would ask: what are Ankara's objectives with respect to Cyprus? Are these related to the promotion of a solution to the benefit of the people of Cyprus, Greek and Turkish Cypriots or is Turkey seeking the perpetuation of the system of a vassal half-baked state, half-a-country, to use Gul's expression?

Lest we forget, it is the whole of Cyprus that acceded by the Treaty of Accession to the EU in 2004 - implementation of the acquis suspended for the North pending the political settlement, that is to say the internal restructuring and re-distribution of power in the Republic of Cyprus.

International Law on EEZ

Let us examine the delimitation of the EEZ in the eastern Mediterranean littoral countries: under the law of the sea, an exclusive economic zone (EEZ) is a sea zone over which a state has special rights over the exploration and use of marinere sources, including production of energy from water and wind.[2]

Now, what is Turkey's posture on this crucial question regarding the agreed distribution of natural wealth in the eastern Mediterranean?

Ankara questions the right of the RoC to be entitled to an EEZ. Hence the overtures to Cyprus' neighbours in the first instance not to sign and after the signature to repeal their EEZ delimitation agreements with the RoC.

Turkish maritime policy is that islands are entitled neither to their own EEZ nor to continental shelf. The Turkish argument has serious repercussions vis-a-vis the potential delimitation of both the EEZ and the continental shelf with Greece in the Aegean and the Mediterranean Sea (vide: Kastellorizo) and of course in the case of Cyprus.

Such an attitude clearly contravenes the provisions of the United Nations Convention of the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS, signed 10 Dec 1982, Montego Bay, Jamaica - effective 16 Nov 1994, 162 signatories including the EU) to which Turkey is not a signatory.

As stated above, the law of the sea provides that every state is entitled to special rights over the exploration and use of marine sources in its EEZ.

Feeding Turkish Pipelines Carries Danger of Feeding Over-ambitious Ankara

Taken at its face value the Turkish argument implies that Cyprus is non-existent on the map of EEZ delimitations in the eastern Mediterranean. In other words, according to Ankara's logic, the sea zones in the region for the purposes of exploration and use of natural resources should be divided between Turkey, Syria, Lebanon, Egypt and Israel.

Put this in the context of the rising ambitions of regional power - the neo-Ottoman grand scheme projecting a blend of soft and hard power from the Balkans to Western Asia to North Africa - it is not too difficult to infer what Ankara is driving at: in all probability to tap on the island's sea and land resources - as this week's Famagusta drilling agreement reveals - feed her own pipelines easily and cost effectively to become Europe's unrivalled energy hub par excellance. What would such an ambitious Turkish scenario mean for Turko-European relations? Ankara will be holding so much leverage over the EU at a time of i) an ongoing and deepening internal European crisis ii) that fluidity and uncertainty about the political future rules supreme in the Arab countries of the region iii) pushing Europe in seeking to identify the most powerful West-oriented proxy, the region's strategic ally that would field the model of western style democracy and stability. It is certain that Ankara fits the bill in the eyes of certain policy-makers in Brussels. Nevertheless, in the West's designs for the Arab and Muslim world in the recent past, Ankara, time and again, proved how resistant it can be.

Feeding already ambitious Turkey with eastern Mediterranean energy resources, that mostly she is not entitled to, will run the risk of Ankara holding the EU hostage to its neo-Ottoman dictates since the former will be in control of the supply of a substantial part of Europe's key energy resources. In such a Turkish-inspired self-serving scenario it is next to impossible to identify room for Cyprus to play a new important role in the EU's energy security. Is that what we, Cypriots - of Greek and Turkish origin - want: an arrangement whereby Ankara already in serious violation of substantial inalienable human rights on the island, will be light-heartedly granted the upper hand in the exploitation of our island's natural resources?



* Director of International Security Forum; Fellow of the United Nations University. Speech at a panel discussion co-organised by Friedrich Ebert Stiftung and PRIO Cyprus Centre, Chateau Status, Buffer Zone, Nicosia, 26 November 2011.



[1] Only this week the TAF announced for the first time in their history the size of their forces: the figure 720,000 personnel is quoted including the Gendarmerie, the Coastal Guard and the civilian personnel; excluding the Civil Defence Forces who are recruited among the population in Eastern Turkey and are engaged in combat action against the Kurdish guerilla separatists.

[2] Law of the Sea, UN, Part V: Exclusive Economic Zone, Article 56.





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written by Peter Droussiotis, December 04, 2011 

This is an excellent analysis albeit one that leaves little room for optimism that Turkey will ever work constructively for the reunifcation of Cyprus which is the aim of every Cypriot who truly loves this beautiful but long-suffering island.
I do find your pieces very well thought out and powefully argued.



written by A. Fragkis, December 06, 2011 

Excellent article.
The declaration of the EEZ of both Greece and Cyprus is a matter of top priority for both governments.It should be done now! This, not only will safeguard whatever energy resources exist in the Aegean and the S.A. Mediterranean sea for these two Countries, but also could provide the much needed energy self-sufficiency for the E.U. Turkey, only euphemistically European, should not be allowed by the European Nations, to become an obstacle to European recovery from the current financial stagnation.  


Ankara's Energy Game
written by Petrus Berek Klau, December 16, 2011 

This is an amazing article worth to be read.


written by Kypros Zandis, February 13, 2012 

Very intelligent and thoughtful article on the role of Cyprus in conjunction with the past & current International interests in the region...