Honorable Members of the Press,

Valued Students,

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Energy security has been a hot topic within the European Union in the last few years. The escalating tension between the European Union and Russia and past examples of how geopolitical power games resulted in supply shortages in the EU in the last decade are one of the main reasons why the European Commission recently listed “security of supply” as one of the three main objectives of the EU energy policy.

Recent discoveries of hydrocarbon resources in the Eastern Mediterranean, in the shores of Israel and Cyprus, as well as the untapped potential off the coast of Lebanon could play a crucial role in the diversification of energy supply to the European Union. We as the Turkish Cypriots have been aware of this potential, as well as the role these hydrocarbon resources can play in bringing peace and prosperity to our troubled region through new interdependencies. Our policy vis-à-vis the energy potential of the Eastern Mediterranean has been reflective of this vision: Through letters to the United Nation as early as the year 2007 and many official statements and interviews afterwards, we have repeatedly called for an end to traditional power games and unilateral action and urged all parties to act in an inclusive manner.

With a view to ensuring that the hydrocarbon issue does not adversely affect the all-important comprehensive settlement negotiations, the then Greek Cypriot leader Christofias and the then Turkish Cypriot leader Talat agreed that the management of the natural resources in and around the island would be under the jurisdiction of the federal government after a solution.

However, few years after, the Greek Cypriot administration opted for unilateralism and took steps that jeopardized the inherent rights and interests of the Turkish Cypriots, who as the co-habitants of the island have an equal say over these natural resources. On 20 September 2011, Noble Energy commenced drilling activities in “Block 12” under the license obtained from the Greek Cypriot administration. In response, on 22 September 2011, the Turkish Cypriot Council of Ministers adopted a decision identifying off-shore concession blocks as well as licensing Turkish Petroleum Corporation (TPAO) to carry out exploration for oil and natural gas on behalf of the Turkish Cypriot side. Turkey issued a NAVTEX on behalf of the Turkish Cypriots who do not have access to such instruments due to international isolation and TPAO conducted its first seismic survey with seismic exploration vessel “Piri Reis” in “Parcel G” licensed by the Turkish Cypriot Council of Ministers. The Greek Cypriot leader, Mr. Christofias, did not use the Turkish NAVTEX – issued on behalf of the Turkish Cypriot side – as an excuse to suspend the talks. On the contrary, he attended tripartite meetings with the UN Secretary-General and the Turkish Cypriot leader for the settlement of the Cyprus problem.

In order to ease the mounting tension in the Eastern Mediterranean and find a fair and equitable solution to the emerging problem, the Turkish Cypriot side made a proposal to the Greek Cypriot administration on 24 September 2011 and a revised one on 29 September 2012, which envisage the establishment of a bi-communal committee that would tackle all aspects of the exploration and extraction of the hydrocarbon resources on and around the island. However these proposals were rejected by the Greek Cypriot side.

With the election of the current Greek Cypriot leader, Mr. Anastasiades, the hydrocarbons issue became an instrument of regional tension and an excuse for the Greek Cypriot side to withdraw from the talks. On 23 September 2014, the Greek Cypriot side announced that Italian/South Korean consortium ENI-KOGAS would start drilling for hydrocarbons in “Block 9”. The Turkish Cypriot side asked the Greek Cypriot leadership to delay the drilling, since the move coincided with the UN’s efforts to expedite the comprehensive settlement talks by appointing a new Special Advisor.

On 3 October 2014, in an official statement, the Turkish Cypriot Foreign Minister announced that “the commencement of drilling activities in Parcel 9 and the signing of a Framework Agreement on the joint exploitation and mutual use of hydrocarbon reserves within its maritime borders with Egypt, particularly at a time when the United Nations Secretary-General has appointed a new Special Advisor on Cyprus, are indicative of the lack of will of the Greek Cypriot side towards reaching a settlement.” The statement further noted that the Turkish Cypriot side “would not remain idle while the Greek Cypriot side will continues its policies of exacerbating tension in the Eastern Mediterranean.”

As a follow up, Turkish Cypriot side authorized TPAO to conduct seismic surveys in new concession blocks identified by the Turkish Cypriot Council of Ministers. Turkey then issued a NAVTEX on 4 October 2014 on behalf of Turkish Cypriots. On 5 October 2014, citing the issuing of the NAVTEX and the seismic ship that did not even leave its port at that time and without any consultation with the UN or any of the relevant parties, the Greek Cypriot side abruptly announced that they withdrew from the comprehensive settlement talks. Mr. Anastasiades declared that the Greek Cypriot side would not return to the UN-led talks, as long as the sovereignty of the Republic of Cyprus is not respected – a precondition that is impossible for the Turkish Cypriot side to comply with, for reasons that are the basis of the Cyprus problem itself.

Before the expiration of the NAVTEX issued for the activities of BHP on 30 December 2014, The United Nations Secretary General’s Special Adviser for Cyprus, Mr. Espen Barth Eide asked the Turkish Cypriot side to delay the issuing of the new NAVTEX that would be needed for the activities of BHP, with a view to creating a window of opportunity to convince the Greek Cypriot side to return to the negotiation table. The Turkish Cypriot side complied with Eide’s request and following the expiry of the NAVTEX, BHP left the area of its operation.

As a follow up, the Greek Cypriot side not only issued three new NAVTEX announcements and enlarged the area reserved for the drilling activities of ENI/KOGAS, but also moved the start of the new drilling by the said company from 6 January to 2 January, which was announced by the Greek Cypriot Energy Minister on the same day.

Despite the fact that BHP was anchored in a harbor in North Cyprus, with a press statement that was repetition of his known positions on the matter, Greek Cypriot leader announced on 5 January 2015 that he will not return to the negotiation table, effectively blocking any reconciliation attempts by the United Nations.

On 6 January 2015, in response to the Greek Cypriot leader’s announcement and expanded unilateral actions of the Greek Cypriot side in the Eastern Mediterranean, Turkey issued a new NAVTEX on behalf of the Turkish Cypriot side for the activities of BHP in areas designated by the Turkish Cypriot Council of Ministers.

These events proved again that the Greek Cypriot side is not interested in pursuing the vision of cooperation that I mentioned at the beginning of my speech, but is rather a stark example of their preference to use the hydrocarbon issue as a leverage for maximalist gains at the negotiations, similar to their accession to the European Union a decade ago, where now they use their membership to impose their positions even in areas of potential cooperation, such as the registration of Hellim/Halloumi, our common traditional cheese product, as a Product of Designated Origin. The issue at hand is not merely a disagreement on the natural resources, but instead is the difficulty of the Greek Cypriot administration with the idea of power sharing through a settlement within the established UN parameters.

While retaining our forward looking outlook, sometimes it is necessary to look at the past for lessons. We must not forget that the greatest strides in the road to a solution were taken in the years after the decisions of the international community to lift the restrictions on the Turkish Cypriots, in the aftermath of the overwhelming “no” vote by the Greek Cypriots to the Annan Plan. In this regard,

  • the report of the then Secretary General dated 28 may 2004,
  • reports of the UK House of Commons Foreign Affairs Committee,
  • the statements of the Council of Europe,
  • the decisions of European Council of Ministers and the European Commission, as well as the
  • inclusion of the Turkish Cypriot side into the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe and the Organization of Islamic Conference as observer state,

all played an important role in convincing the Greek Cypriot leadership that a compromise settlement is in the interest of everybody involved.

It has been more than 10 years since these statements were made and a lot remains to be done by the international community to fulfil these promises. Considering current stalemate at the settlement negotiations, it is no surprise that the UN-Secretary General Ban Ki-moon made the following assessment in his latest report on Cyprus, dated 9 January 2015. I am reading in quotes:

“the removal of restrictions and barriers that impede the economic development of the Turkish Cypriot community will promote trust. Such a development will help to address the isolation concerns of the Turkish Cypriots, as well as their inability to participate meaningfully in an interconnected world, thereby preparing Cyprus for a comprehensive settlement.

Following the issuing of the said report as well as the subsequent statements from the US Ambassador and the UK High Commissioner in Cyprus regarding the isolation of the Turkish Cypriots, the Greek Cypriot leader stated that “he will not succumb, under any circumstance, to threats or blackmail, in order to be drawn into negotiations.”

This response clearly shows the critical value the Greek Cypriot administration attaches to the continuation of the isolation imposed on the Turkish Cypriots and thus it should come as no surprise to anyone that rather than focusing on bridging the gaps between the two sides in the chapters of the talks to reach a comprehensive solution, the Greek Cypriot leadership is vehemently spending all its resources and energy to maintain the restrictions on the Turkish Cypriot people.

We therefore believe it is high time for the international community to take concrete steps aimed at ending the isolation of the Turkish Cypriots in all aspects of life, from participating in international sports competitions and children’s folklore festivals to joining the Erasmus exchange program and trading their local produce with the rest of the world. As stated by the Secretary-General himself, such steps would prepare Cyprus for a comprehensive settlement; and we believe that they would give the Greek Cypriot leadership the incentive it apparently needs to explain to his people the need for cooperation and compromise in the settlement negotiations.

With the settlement of the Cyprus problem, united Cyprus will be the keystone in a new arc of cooperation and unleash the full potential of our region, including in the field of hydrocarbons. Resolution of the Cyprus issue will enable NATO and the European Union to cooperate on all matters of common concern. Accession negotiations of Turkey with the EU will be revitalized giving a boost to the reform process in that country and enabling all to harmonize not only laws and regulations but also policies vis a vis the region. United Cyprus will make Turkish an official language of the European Union which in itself will have a huge psychological impact in how people identify themselves right now.

As for the hydrocarbons issue, we can clearly see that dealing with a united Cyprus would expand the alternatives available for the extraction and transportation of these resources. Combined natural gas reserves of Cyprus and Israel, as well as potential natural gas from Egypt and Lebanon could be linked to the European Union through a pipeline connected to Turkey from Cyprus, which would be an important boost to the energy security and diversification endeavours of the European Union.

Jean Monnet once said, “People only accept change when they are faced with necessity, and only recognize necessity when a crisis is upon them.” I want to stress this once more: In face of the crises happening in our region, we need to embrace change and compromise. We are ready to seriously engage in talks and exchange views on how we can move forward and work together. The resumption of the talks would surely pave the way for further cooperation in other fields, such as jointly benefitting from the hellim/halloumi pdo application or the hydrocarbons around the island, as well as the ongoing undersea pipeline project, which aims to transport drinking and irrigation water and electricity from Turkey to North Cyprus. Joint endeavours in these areas in turn could create even further regional interdependencies, as was the case in the foundation of the European Union in the form of the coal and steel community.

The possibilities are endless once we can focus on what we can achieve together – and the only way to get started is dialogue.