Hopes for Cypriot Unification Combust
“Ethnicity is almost never the root cause for ‘ethnic conflict.’”- Bruce Bueno de Mesquita
Cyprus has been split along ethnic lines since 1974, after a military coup backed by Athens prompted Turkey to invade the northern portion of the island. A decade later, the Turkish-held region declared itself the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus, a separate entity from the internationally recognized Republic of Cyprus. As peaceful negotiations over the past several years were beginning to lead toward warmer relations between the Turkish north and Greek south, controversy in managing the newly discovered oil deposits has caused hopes for unification to dissolve.
In 2011, Noble Energy (NBL), an American oil and natural gas production firm, discovered giant natural gas reserves off of the country’s southern coast. According to CNN, if brought to market, the resources would represent more than 100% of Cyprus’s GDP.
Late this past summer, President Nicos Anastasiades of the Republic of Cyprus highlighted that the return on these findings has the potential to be more than just financial: “The benefits out of the exploitation of the wealth of energy is going to the interest of all the people of Cyprus whether they are Greek or Turkish Cypriots.” However, the chances that this oil will help unify the island in the near-future have since been squandered. For the second time last month, Turkish scientific ships, accompanied by warships, were reported to be conducting seismic surveys inside of the Cypriot Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ). The objective of their exploration was to evaluate the seabed’s potential for oil drilling.
Turkey’s actions have sparked outrage from Cypriot politicians. While Ankara argues that it does not recognize Cyprus or its right to exploit offshore energy, the drilling license for the entire region had already been awarded to Cyprus as it lies within its EEZ. Nonetheless, Turkey's Prime Minister told a press conference: "We have the right to conduct seismic studies there, according to the agreements signed between Turkey and the Turkish Republic of northern Cyprus. We will always use this right." In response, Cyprus has begun to press the European Union for “resolute action” against the Turkey, on grounds that the intrusion violates its nation’s sovereignty.
The Cyprus dilemma is fueled not by competing ethnic groups but by competing economic interests. Both sides refuse to lose out on the island’s potential economic value, especially now that oil has been proven to exist nearby. The question is: Who does the oil belong to—the Republic of Cyprus or Turkey? Considering the rights to drilling were already given to Cyprus by the European Union, an institution that Turkey seeks to become a part of, it is surprising that Turkey has not backed down. It is contentious enough that Turkey refuses to recognize the Republic of Cyprus--an EU member country--as a sovereign state, but it has now chosen to directly ignore guidelines enacted by the EU. These recent policy decisions on the part of Turkey make one question its motivations for seeking EU membership in the first place, because protecting states’ rights to sovereignty was surely not one of them.
- Konstantine Tettonis