Permanent representative of Cyprus to the UN, Andreas Mavroyiannis, has accused Turkey of engaging in an “expansionist and imperialistic policy” that is creating “very, very explosive and dangerous” problems for neighbouring countries.”
Mavroyiannis condemned expansionist policies and urges Ankara to refrain from activities that violate international law.
Turkey and Greece have been fighting over Cyprus for decades, including the 1974’s coup by the ruling Greek military junta in an attempt to incorporate the island into Greece.
In response, Turkey invaded and, after gaining control of the north, unilaterally declared the establishment of the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus.
It has been about 50 years now that tensions between Greece and Turkey has continued to run high, with the latest developments of a dispute over rights to energy resources in the eastern Mediterranean which have raised concerns that they could escalate into open aggression.
Last year, Ankara signed a maritime accord with the Libyan Government of National Accord and began gas exploration operations in areas of the Mediterranean Greece considers part of its economic zone.
More recently, Turkey sent survey vessels close to areas the Cypriot government have licensed to multinational companies to explore for oil and gas.
“Recently, we have this more hegemonic Turkish policy in the area. ‘It is an’ expansionist and imperialistic policy that creates problems for all neighbors,” Mavroyiannis said in an interview.
“The (Turks) are trying to create a fait accompli and the situation is very, very explosive and dangerous.”
He conceded that his country’s small size and lack of military power means that its options for responding to Ankara’s actions are limited to diplomatic and political channels.
The dispute between Greece and Turkey escalated in August when Ankara sent survey vessels, accompanied by Navy warships, to explore gas reserves in the eastern Mediterranean.
During the standoff that followed, Greek and Turkish warships were involved in a minor collision.
Athens subsequently announced significant weapons purchases, along with plans to expand its armed forces.
However, Turkey’s activities in the region have repercussions not only for Cyprus and Greece, said Mavroyiannis.
One way or another, all neighboring nations — including Egypt, Israel and Syria — are affected, and Ankara’s policies should be of concern to the entire Arab world, he added.
France sides with Greece and has urged Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan to “refrain from any new unilateral action likely to provoke tensions, and to engage without ambiguity in the construction of an area of peace and cooperation in the Mediterranean.”
While France has adopted an aggressive stance, as evidenced by heated exchanges between Erdogan and his French counterpart, Emmanuel Macron, Germany has struck a more conciliatory tone, proposing incentives for Ankara in return for deescalation.
Despite intensive diplomatic efforts, in Cyprus the dispute between Turkish and Greek Cypriots remains as tense as it was four decades ago.
Notably, the most recent round of talks between the two sides collapsed in 2017.
During his speech to the 75th General Assembly of the UN this week, Cypriot President Nicos Anastasiades, who leads his country’s internationally recognized government, reaffirmed his commitment to resuming reunification talks with Turkish Cypriots, “but not at gunpoint.”
“To resume actual, substantive negotiations, we need to have the right atmosphere — we cannot negotiate under duress,” Mavroyiannis said.
Mavroyiannis also expressed regret over what he described as the suffering that has been inflicted on the region by the decision of the US to reduce its presence and withdraw troops, thus making Erdogan emboldened.
According to Mavroyiannis, at the end of the day, for us the most important thing is to have our place under the sun, and to continue having seamless cooperation with all our neighbors to promote peace and security and prosperity in the eastern Mediterranean.