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Turkey-Cyprus dispute: Why are the two countries arguing over drilling rights?

Turkey-Cyprus dispute: Why are the two countries arguing over drilling rights?

Speaking at the EU28 summit in Brussels on Friday morning, European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker said Turkey’s decision to drill for oil and gas in Cypriot territorial waters was “unacceptable”.

He said that the EU supported Cyprus in the dispute which began at the end of last month when Turkey sent a ship to begin oil and gas exploration in Cypriot waters.

On Thursday it sent another ship to waters off the north eastern coast of the island’ Karpas Peninsula and operate in a borehole which will reach a depth of 3,300 metres.

The European Union has called on Turkey to end the drilling after pressure from Greece and Cyprus.

At an EU summit in Brussels, leaders issued a formal statement saying Turkey’s drilling is “illegal” and that the bloc “stands ready to respond appropriately.”

It said: “The European Council underlines the serious immediate negative impact that such illegal actions have across the range of EU-Turkey relations.

“The European Council calls on Turkey to show restraint.”

But Turkey says the exploration is legal because it is in the territorial waters of Northern Cyprus which is not recognised by any country other than Ankara.

What is the history of Cyprus?
In 1570, the predominantly Greek-speaking island of Cyprus came under the control of the Ottoman Empire.

Over the centuries many Turks settled on the island and a sizeable Turkish Cypriot community grew up.

But by the 19th century the Ottoman Empire was in decline and it leased Cyprus to the United Kingdom in 1878.

By the time it became an independent country in 1960 the Greek-speaking community made up around three quarters of the population but Turkish speakers were still a sizeable minority.

Post-independence relations between the Greek and Turkish Cypriots were uneasy and there had been outbreaks of violence between nationalist groups in the 14 years leading up to the coup.

What happened in 1974?
Relations between the two sides came to a head in July 1974 when the military junta which was ruling Greece at the time staged a coup d’etat so they could annex Cyprus as a part of Greece.

Responding to this the Turkish military staged an invasion and captured the northern city of Kyneria, the northern corridor between Kyneria and the capital Nicosia and the Turkish quarter of Nicosia itself.

After three days the military junta fell in Greece leading to the establishment of the democratic Third Hellenic Republic in Athens.

In Nicosia, the Greek Cypriot politician Glafcos Clerides assumed the presidency and control of the Republic’s government as the Greek army withdrew.

But following the failure of peace negotiations in Geneva Turkey started a second invasion on 14 August and annexed the cities of Morphou, Karpass, Famagusta and the Mesaoria as well as holding onto territory they had captured during the first invasion.

A UN-backed ceasefire was eventually declared with a buffer zone running through the country which remains in place today.

What is the status of Northern Cyprus?
Turkey recognises Northern Cyprus, which takes up around 36% of the island’s landmass, as the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus.

The United Nations recognises it as a territory of the Republic of Cyprus currently under Turkish occupation.

Cyprus and Turkey have had no formal diplomatic relations since 1974.

What has this got to do with energy exploration?
The dispute comes because the area where Turkey is sending ships is off the northern coast of the island.

Cyprus and the EU consider the north to be part of the Republic of Cyprus so the waters surrounding it remain part of their Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) which means they have the exclusive right to fish, drill and carry out other economic activities.

But as Turkey recognises Northern Cyprus as independent, with its own EEZ, Ankara says it is within its rights to drill there.

Energy Minister Fatih Donmez said: “Turkey will continue its operations in its own continental shelf and in areas where the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus has licensed Turkiye Petrolleri without stopping”.

He added that unilateral agreements made between Cyprus and the regional countries that attempted to “steal” the rights of Turkey and Turkish Cypriots had “no legal validity”.

What can the EU do?
The EU has told Turkey it will face “targeted measures” if it does not stop drilling which could mean possible travel bans and asset freezes of Turkish companies and individuals involved in the drilling.

In a statement on the issue after the European Council summit on Thursday it said it would ask its foreign service, the European External Action Service, to put forward options.

One senior EU official said that, aside from sanctions, one option was to end talks with Turkey over extending a customs union, which already allows tariff-free trade with the EU for industrial goods but not services or agriculture.

Another option could be formally suspending Turkey’s status as an official candidate to become a member of the European Union, although talks have been frozen for over a year due to concerns about the direction of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s government.