A prominent Turkish opposition leader has caused alarm by calling for a repeat invasion of Cyprus, using the code phrase Ankara’s army used to launch an assault on the island 44 years ago.
Amid rising tensions over a push to exploit potential oil and gas reserves in the eastern Mediterranean, Meral Akşener, who heads the İyi (Good) party, upped the ante, predicting the issue would be cause for war.
“You should know that if need be ‘Aishe will go on holiday again’,” warned the nationalist politician, who ran for president against Recep Tayyip Erdoğan earlier this year and was nicknamed the “she wolf”.
“Cyprus is Turkish and will remain Turkish,” she said to rapturous applause in an address before Ankara’s parliament.
Exploration for hydrocarbons by international companies commissioned by divided Cyprus’s Greek-run south amounted to “imperialist activity” aimed at Turkey, the opposition leader insisted.
The threat came as the Turkish government also ratcheted up the rhetoric, warning that drilling for deposits in contested gas fields off the Mediterranean island would affect regional stability.
The US energy giant, ExxonMobil, began exploratory drilling for potential spoils in an area south of Cyprus this week. “We have warned the Greek Cypriot administration to stop the unilateral exploration for hydrocarbons in the eastern Mediterranean,” said Turkey’s foreign ministry spokesman Hami Aksoy on Sunday. “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.”
Ankara has vowed it will also start drilling in waters off the island, describing exploration by ExxonMobil as a threat to “specific and delicate balances in relation to resolving the Cyprus issue”.
The island has been split since 1974, the year Turkey seized its northern third in an invasion regarded as one of its most successful military operations following an Athens-orchestrated coup aimed at uniting the east Mediterranean outpost with Greece. Ever since, Ankara has stationed an estimated 40,000 troops in the rump state, recognised by no one in the world but Turkey and known as the “Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus”.
With hopes of offshore reserves also growing, failure to reunite the island has triggered competing claims over ownership of deposits amid argument over the extent of exclusive economic zones in seas around the island.
Under president Nicos Anastasiades, the internationally recognised south has licensed several companies to explore for potential deposits with Greek Cypriot officials holding out for the prospect of major finds.
This week Washington also waded in, with the US Department of State calling on Turkey to refrain from indulging in rhetoric or action that would stoke further tension in the region.
Washington has long insisted that while Cyprus has the right to drill for resources in its exclusive economic zone, any natural wealth “should be equitably shared in the context of an overall settlement.”
Earlier this year, Turkey dispatched warships to prevent an Italian drillship, also commissioned by the Anastasiades government, from exploring for reserves off Cyprus in a move that underlined rising tensions over the underwater reserves.