A Turkish opposition leader, Meral Aksener, on November 21 caused consternation by calling for consideration of a possible repeat invasion of Cyprus, amid rising tensions over who has the rights to tap potential oil and gas reserves in the eastern Mediterranean.
Aksener, a former interior minister known as the “she wolf”, who heads the Iyi (Good) party, voiced the code phrase Turkey’s army used to launch an assault on the island in 1974.
“You should know that if need be ‘Aishe will go on holiday again’,” warned the nationalist politician, who ran for president against Recep Tayyip Erdogan in June’s snap election. “Cyprus is Turkish and will remain Turkish,” she said to loud applause in an address before Ankara’s parliament.
Aksener added that exploration for oil and gas by international energy companies commissioned by the Greek Cypriot government that runs the southern part of the divided island of Cyprus was “imperialist activity” aimed at Turkey.
Turkey has very few energy natural resources of its own and its big energy import bill is a key factor in its wide current account deficit.
US energy giant ExxonMobil began exploratory drilling in an area south of Cyprus this week despite the ongoing row over marine jurisdiction. Italy’s ENI and France’s Total have also said that they are committed to energy drilling near Cyprus. In February, a drill ship contracted by ENI to explore off the coast of Cyprus withdrew from its mission after Turkish warships blocked its path.
“We have warned the Greek Cypriot administration to stop the unilateral exploration for hydrocarbons in the eastern Mediterranean,” Turkey’s foreign ministry spokesman Hami Aksoy said on November 18.
He added: “We renew our warnings to the companies involved… we remind them that sharing the natural resources of the island of Cyprus relates to the core of the Cyprus issue.”
“Bandits of the sea”
On November 5, Erdogan warned foreign oil companies against energy exploration near Cyprus, describing those defying Ankara as “bandits of the sea” who would face a similar response as its foes in Syria.
“As we made the terrorists in Syria pay, we will not leave the scene to the bandits of the sea,” Erdogan said at the commissioning of a Turkish warship, the TCG Burgazada.
Turkey seized the northern third of Cyprus in the invasion 44 years ago following an Athens-orchestrated coup aimed at uniting the island with Greece. Ankara has an estimated 40,000 troops in the internationally unrecognised Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus.
The US Department of State has lately urged Turkey to refrain from indulging in rhetoric or actions that would create further tension in the eastern Mediterranean. However, the US is pushing for any natural wealth to be shared between the Greek Cypriots and Turkey.