From 1925 to the declaration of the Republic in 1960, the island of Cyprus has a Crown colony of the United Kingdom, but its geopolitical significance has always been paramount in a region of intense upheaval.
Currently, Cyprus is divided between the government of Turkish Cypriot north controlling the northern third, the Greek Cypriot Republic of Cyprus controlling the southern two thirds, a UN buffer zone, and two British sovereign base areas.
Cyprus has been invaded and controlled by many powers over the millennia as part of strategic control over the eastern Mediterranean, by many powers whether it was Alexander the Great, Greek Ptolemaic Egypt, the Roman Empire, the Byzantine Empire, the Arab Caliphate, the French Lusignans, the Venetians from 1473 to 1571, and then the 300 years of Ottoman rule between 1571 and 1878.
The Ottomans gave Cyprus to the British, who placed Cyprus under the UK’s administration based on the Cyprus Convention in 1878. In 1914, the UK formally annexed Cyprus.
In the late 20th century, Cypriot history has been unsettled with its independence movement, communal violence and conflict, an invasion by Turkey in 1974, and a divided island. With the reunification of Germany in 1990, Cyprus bears the unfortunate title of being the only remaining capital city in the world which is divided.
The declaration of the Republic in 1960
With Cypriot independence, Turkish Cypriots were going to lose the political influence they enjoyed during British control. The argument against 50 – 50 control in the new 1960 Republic was that as the minority population, when compared to the majority Greek Cypriot population.
This has been mirrored with the 2004 Annan Plan, a vote in Cyprus to see if there was a consensus in allowing the Turkish Cypriot north to unite again with the Greek Cypriot south, with equal political representation, despite Greek Cypriots being 77% of the population.
The divisions along ethnic lines in Cyprus possibly foreshadowed ethnic tensions of the civil war in Yugoslavia in the 1990s leading to communal tensions, violence, and destruction from both sides.
The 1974 war
Turkey invaded the island of Cyprus in late July 1974, and for the next month proceeded to annex the northern third of the island, and the northern half of the capital, Nicosia, in two separate invasions.
The island and the capital is still divided to this day.
The pretext of the Turkish invasion was to secure the rights and protection of the Turkish Cypriot minority (which Turkey decided was a clear and present danger), after the declaration of the 1960 Republic, creating the independent Cypriot government over the whole island, ending British control.
It is long believed Turkey invaded and took northern Cyprus, with the express permission of Henry Kissinger, then US Secretary of State, under Pres. Gerald Ford.
In files that were not classified, Kissinger is reported to have said:
“We would have our hands full to keep the Greeks from going to war. The Turks right now are extremely nationalistic. For a few years ago, the Turkish tactics are right – grab what they want and then negotiate on the basis of possession.”
It has been argued that the US position was a deliberate ploy on their part (as well as Britain), to continue to maintain their influence on the island, which was particularly important as a listening post in the Eastern Mediterranean in the wake of the October 1973 War between Israel, Egypt, Jordan and Syria.
*Newly found gas deposits in Cypriot waters: The Geopolitics of the eastern Med/Levant*
Britain has two key military installations on the island, the RAF base at Akrotiri, and the Dhekelia Cantonment for the British Army as part of the British Forces Cyprus.
The areas, which include British military bases and installations, as well as other land, were kept by the British government by the 1960 treaty of independence, signed by the UK, Greece, Turkey, and representatives from the Greek and Turkish Cypriot communities, which granted independence to the Crown colony of Cyprus at the declaration of the republic, away from British control.
Furthermore, Britain has monitoring stations in the Troddos mountain area, for signals intelligence, providing a vital strategic part of the United Kingdom communications gathering and monitoring network in the Mediterranean and the Middle East, thus enabling the UK to maintain geopolitical significance.
In addition, as Cyprus has been an EU member state since 01 May 2004, the European Union equally considers Cyprus as one of the new strategic positions of the region for the EU.
On 10 May 2019, Cypriot President Nicos Anastasiades briefed fellow EU leaders on the issue at a summit in Romania.
At the summit, Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras said he stands firmly behind Cyprus and urged Turkey to refrain from provocations.
“We had the chance together with President Anastasiades to highlight as a core issue of today’s summit the illegal actions of Turkey within Cyprus’ exclusive economic zone,” Tsipras said. “I completely supported the position of the president of Cyprus, who asked for this issue to be confronted as a European issue and I pointed out that the European Union has a special geopolitical and energy interest in the area of eastern Mediterranean.”
The EU foreign service said in early May,
“We urgently call on Turkey to … refrain from any such illegal action to which the European Union will respond appropriately and in full solidarity with Cyprus.”
The US state department said the following day.
“This step is highly provocative and risks raising tensions in the region. We urge Turkish authorities to halt these operations.”
As a confirmed future buyer of gas from the gas fields the Greek Cypriot government are drilling in, the Egyptian government has also waded in. Its government has also issued warnings to Turkey to stop violating the sovereign rights of Cyprus.
Will the British government reassure the Erdogan that it will veto any EU attempt to impose sanctions on Turkey for violating Cypriot/EU waters?
Why does the US continue sending mixed messages, either suggesting Cyprus should share the the natural resources 50 – 50, whilst asserting that Turkey should not interfere.
Now that gas has been found in Cyprus’ southern waters, , the region has an additional factor in the political quagmire that is the problems of the Levant.
*Has Erdogan’s recent political domestic crisis brought this renewal of Cypriot tension to the fore?*
Turkey has always coveted to dominate Cyprus, as it did historically, so Erdogan is not exclusive in this regard with his intentions.
However, the government in Ankara has shifted its cultural message, focusing more intently on Erdogan’s widely written and publicised Ottomanist vision for the region a vision that seeks to secure its domination over her eastern neighbours under an Ottoman historical context.
Perhaps this is why the more secular centric Turkish Cypriots have not warmed towards Erdogan, and dislike mainland Turkish machinations in Cypriot affairs, particularly when Turkish Cypriots voted in the 2004 Annan Plan, in favour of rejoining the Cypriot Republic by 65%.
However, it was rejected by 76% of Greek Cypriots.
In light of the recent political and possible military tensions regarding the gas fields in the Republic of Cyprus’ southern exclusive economic zone, this is only the latest in a series of decisions Turkey has made to extend influence in the region, whether that is in Iraq, or more recently in northern Syria, clashing with US backed Kurdish militia.
‘Cypriot’ gas appears to be another excuse, rather than a genuine reason, for further interference, with the added reward of _ex nihilo nihil fit_ ‘nothing from nothing’.
If Turkey can apply enough threatening pressure, it will force unwilling neighbours to an imaginary table.
However, there are other geopolitical issues to consider:
Erdogan is also building the Russian gas pipeline (mentioned in previous videos) that will undermine EU energy security.
Turkey has also confirmed its purchasing of the Russian S-400 air-defence system despite US warnings that that could compromise its NATO ties.
Turkey would buy the Russian ‘S-400’ system even if the US imposed sanctions in return, Turkish vice president Fuat Oktay told Kanal 7, a Turkish state broadcaster, on Sunday.
“We’ve completed the S-400 deal. It’s a done deal,” Turkish foreign minister Mevlut Cavusoglu also said on Friday while visiting Hungary.
It will be interesting to see how the EU reacts to a member state being threatened militarily by a non EU country, Turkey, forcing energy rights over the Greek Cypriot controlled Republic of Cyprus.
How will the EU continue to react?
What will Greece’s reaction be if Turkey initiates military conflict, (especially as Greece has been a long time ally with Cyprus politically and culturally, sharing religion, language, and history.
Is this merely more political bluster by Turkey seeking to temporarily divert domestic attention away from Erdogan’s political power crises?
Is the possible promise of sharing in the gas enough incentive to push the political and military boundaries if the region and threaten stability?
What are your thoughts regarding the escalation of tension regarding gas exploration and drilling?