Turkish exploration for hydrocarbon reserves in Cyprus’s exclusive economic zone (EEZ), and particularly in the area south of the island, is a major – though not unexpected – provocation by Ankara, undaunted by the cessation of peace talks announced by Cypriot President Nicos Anastasiadis on Tuesday.
The Greek government’s support for Cyprus on this issue offers little comfort given that the American State Department and the British Foreign Office issued statements recognizing the Cypriot government’s right to exploit hydrocarbon deposits in its EEZ before the exploration even began, while at the same time adding that both the Greek-Cypriot and Turkish-Cypriot communities on the divided island should benefit equally from any possible finds. There were a few differences between the two statements but this is basically what they boiled down to. The economic benefits to the Turkish Cypriots have been repeatedly assured by every Cypriot government. Moreover, the absence of any criticism toward Ankara for going ahead with the exploration and the mere expression of regret that talks have been suspended are reasonable cause for concern in Athens and Nicosia.
Ankara, in other words, got what it wanted. It was not looking for anything more than tolerance at this point in any case.
The European Union has yet to take an official position on the issue, though it is not expected to differ much to that of the US and the UK, and either way, the talks will resume at some point as they always have in the past.
The basic problem here is a single word repeated in every version of a proposal since the Annan Plan in 2004. It is the word “state,” which is defined differently by the Turks and the Greeks.
The history of a single word is often more fascinating than that of an entire campaign and this is certainly the case in the Cyprus dispute. Of course the content of one word is defined to a large extent by the meaning that is attributed to it by the two sides entering the agreement. It is also clear that despite differences and often open disagreement, Turkey is an essential ally to the United States and the West more generally given the situation in the Middle East.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has repeatedly contended that the Republic of Cyprus does not exist. Ankara was acting along these lines when it addressed the Greek EU presidency a few months ago, basically saying that it would only accept a one-state solution, meaning that the present state would cease to exist. Now the Turkish government is acting as though this is already the case, yet there are those who tolerate this behavior.