“Cyprus Dispute and the Eastern Mediterranean Question” is still considered as one of the most important topics in Turkish Foreign Policy. The issue needs a clarification since Turkey officially supports peace talks and settlement negotiations between Turkish Cypriot and Greek Cypriot administrations, but at the same time continues to invest -both politically and economically- in the very existence and development of Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus (TRNC), a state that was founded in 1983 and recognized until now only by Turkey.
It is a fact that the Cyprus Dispute has evolved into a more complex political/diplomatic issue with the discovery of natural gas resources in the Eastern Mediterranean and Greek Cypriot administration’s (officially named as the Republic of Cyprus or Cyprus Republic) success in bringing big energy companies from France (Total), Italy (ENI), South Korea (KOGAS), and the United States (Noble Energy, ExxonMobil) to this region as well as exclusive economic zone agreements made between Nicosia and some countries including Egypt, Greece, and Israel (negotiations are continuing with Lebanon and Syria as well). Turkey responded to Greek Cypriot efforts by an exclusive economic zone agreement made with TRNC and a recent maritime jurisdiction zone agreement made with officially recognized Libyan government (represented by Prime Minister Fayez al-Sarraj). That is why, the issue still on the agenda as a hot topic although it is less spoken these days due to coronavirus disease.
In order to understand Turkey’s official position in terms of Cyprus Dispute and the Eastern Mediterranean Question, it is necessary to read and grasp Rear Admiral Cihat Yaycı’s new book (2020, Kırmızı Kedi Yayınevi) entitled Doğu Akdeniz Paylaşım Mücadelesi ve Türkiye (Eastern Mediterranean Allocation Struggle and Turkey). Due to copyright issues, a short summary of this book covering the main ideas will be provided here in order to enlighten international (non-Turkish speaker) readers.
Rear Admiral Cihat Yaycı (1966-) is Turkish high-rank soldier who is known with his books on Turkish-Greek Relations, Aegean Dispute, and Eastern Mediterranean Question. He has MA degree in Engineering Physics and Electronic Engineering from Naval Postgraduate School (NPS), California and PhD degree in International Relations from Istanbul University. Yaycı speaks English and Russian languages. As a natural consequence of his profession, Read Admiral Cihat Yaycı defends Turkish interests and puts forward a Turkish outlook while analyzing these issues. Since he is an important soldier on active duty, it is very beneficial to understand the essence of Yaycı’s views in order to interpret Turkish Armed Forces’ official positioning in terms of Cyprus Dispute and Eastern Mediterranean Question.
The Brief Summary of the Book
According to author, the Eastern Mediterranean is very important for strategic reasons such as neighboring the Middle Eastern region which contains more than half of world’s oil reserves, big countries’ military and logistic settlements within this region, being a very dynamic transit location in terms of international naval trade, and recently becoming a new potential energy center with oil and gas discoveries made around Cyprus, Israel, and Egypt (Yaycı, 2020: 19-29). The author claims that Eastern Mediterranean hydrocarbon resources could respond to Turkey’s natural gas need for 572 years or Europe’s natural gas needs for 30 years (Yaycı, 2020: 28). Moreover, it is worthy to note that there could be new discoveries made within this region in the near future. However, riparian states within this region so far could not agree on a partition plan to draw the lines of maritime jurisdiction zones as well as exclusive economic zones. That is why, it is an urgent need to understand riparian states’ diverging positions, the stance of international law on this matter and to work on how to create consensus in order to avoid a possible clash.
Doğu Akdeniz Paylaşım Mücadelesi ve Türkiye (Eastern Mediterranean Allocation Struggle and Turkey)
Cihat Yaycı analyzes the issue first from the perspective of international law. As the author mentions (Yaycı, 2020: 32), the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) limits countries’ exclusive economic zones to 200 nautical miles from the baselines from which the breadth of the territorial sea is measured (Article 57). In order to claim rights over a maritime zone, countries need to declare their own economic economic zones (münhasır ekonomik bölge/MEB in Turkish), draw detailed maps including the coordinates and submit a copy of these to the Secretary-General of the United Nations in accordance with the Article 75 of the UNCLOS. Moreover, Article 83 of the UNCLOS states that “the delimitation of the continental shelf between States with opposite or adjacent coasts shall be effected by agreement on the basis of international law, as referred to in Article 38 of the Statute of the International Court of Justice, in order to achieve an equitable solution“. However, there is no article in the UNCLOS that interdicts states to declare their exclusive economic zones unilaterally.
Eastern Mediterranean Disputes
In relation to this issue, Yaycı criticizes the Greek Cypriot administration’s declared exclusive economic zones on the basis of the fact that they are violating the rights of Egypt, Israel, Turkey, and Turkish Cypriots (TRNC) (Yaycı, 2020: 40-41). According to author, the problem between Ankara and Nicosia emerges due to clash taken place in the 7th parcel (Nicosia gave the rights of drilling in this parcel to Italian ENI and French Total) in addition to 2nd, 3rd, 8th, and 9th parcels which were licenced to Turkey’s TPAO by the TRNC government (Yaycı, 2020: 42). As a legal and political argument, Yaycı puts forward two main ideas: (1) exclusive economic zone declared by Nicosia clashes with Ankara’s plans (although Turkey until now did not officially declare its official exclusive economic zone in the Eastern Mediterranean, Turkish media and retired Turkish soldiers frequently publishes articles on this matter) on the 7th parcel, (2) Greek Cypriot administration acts as the only people on the island in declaring exclusive economic zone by ignoring the rights of Turkish Cypriots (Yaycı, 2020: 47). Yaycı later proposes Turkish government to declare its exclusive economic zone with a detailed map and declare it to the world (Yaycı, 2020: 78). The author also underlines that in order to guarantee peace and stability in the Eastern Mediterranean, all countries should act responsibly and make their steps by creating consensus with other states. In that sense, Yaycı criticizes Eastern Mediterranean (EastMed) pipeline project initiated by Greece, Cyprus, and Israel.
Finally, in my opinion, Rear Admiral Cihat Yaycı’s book is crucially important to understand Turkish security bureaucracy’s look towards recent developments taking place in the Eastern Mediterranean. It is fact that Turkey might have its own democratic problems, but as a country that makes more humanitarian help (aid) than any other country in the world in the last few years, Turkey’s voice deserves to be heard by Athens, Nicosia, and Jerusalem (Tel Aviv) in order to avoid a possible clash in the near future. The solution is not impossible; all we have to do is to bring all riparian states’ delegates and experts together for an international conference to reach consensus and encourage them to act responsibly and give some concessions to protect peace and stability in the Mediterranean.
Assoc. Prof. Ozan ÖRMECİ
- Yaycı, Cihat (2020), Doğu Akdeniz Paylaşım Mücadelesi ve Türkiye, İstanbul: Kırmızı Kedi Yayınevi.
 For instance, the United Kingdom has two military bases in Cyprus (Akrotiri and Dhekelia), the United States has a naval base in Crete, Russian Federation has a logistic base and naval facility in Tartus/Syria, and France has been recently given the right to use Andreas Papandreou Air Base in Paphos as well as Evangelos Florakis Naval Base near Zygi, between Limassol and Larnaca.