Skip to main content

Greek Cyprus calls for arrest of Turkish drilling crew

Ankara has vowed to continue gas exploration activities in disputed waters near Cyprus after Greek Cypriot authorities issued arrest warrants for workers on Turkey's gas-exploration ship.
Turkish and Turkish Cypriot flags wave next to a drilling tower 25 km (16 miles) from Famagusta April 26, 2012. Turkish Cypriot Leader Dervis Eroglu and Turkey's Energy Minister Taner Yildiz attended a ceremony marking the start of joint gas and oil exploration works in northern Cyprus between Turkey's state-owned energy company TPAO and the Turkish-Cypriot administration. REUTERS/Umit Bektas (CYPRUS - Tags: POLITICS ENERGY BUSINESS) - GM1E84Q1HIQ01

Tensions are escalating between Greek Cypriots and Ankara after international arrest warrants were issued for crewmembers aboard a Turkish drilling ship in disputed waters off the coast of Cyprus.

On Monday, authorities in Greek Cyprus sought the arrest of 25 individuals, including workers on Turkey’s Fatih drilling ship, which has been conducting gas exploration activities in territorial waters claimed by Cyprus, as well as several officials from companies working with the Turkish Petroleum Corporation. The rebuke to Turkey’s ongoing gas development projects in the eastern Mediterranean Sea, or EastMed, was condemned by officials in Ankara, who have vowed to move forward with energy exploration activities near Cyprus.

"We will continue our efforts to achieve regional peace by distributing the riches of Cyprus Island and the Mediterranean in a fair manner," said Turkish Energy and Natural Resources Minister Fatih Donmez on Tuesday, stating the territorial energy rights of Turkish Cypriots in Northern Cyprus were being violated. "Our extensive and long-term exploration and drilling activities in the region will resume as planned without making concessions to our legitimate rights on license areas."

The spat comes as officials in the United States and Israel have increased cooperation with Greek Cypriots to develop energy resources in the EastMed, which is believed to hold enough gas to meet regional needs and potentially serve as an alternative energy source for European markets, which largely rely on Russian gas imports. Despite repeated appeals for Turkey to stop its “provocative” gas exploration activities near Cyprus, officials in Ankara are pressing ahead, risking a wider confrontation with not just Greek Cypriots but also regional stakeholders, which include the United States.

According to Harry Tzimitras, the director of the Peace Research Institute Oslo's Cyprus center, officials in Ankara have expressed determination in developing energy resources in the Eastern Mediterranean and will likely increase their activities by dispatching the Yavuz drilling ship to Cyprus' territorial waters in the near future.

“It has less to do with the possibility of actually being successful at finding natural resources and drilling; it’s the projection of a power posture in the whole region, wishing to give a message to the broader Western security architecture, NATO, the US and relations with the European Union that Turkey is an indispensable partner in the region and you cannot really plan without it,” Tzimitras told Al-Monitor. “Otherwise, you’ll have consequences.”

The tensions stem from the 1974 occupation of northern Cyprus by Turkish troops deployed to quell ethnic tensions between Greek and Turkish Cypriots and have remained stationed on the divided island ever since. Turkey is alone in recognizing the sovereignty of the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus, which it claims deserves a share of the profits from energy resources in Cyprus’ territorial waters. Greek Cypriot authorities have refused to negotiate energy dividends until an elusive settlement is reached by Greek and Turkish Cypriots, both of whom claim rights to the island and its resources.

According to Erol Kaymak, a professor of political science and international relations at Eastern Mediterranean University in Northern Cyprus, the long-running territorial dispute has been exacerbated by the lack of negotiation avenues between Greek Cypriots and Turkish officials.

“The Cyprus problem is essential here because Turkey only negotiates with Greek Cypriots via the Turkish Cypriots because of what we call the ‘double minority problem’,” Kaymak told Al-Monitor. “Turkey doesn’t recognize Greek Cypriots and the Greek Cypriots don’t recognize Turkish Cypriots so unless that issue is resolved, there is no means of building a pipeline, for instance, from Cyprus to Turkey, which is the win-win scenario that everyone keeps talking about.”

Due to the stalemate, plans to export EastMed gas to Europe have instead centered on a costly pipeline running from Israel to Cyprus and then Greece, circumventing Turkey and denying both Ankara and Turkish Cypriots of lucrative energy transit revenue.

Peace negotiations have been further complicated by increased US involvement in what is being called the EastMed energy hub. In April, US Senators Bob Menendez and Marco Rubio introduced the Eastern Mediterranean Security and Partnership Act, which has since received wider backing in Washington, DC, and was reintroduced by a coalition of US lawmakers. The act would “deepen energy security cooperation among Greece, Cyprus and Israel and … encourage the private sector to make investments in energy infrastructure in the Eastern Mediterranean region” as well as lift an arms embargo on Cyprus put in place in 1987 to prevent an arms race on the island.

While such legislation could be viewed as incendiary by officials in Ankara, George Perdikis, a member of the House of Representatives with the Cyprus Green Party said the moves are part of a broader effort to bolster US-Cyprus relations.

“It is completely symbolic action. It has no meaning because I believe there’s no weapons competition between Cyprus and Turkey,” Perdikis told Al-Monitor. “If we are talking about weapons, the problem is between Turkey and the USA, not between Turkey and Cyprus and the USA.”

Still, ongoing tensions between Turkey and Cyprus over gas drilling, viewed with disagreements between Turkey and its NATO allies over the purchase of Russian S-400 missiles and diverging interests in Syria, could easily create a domino effect scenario in which one misstep could impact an array of political dynamics in the Eastern Mediterranean.

“Turkey and the US are on course for some sort of divorce, amicable or otherwise,” Kaymak told Al-Monitor. “Instead of Cyprus being demilitarized through a settlement or something of that nature, the sovereign base areas, the bases retained by the Brits, will be strategically upgraded in a number of ways.”

“It’s conceivable that the US and Israel, who for years have been close to Turkey, are now conceiving that the Greek Cypriots are of utility,” Kaymak added.

Join hundreds of Middle East professionals with Al-Monitor PRO.

Business and policy professionals use PRO to monitor the regional economy and improve their reports, memos and presentations. Try it for free and cancel anytime.


The Middle East's Best Newsletters

Join over 50,000 readers who access our journalists dedicated newsletters, covering the top political, security, business and tech issues across the region each week.
Delivered straight to your inbox.


What's included:
Our Expertise

Free newsletters available:

  • The Takeaway & Week in Review
  • Middle East Minute (AM)
  • Daily Briefing (PM)
  • Business & Tech Briefing
  • Security Briefing
  • Gulf Briefing
  • Israel Briefing
  • Palestine Briefing
  • Turkey Briefing
  • Iraq Briefing

Premium Membership

Join the Middle East's most notable experts for premium memos, trend reports, live video Q&A, and intimate in-person events, each detailing exclusive insights on business and geopolitical trends shaping the region.

$25.00 / month
billed annually

Become Member Start with 1-week free trial

We also offer team plans. Please send an email to and we'll onboard your team.

What's included:
Our Expertise AI-driven

Memos - premium analytical writing: actionable insights on markets and geopolitics.

Live Video Q&A - Hear from our top journalists and regional experts.

Special Events - Intimate in-person events with business & political VIPs.

Trend Reports - Deep dive analysis on market updates.

All premium Industry Newsletters - Monitor the Middle East's most important industries. Prioritize your target industries for weekly review:

  • Capital Markets & Private Equity
  • Venture Capital & Startups
  • Green Energy
  • Supply Chain
  • Sustainable Development
  • Leading Edge Technology
  • Oil & Gas
  • Real Estate & Construction
  • Banking

Already a Member? Sign in

Start your PRO membership today.

Join the Middle East's top business and policy professionals to access exclusive PRO insights today.

Join Al-Monitor PRO Start with 1-week free trial