Eastern Med Provocations Have No End: Trust the Turks?

No sooner the first NAVTEX signaling a concerted plan of provocations in the Cypriot Exclusive Economic Zone expired, Ankara issued a second Navigation Telex notifying the apathetic world that it is here to stay – audaciously seeking to block waters even closer to the southern coast of the Republic of Cyprus. For those of us who follow Turkish contemporary Cyprus policy: in the summer of 1974 in a premeditated two-phased military operation Turkey invaded the northern lands of the Republic of Cyprus, occupied 37 per cent of them. To this date the Turkish Army has not moved an inch! Neither has it removed a single soldier from the 40,000 troops that it keeps in the Cyprus occupied area ever since. For those who like to harp on the mantra of the ‘protection of the dwindling Turkish Cypriot community’ – a rightful constitutional community with respect to the laws of the internationally recognized Republic of Cyprus but a sad minority in the post-invasion context of the ever expanding ocean of settlers transplanted onto Cyprus corpus demographicus by Ankara – the late veteran Turkish journalist and erstwhile CNN Turk Director, Mehmet Ali Birand, said the following addressing a Greek Cypriot audience a few years before his death: ‘the Turkish Army’s disproportionate presence in Cyprus is not for the blue eyes of the Turkish Cypriots, they do not have blue eyes anyway(!)’ For our uninformed readers, Birand was the only Turkish journalist who was allowed to follow the Turkish invading force in 1974. He subsequently published his daily diary entries in the remarkable book ’30 Hot Days’, a chronicle of the 1974 Turkish land invasion.

With the forty years free ride on Northern Cyprus and a sea incursion of Southern Cyprus clearly in the making, it is high time we carefully examined the war crimes committed: transplantation of tens of thousands of settlers into the occupied foreign territory has been a palpable fact, a liability for which Ankara so far paid no price. By so doing Turkey destroyed the fabric of Cypriot society, be it Turkish or Greek Cypriot.

The Cypriot President has been too complacent in his approach. He patiently waited for the first Turkish sea incursion (October-December 2014) to pass by reiterating his resolve to return to the talks for a comprehensive settlement in Cyprus. Bowing to an inexplicable UN envoy proposal (and/or US pressure?) to discuss sovereignty over natural resources in the talks before settling the bounds of sovereignty of the state-to-be, President Anastasiades conceded to discuss the issue of hydrocarbons, whilst it is the RoC’s sovereign inalienable right to exploit them as the government of Cyprus deems appropriate.

Anastasiades’ thoughtless concession was immediately met by another big brother type provocation: Barbaros, the Turkish seismic research vessel – which, it should be noted, never left Cypriot waters, only docking once more unlawfully in the closed port of Famagusta pending orders from Ankara – returns to incur in the sea zones overlapping the internationally recognized Cyprus EEZ as close as seventeen nautical miles south of Limassol! The new incursion, announced by big brother Ankara, will last for three months, exceeding in length and intensity the previous one (see our analysis above: ‘Warm Waters: 70 Hot Days Ahead’).

How do these Turkish actions translate in the wider context of energy resources exploration in the Levantine basin and the much debated European energy security? It becomes abundantly clear that Ankara acts as the big brother and is bent on exercising the upper hand on the Eastern Mediterranean hydrocarbon reserves irrespective of the provisions of the UN Convention of the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS). Ankara appears disrespectful of multilateralism whereas the Republic of Cyprus has painstakingly over the past ten years entered into negotiations and arrived into negotiated sea delimitation agreements with most of its neighbours.

Put simply, Cyprus acts within the framework of international law and multilateralism, the principle that should guide international relations. Turkey, on the opposite end violates international law and continues to act outside its framework.

The Turkish policy record, a short illustration of which is offered above, should sober down all those who ponder over emboldening Ankara even further by suggesting the construction of gas pipelines from the Eastern Mediterranean sea to the Turkish mainland.