If the Greek Cypriots had accepted the 2004 United Nations Annan plan for the reunification of the island, Varosha/Maras would now be back under Greek Cypriot control and the residents would have their homes back. Despite this, along with significant concessions in the Karpas Peninsula and Morphou (Güzelyurt) region, the majority of Greek Cypriots voted against the plan, whereas Turkish Cypriots supported the plan.
Various other proposals also foresaw allowing unrestricted use for Turkish Cypriots at Ercan Airport and Famagusta Port in exchange for the transfer of Varosha to the Greek Cypriots.
The Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus (TRNC), established in 1983 on the northern one-third of the island, is only recognised by Turkey and faces a long-standing embargo on commerce, transportation and culture. Meanwhile, the Greek Cypriot Administration enjoys recognition by the international community as the Republic of Cyprus, established in 1960.
Greek Cyprus was admitted to the European Union in 2004, violating the EU’s own rules not allowing candidate countries with border disputes and assurances to Turkey and Turkish Cypriots that the Cypriot accession would not take place until a permanent solution had been reached on the island. The Greek Cypriot accession took place a week after a peace plan backed by UN Secretary- General Kofi Annan was voted down in the South while being approved in the North. Greece and Greek Cyprus have long used the veto card in EU institutions against Turkey.
Reminding that Varosha is an important and sensitive issue that has the potential to contribute to solving the Cyprus question, President Mustafa Akıncı said: “Next to comprehensive efforts for a solution, in a parallel process, we will pay special attention to the implementation of several confidence-building measures that would contribute to the daily life of both communities. Within this scope, a consensus will be sought for the closed Maraş area to be open for settlement under the monitoring of the United Nations and ways to use Mağusa Port and Ercan Airport to overcome bottlenecks experienced by Turkish Cypriots in tourism and trade synchronously.”
But if that cannot be achieved, opening the zone for settlement under the Turkish Cypriot administration could be evaluated, Akıncı added. “But in both cases, I’d like to emphasise, once again, the importance of acting in harmony with the UN and within international law,” he said.
“Cypriot Turks do not want two things, and when we say this, no party should be upset. First, this community does not want to be a minority to the Greek Cypriot side. It does not want to be a patch, it wants equality. Second, this community wants to pursue a healthy relationship with Turkey in its own region. This community does not have a goal or a desire to become a province of Turkey,” Akıncı said.
Akıncı calls for hydrocarbon talks to reduce tensions
Regarding the hydrocarbon tensions surrounding the island, Akıncı said that if Greek Cypriots carry out drilling activities, Turkish Cypriots also have to carry out drilling. “It is possible to reverse this course. Cypriot Turks also have rights in this issue. But it is always postponed to the aftermath of a possible solution,” the president said, calling for the launch of talks on the issue and proceeding to a common advantage and atmosphere of cooperation rather than tensions.
With reference to the EEZ dispute, Foreign Minister Kudret Özersay also said that the TRNC concluded the continental shelf demarcation agreement with Turkey in 2011 and issued exploration license to Turkish Petroleum (TPAO) after Greek Cyprus issued licenses to several foreign companies. “We had said ‘We can also do seismic research,’ and we did. We had said ‘If you carry out drilling, we will also do it.’ They started drilling so we started it too and will continue,” Özersay said.
Turkey dispatched its second drillship Yavuz to the east of the island on Thursday while the first drillship Fatih is currently drilling inside Turkey’s continental shelf, some 40 nautical miles off the western city of Paphos, Cyprus. The area is claimed by the Greek Cypriot Administration within its unilaterally declared exclusive economic zone (EEZ) although it is not among the areas unilaterally licensed by Nicosia for hydrocarbon activities. The ship’s operations prompted Nicosia to issue international arrest warrants for Fatih’s crew members, although it is unlikely that the Greek Cypriot administration would attempt to arrest the personnel or that other countries would take the warrants seriously.
Turkey has consistently contested the Greek Cypriot Administration’s unilateral drilling in the Eastern Mediterranean, stating that the exclusive economic zone unilaterally declared by Nicosia violates part of Turkey’s shelf, particularly in Blocks 1, 4, 5, 6 and 7.
Energy giants Total of France and ENI of Italy are heavily involved in exploring for oil and gas off Cyprus through deals with the Greek Cypriot administration as is ExxonMobil of the U.S.
Stating that unilateral exploration deprives the Turkish Cypriot minority of benefiting from the island’s natural resources, Turkey has ramped up efforts in the Eastern Mediterranean. Ankara says its actions abide by international law and that it is drilling inside its continental shelf. It granted exploration licenses to Turkish Petroleum in 2009 and 2012.
After Fatih started drilling off Cyprus, the European Union on Tuesday lashed out at Turkey over its plans to drill in the area, warning it was preparing “appropriate measures” in response, a move that came two days after the southern members of the EU echoed a similar stance at the Med7 summit in Malta. Turkey responded that the EU had no right to interfere in the issue.