President Anastasiades’ off-the-cuff comment about Turkey ‘choosing protecting the rights of the Turkish Cypriots in a separate, independent entity’, drew the universal condemnation of the other presidential candidates, the parties backing them and an assortment of lawyers, none of whom were prepared to accept that he was making a theoretical point.
Yet it was quite clear he was doing this, as he added: ‘… then they should limit themselves to whatever they are entitled to in the EEZ of the illegal entity. And, consequently, they have no reason to dispute the sovereign rights of the Cyprus Republic’. Anastasiades was asked to comment on Turkish threats, regarding oil drilling in the Cyprus EEZ and Ankara’s plan to bring a drilling ship to the eastern Mediterranean, and tried to expose the irrationality of Turkey’s position.
His rivals seized the opportunity to attack his so-called blunder, that was ‘extremely dangerous’ as he had allegedly ‘written off half of Cyprus’, and ‘invited more violations of our EEZ’ by Turkey. Other critics said he had ‘generously ceded our EEZ to Turkey and the Turkish Cypriots’. A lawyer, speaking on a morning radio show said the president’s comment ‘constitutes a haircut for the Cyprus Republic’. It was ‘inconceivable’ for the president, ‘essentially, to call on Turkey to protect illegal, non-existent rights of a non-existent state’, said the lawyer.
His critics took such liberties in interpreting Anastasiades’ words he felt obliged to try to explain what he had said. The attacks continued regardless, because politics in Cyprus has always focused on words rather than on actions. This may be because as a small country, there are very few actions available for defending our EEZ when faced with any type of threat from an aggressive neighbour. All we can do is make defiant statements, as has been the case so far. The question is that if Turkey decided to start drilling in Cyprus’ EEZ, would we be able to stop it, because nobody else would.
We doubt Turkey was waiting to interpret public comments by Anastasiades as an invitation to do such a thing. The truth is that the president neither ceded our EEZ to Turkey nor called on Turkey to protect the rights of the north. The argument he used might not have been very clever but it did not justify the knee-jerk reactions and the distortions it was subjected to by his rivals. Perhaps, what irked his rivals was his view that the ‘natural wealth of Cyprus belongs to all the legal residents of the Cyprus Republic, including Turkish Cypriots,’ but they were reluctant to say so.