Turkey’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesman, Ambassador Huseyin Muftuoglu, issued a statement on Wednesday in response to an editorial published in the last issue of the Sunday Mail and on Cyprus Mail Online, which was picked up and reproduced by several Turkish newspapers. In his statement, Muftuoglu said:
“An article concerning the Greek Cypriot Administration’s unilateral pursuit of hydrocarbon-related activities in disregard of the inalienable rights on natural resources of the Turkish Cypriot people, published in the GCA’s ‘Cyprus Mail’ newspaper contained groundless allegations, which could be taken to imply that Turkey may have relinquished some of its rights and interests. The faulty assessments in the Turkish media based on these allegations are an exercise in futility.”
We do not know what the assessments of the Turkish media were, nor did the editorial claim that Turkey had relinquished some of its rights and interests. What was said was that there had been an informal understanding, at a meeting in Davos between President Anastasiades and then Prime Minister Ahmed Davutoglu, about the pursuit of a Cyprus settlement ‘that would open the way for co-operation on hydrocarbons’.
It also said that US Vice President at the time, Joe Biden, fully supported this understanding and that at Davos in 2016, with the peace talks making progress, he informed Anastasiades that Turkey would not react if Block 6, which it claims is within its continental shelf, was included in the third licensing round. All this was based on the understanding that the talks would lead to a settlement. When it became apparent that the talks were heading for deadlock, Turkey’s stance changed. It issued Navtex notices and carried out naval exercises, while the Barbaros Hayreddin Pasa, which had stayed out of the Cypriot EEZ since 2015, arrived in the seas south of the Karpas.
Our politicians, particularly Anastasiades, appeared oblivious to these facts, preferring the well-worn rhetoric about Turkish provocations and violations of Cyprus’ sovereignty. If the rhetoric is an end in itself this is fine, but if the objective is to exploit the hydrocarbons in the Cypriot EEZ the president is going about it in the wrong way. He should have realised from what has happened over the last couple of years that a settlement is necessary for the exploitation of hydrocarbons. Without it, his energy plans are unlikely to materialise.
Unappealing as it may sound to some, the way ahead for the republic’s energy plans is through co-operation rather than confrontation with Turkey, because Cyprus is not in a position to guarantee the safety of drilling operations. As Disy chief Averof Neophytou said on Wednesday, challenging the popular, nebulous slogan ‘the Cyprus republic is our shield’, the republic ‘was not and cannot be our shield’.