Warships prowl the Mediterranean Sea. Greece and Turkey are clashing over energy rights—each one claiming authority in the region. Meanwhile, the island of Cyprus is caught (literally!) in the middle.
Greece and Turkey are involved in a decades-long deadlock. Their impasse is over maritime boundaries involving Turkey’s coast, the nearby nation of Cyprus, and Greek islands. At stake are valuable rights to offshore oil and gas deposits.
This summer, a Turkish research ship went exploring near Cyprus and several Greek islands in the eastern Mediterranean. A Turkish warship escorted the vessel. The action angered Greece. The country claims sole rights over the area surrounding those islands.
Both countries sent military ships as a show of force. Under international pressure, Turkey pulled its vessels back.
European Union nations want to sanction (restrict trade with) Turkey for exploring too close to another country. But geography and politics make solving this Mediterranean situation extremely complicated.
First, Greece includes about 3,000 islands. Some are tiny—as little as 11 square miles. Many lie closer to Turkey than to Greece. That makes figuring maritime (sea) boundaries difficult. After all, those boundaries often extend miles beyond the island itself.
Turkey argues that it should be able to use and explore inside some Greek islands’ maritime boundaries. Greece calls that a violation of international law.
Second, there’s the matter of Cyprus. The island lies nearly midway between the two countries. The Cyprus dispute causes ongoing problems between the island’s Greek and Turkish residents. But the clash affects other countries too.
The global community recognizes only the Republic of Cyprus. But the island’s north calls itself the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus. The Turkish military rules the area. That military presence is considered a hostile occupation of territories that belong to the Republic of Cyprus.
Because Turkey explored too near Cyprus, Greece and the Republic of Cyprus want other countries to punish Turkey. But Turkish officials insist Turkey and the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus have rights in the region too.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan says he’s willing to talk. But he insists the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus be included in discussions; Greek officials want only the Republic of Cyprus at the table. So the deadlock continues.
“In Cyprus, the Mediterranean, and the Aegean . . . we are not impinging on anyone’s rights or honor,” Erdogan says. “We are just asking for respect for our rights.”
The European Union’s top foreign affairs official, Josep Borrell, is working to prevent the Mediterranean conflict from getting worse. However, he warns, “More efforts are needed—the softest way of saying that the situation has not been improving.”