Turkish-Cypriot representatives readily admit that the near-term odds
of discovering energy are low. But politics, not economics, seems to be
driving the search. Ankara's strategy in Cyprus holds that every
provocation must be met with equal force, according to Ahmet Sozen,
director of the Department of International Relations at Eastern
Mediterranean University's Cyprus Policy Center in Famagusta. No
indication exists that the de-facto Turkish-Cypriot government is
inclined to object. "It is just a very normal response," Sozen said.
Ankara had previously insisted that drilling should wait until after a
peace settlement was in place, allowing the entire island to share in
the proceeds. Greek-Cypriot leaders made vague promises that they would
share profits, but with officials in Nicosia now saying their country
may need a euro-bailout, drilling has commenced.
"Maybe we would not drill for energy at this stage, if the Greeks did
not drill for gas," commented Dervis Besimler, president of the Turkish
Cypriot Investment Agency.
In attempting to develop new energy sources, Turkey isn't just
striving to protect the rights of Turkish Cypriots. Ankara is also
trying to contain the ambitions of Israel, which also contracts with
Nobel Energy and has expressed interest in furthering an energy alliance
with Cyprus. Turkish-Israeli relations
were generally strong until two years ago, when Israeli commandos
killed nine Turkish citizens during a high-seas raid designed to prevent
a Turkish humanitarian aid vessel from delivering supplies to Gaza.
Since then, bilateral relations have remained severely strained.
In mid-May, Turkish military officials claimed they had to scramble
two F-16s to chase away an Israeli aircraft, which reportedly entered
northern Cyprus' airspace several times.
Energy drilling could take place in several contested areas off
Cyprus, and thus can be considered an accident waiting to happen,
cautioned Hugh Pope, Turkey/Cyprus project director for the
International Crisis Group. "I don't think that Nobel Energy was aware
of the controversy it was getting involved in," Pope noted.
Drilling would also seem to mark another setback for a Cyprus peace
settlement. The latest United Nations efforts to resolve the conflict
ended in late April without an agreement. Hasan Güngör, an aide to the
Turkish Cypriot de-facto president, Derviş Eroğlu, says that efforts now
focus on finding "a new process for how [the talks] will go forward."
Cyprus has been a European Union member since 2004, and it is
currently preparing to assume the EU's rotating presidency on July 1.
The international community does not dispute the right of the
Greek-Cypriot government, the island's generally recognized
representative, to explore for energy. That leaves Turkey as the main
muscle for airing Turkish-Cypriot objections.
On May 18, the Turkish Foreign Ministry warned that any company that
works with Cyprus to explore for energy would not be welcomed in Turkey.
The country has vowed to suspend political relations with the EU for
the six months of the Greek Cypriot presidency.
This article originally appeared at EurasiaNet.org, an Atlantic partner site.