Opinion: Cyprus and Mediterranean Gas fields. A new Opportunity or Challenge?

Opinion: Cyprus and Mediterranean Gas fields. A new Opportunity or Challenge?


Opinion
Yeliz ALBAYRAK

Cyprus, as the third biggest island on the Mediterranean Sea, has been subjected to many compelling collisions and conflicts throughout years and now it is encountering a new struggle, the right of utilization on the natural sources. The admitted story of the Cyprus has begun in 1571 with the Ottoman rule in the island, after three hundred years, in 1878 the governance of the area had been handed over to a powerful colonial imperial kingdom of the era, the UK.

Two different ethnicities live together for long years with the repeating controversies, the Greeks and the Turks which were brought to the field back in 1500s by the Ottoman Empire. Turkey and Greece were the guarantor sides with England. The situation tangled up again in 1950 with the uprising Enosis idea. The Greek Cypriots started working to connect and unite the island with Greece. This idea resulted in more conflicts and violence. The developments, which were initiated by Greek Cypriots on the island under the British rule and turned into violence against the British mandate and Turkish Cypriots after the establishment of the EOKA organization, tended to be dragged into a civil war with the demands of the Turkish Cypriots in Taksim (the division of the island). The events continued harshly despite the Turkey’s Peace Operation to the Cyprus in 1974.
Greece, Russia and the United States reacted to the operation. The US imposed an embargo to Turkey from 1975 to 1978 for three years. And the process proceeded with the signing of the “Establishment, Alliance and Guarantee” Agreements in Cyprus on 16th August 1960 by Greece, Turkey and the UK (again), and “Republic of Cyprus” has been established.

However, the events didn’t come to a peaceful end despite the establishment and Turkey’s operation, the ongoing conflicts encountered for years. Turkish Cypriots have been introduced to a heavy political, social and economic embargo. It was clear that the purpose of Greek Cypriots was the migration of Turkish Cypriots from the island and ethnic cleansing on the island to attain the Greek dominance totally. However, The Turkish Cypriots were able to stand against these heavy pressures and repression of the Greeks, and they did not give up their rights on the island.
The sovereignty of the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus was declared in 1983 and the negotiations are still on process related to the rights and the future of the two sides. It also must be underlined that many other countries and organizations besides the three guarantor countries, such as United Nations, European Union or US, Russia and Middle eastern countries including Israel, get involved with the case. In 1990, the Greek Cypriot administration of southern Cyprus applied to the membership of the European Union on behalf of the island with the name of Cyprus Republic.

Naturally, The Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus, objected to the application that the Greek Cypriot Administration was not representing the Turkish Cypriot community and this step was illegal according to the former agreements signed between the two sides before. This attempt helped to include Europe in the Cyprus issue and drove the Turkish Cypriots into the corner without any solution. The membership was approved in 2004 despite all the rejections and it created a tense atmosphere again in terms of peace and solution in the island.

What is Happening Right now?

The main purpose of Turkish Cypriots is to live in an equitable structure together in a peaceful environment by leaving all the conflicts behind. It is also very important to maintain the equality and mutual tolerance between two sides. The solution is substantially depending on the mutual responds of the goodwill of two sides and continuous efforts to achieve the peace. But again, nowadays a new controversial issue is on the table to discuss, the usage of the oil and gas reserves around the island. When it comes to energy and the contributions of this energy to the economy, the roles are changing, and the conflicts warm up in the area. The oil and gas fields are in use for years in the south of the Mediterranean Sea. It began with the discovery of trillion cubic meters of natural gas fields in northern Israel in 2010. During this period, 8 billion barrels of oil reserves and 3.5 trillion cubic meters of natural gas were found around the island of Cyprus.

According to the United Nations Law of the Sea Convention, in the Eastern Mediterranean Sea, Egypt, Turkey, North Cyprus Turkish Republic, Greek Cypriot Administration, Lebanon, Syria, Israel and the Palestine have the rights to use the natural sources lying beneath the Mediterranean. This fact is bringing new questions in to the minds; which country will have the right to dominate the natural sources? Or is it possible to make a fair distribution between these actors? The latest mobility in the area is about the struggle of launching the potential hydrocarbon blocks in field 7. The Greek Cypriot Administration made a call for French, Italian and American energy companies Total, Eni and Exxon Mobil to investigate oil and gas reserves and fields in the 7th parcel around the island.

In the meantime, the Italian company Eni totally changed its energy geopolitics in the Egyptian EEZ, in August 2015, the discovery of the great natural gas in Zohr area. The new discoveries and potential fields led energy companies to focus on the Eastern Mediterranean area. Since the maritime borders and the distribution of the fields and natural sources are not agreed by two sides, this application is not welcomed, and it is rejected by the Turkish side. Besides, Greek Cypriot Administration are working on the possible future agreements about the hydrocarbon fields with Israel and Lebanon and other international energy companies such as Total, Eni, Shell, Exxon and Texas based Noble Energy. This situation is contradictory to the Turkish side’s goodwill and hope for a prospect peace.

The usage of the natural reserves around the island is very substantial for the welfare and wellbeing of the Cyprus. To establish a mutual benefit from these fields is initial for the economic growth and national development. Both sides must be very sensitive about the situation and about taking plausible, beneficial decisions for everybody. Both sides are very close to get significant economic benefits from the usage of the sources in terms of job opportunities and foreign investment as well as royalties and taxes paid to the island treasury by energy suppliers, other countries and consumers. The yield of such a big investment is very precious and it may resolve the conflicts in the area and bring possible solutions to the other vital problems. For now, Greek Cypriot Administration is acting individually by carrying out these deliberations on behalf of whole island by excluding the Turkish Cypriots. Some radical changes should be made in the attitude and approach of the Greek Cypriot’s side and both sides should recognize each other’s existence in the island. As the former Minister of EU Egemen Bagiş said, “Turkey and Greece are allies. We are partners, we are neighbors, it is in the interest of both countries to make sure the other one is prosperous. We can help each other a lot”. Acting and working together of two sides in Cyprus will make a significant contribution to the future of the Cyprus.