Throughout its history the Republic of Turkey has flouted many of the international legal norms that apply to every state in the world. Just in respect of the small island of Cyprus, Turkey is in continued breach of UN resolutions; has not accepted numerous judgments of the European Court of Human Rights; is in violation of EU laws on free movement of people and goods; and has engaged in the systematic destruction of Europe’s rich Christian cultural heritage in defiance of UNESCO and EU pleas to the contrary.
To some this might not seem too surprising as Turkey has the highest conviction rate in the European Court of Human Rights; is continually censured by human rights groups for imprisoning thousands of human rights activists and hundreds of journalists; and threatens to cut off diplomatic relations with states such as France that have passed laws that condemn the non-recognition of genocide.
But what is perhaps surprising is that Turkey, recently labelled a “neighbourhood bully” by the government of Cyprus, should now be sending gunboats to the eastern Mediterranean to try to stop Cyprus and Israel from exploring the gas and oil fields around the south coast of Cyprus. Not only have Turkish warships harassed exploration vessels but Turkey has threatened to “take all necessary measures” to prevent Cyprus from exploiting its own natural gas reserves.
All governments except Turkey fully accept that the Republic of Cyprus is well within its legal rights to explore potential gas and oil fields within its Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ), as defined in the UN Law on the Sea Convention. The British government has made clear its position: “Like all states who have signed the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea, the UK recognises the rights of the Republic of Cyprus to exploit the natural resources available to them in their Exclusive Economic Zone.”
Turkey however refuses to recognise the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea, presumably because it would result in having to abide by international legal norms and recognise the rights of the Republic of Cyprus.
So it is ironic that Turkey should now complain that it would not be legitimate for the Republic of Cyprus together with Israel to jointly explore these gas and oil fields, which if properly developed have the potential to transform Cyprus into an energy hub and satisfy much of the EU’s needs for the near future.
As a future exporter of natural gas, the Republic of Cyprus’ gas reserves could serve the energy security strategy of the UK which has been a net importer of natural gas since 2004. And of course the UK, a guarantor power in Cyprus which has two military bases near the hydrocarbon fields, could play an important role in the transfer of gas and oil from Cyprus to Europe. All of which makes Britain’s close relationship with Turkey all the more inexplicable and completely contrary to British interests.