The state-run Turkish Petroleum Corporation (TPAO) began onshore oil and gas drilling in northern Cyprus last week, but some Greek Cypriot officials warn the move may cause one-upmanship and endanger the rapprochement between the Turkish Cypriots and Cyprus.
Turkish Energy Minister Taner Yildiz and Northern Cyprus leader Dervis Eroglu inaugurated the beginning of drilling operations in the village of Singrasi near Famagusta.
While Yildiz explained Turkey is committed to continue oil exploration to obtain a detailed underground map of northern Cyprus, Eroglu said the move represents a historic moment of great strategic significance for Turkish Cypriots.
"We will not allow anyone to take away the rights of Turkish Cypriots in the eastern Mediterranean," Eroglu said.
Drilling operations will reach a depth of 3,000m at the Turkyurdu-1 well and will be finalised in four months.
Turkish Cypriot officials said the move comes in response to the Cypriots' decision to begin oil and natural gas drilling off Cyprus' southeast.
The dispute over who is entitled to Cyprus' fuel resources has escalated ever since. If the overall Cyprus issue is not resolved by July -- when the Greek side will assume the EU presidency -- the drilling may undermine reconciliation.
Cypriots said they view the Turkish side's move as a sign to discourage a solution to reunifying the divided island.
But Turkish Cypriot officials point out that on September 24th, Eroglu proposed a plan to the Greek side via the UN secretary-general to resolve the hydrocarbon crisis before it gets out of hand.
"According to that plan, all activities related to hydrocarbon reserves would be mutually and simultaneously suspended until an agreement, and a tripartite ad-hoc committee would be formed with the participation of two sides, as well as the UN, to jointly manage those reserves and to allocate the resulting revenues in order to finance an eventual comprehensive settlement," Ergun Olgun, former undersecretary of the Northern Cyprus presidency, told SES Türkiye.
The Cypriots' rejection of the plan, Turkish Cypriot officials said, forced them to initiate their own inland and offshore projects.
Reunifying the island will allow all Cypriots to participate in the economic development and to share the benefits that the exploitation of its natural wealth will bring, according to former Cypriot Energy Minister Praxoula Antoniadou Kyriacou.
"At the same time, it will allow the normalisation of relations with Turkey, so that Cyprus and Turkey can become partners in peace to the benefit of both countries," Kyriacou told SES Türkiye.
She argued all of Cyprus should benefit from the fact that Europe seeks new sources of natural gas and the Eastern Mediterranean is evolving as a source.
"The discovery of natural gas in Cyprus is a make-or-break opportunity. We need responsible and visionary leaders who will utilise this development as an opportunity for peace-making rather than breaking," Kyriacou added.
Olgun agreed that the major hydrocarbon discoveries in the eastern Mediterranean necessitate co-operation among key stakeholders to avoid the resource becoming a "curse", particularly between the two equal island communities and neighbouring states.
"The Turkish side is pursuing a win-win strategy both in the resolution of the Cyprus issue and the sharing of offshore hydrocarbon resources," Olgun added.
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