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Turkey Vows to Block Gas Exploration Off Coast of Cyprus

Turkey and the TRNC have signalled that they will try to block gas exploration in waters off the coast of Cyprus
Turkey and the TRNC have signaled that they will try to block gas exploration in waters off the coast of Cyprus. Credit: greglaskiewicz / Wikimedia Commons CC BY 3.0

The Ankara-backed Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus (TRNC) has issued a statement saying that it will oppose gas exploration off the coast of the island by the Republic of Cyprus.

According to the TRNC, which is recognized only by Turkey, gas exploration by Cyprus would violate both Turkish and Turkish Cypriot territorial rights.

The Republic of Cyprus, which is recognized as the island’s legitimate government by the UN, has granted a consortium of Italian and French energy firms permission to search for natural gas in its exclusive economic zone (EEZ).

The TRNC and Turkey’s complaints

On Thursday, the foreign ministry of the TRNC published a written complaint that accused the Cypriot government of “violating the rights of Turkish Cypriot people.” The foreign ministry’s statement largely dismissed the legitimacy of Cyprus’ EEZ.

“So long as the Greek Cypriot administration, which never shies away from taking steps that raise the tension in the Eastern Mediterranean, keeps usurping the rights of Turkish Cypriots, we, along with the Republic of Türkiye, will continue taking the necessary measures to protect our legitimate rights and interests,” the letter said.

“We remind the international community, as well as companies and countries involved, that the Greek Cypriot administration does not represent Turkish Cypriot people,” the letter continued, and “it does not have the authority to make decisions on behalf of us.”

The letter also appeared to take aim at Cyprus’ sovereignty over its own territorial waters, saying “all unilateral activities it has been conducting under the so-called ‘Republic of Cyprus’ name regarding the maritime jurisdiction of the island are illegitimate.”

Gas discovered in Cyprus

The TRNC’s tirade is in response to a recent discovery of natural gas made off the coast of Cyprus. On December 21st, Cyprus announced between two to three trillion cubic feet (Tcf) of natural gas has been discovered in exploratory drilling in block six of the nation’s EEZ.

The find was made by a consortium of Italy’s Eni and France’s TotalEnergies. The natural gas was found in the  Zeus-1 area of block six about 162 kilometers from the Cypriot coast at a depth of 2,300 meters.

Other lucrative natural gas deposits have also been found off the coast of Cyprus. In August, an estimated 2.5 Tcf of natural gas was discovered in the Cronos-1 field of Block 6.

Tensions with Turkey

Tensions have run high between Athens, Ankara, and Nicosia since Turkey invaded Cyprus in 1974. Since then, the island has remained divided between the internationally recognized government of the Republic of Cyprus and the Turkish-occupied north.

Military confrontation on the island remains an uncomfortable possibility for Cypriots. In 2019, Turkish Defense Minister Hulusi Akar threatened Cyprus that a repeat of the 1974 invasion was possible.

In the broader region, Athens and Ankara remain at odds over the Eastern Mediterranean’s territorial boundaries and energy exploration rights. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has invoked military threats against Greece multiple times over the past year.

The discovery of valuable natural gas deposits off the coast of Cyprus presents promising economic opportunities for Cypriots, but they also raise the stakes for the island republic which is already weighed down by decades of tensions.

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