The agreements between Cyprus and Egypt, enacted in 2003, signified the beginning of the establishment of Cyprus’ Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) vis-à-vis its neighbors, in accordance with the “middle-line principle.” These initial deals were followed by agreements with Lebanon in 2007 (the approval of which remains pending in the Lebanese parliament) and with Israel in 2010.
At this point, one detects a contradiction, an absurdity if you will. While Cyprus has signed agreements with Egypt, Lebanon and Israel regarding the boundaries of its EEZ, no such agreement has been signed between Cyprus and Greece.
In a recent interview, Cyprus’ former minister of commerce Nikos Rolandis, who was responsible for the first efforts to reach out to Egypt in the 2002-2003 period, revealed that the then-government of Costas Simitis in Greece asked Cyprus to shift the boundaries of its EEZ five nautical miles to the east, in order to “not provoke Turkey.”
As a result, instead of being a co-signatory to the agreement between Cyprus and Egypt, the Greek government, fearing a Turkish response, inexcusably allowed a gap to remain, one which Turkey has taken full advantage of, questioning the boundaries of Cyprus’ EEZ with Greece. This has permitted Turkey to purposely ignore the existence of the Greek island of Kastellorizo (see map above).
What is the lesson for the Greek side, especially after the recent collapse of Greek-Turkish relations following Turkey’s provocations? What were the results of Greece’s “politics of appeasement” in recent years?
The answer is that Turkey is acting as a rogue state, immune to any admonition from either Greece nor Cyprus. Not even appeals for the common economic interests of the two sides have served as sufficient motivation, nor have the dangers this situation poses for tourism leading up to the summer high season. Turkey will always claim more than what actually belongs to it, thanks to its Ottoman past. Erdogan’s rhetoric is revelatory with regard to his intentions: “From the 18 million square kilometers we once possessed, we have been limited to 750,000.”
In Greece, however, the subservient politics of appeasement of the Simitis government continues unabated. Such policies resulted in the classification of the Aegean Sea as a disputed “grey zone” as part of the Madrid Agreement of 1997, which avoided the establishment of a Greek EEZ. The Greek side, instead of taking advantage of the instability in Turkey in 2003, displayed unprecedented negligence. In the years which followed, Turkey’s economy strengthened while Greece descended into a long-term economic crisis which has negatively impacted every aspect of its political, economic, and geopolitical influence.
Similar illusions abound in Cyprus as well. As president Nikos Anastasiades prepares for a meeting with Turkish Cypriot leader Mustafa Akıncı while Turkish naval vessels threaten and blockade Cyprus’ EEZ, the leadership of main opposition party AKEL lays the blame for the freeze in talks between the Greek and Turkish Cypriot sides on the shoulders of Anastasiades.
In Turkey, one also observes the silent consent on the part of the opposition parties with regard to Erdogan’s actions in Syria and the Eastern Mediterranean, as these actions reflect the orientation of Turkish nationalists. In contrast with Turkey’s political unanimity, however, in Greece and Cyprus there exist sharp domestic divisions, including the characteristic example of the “Novartis scandal.”
As a historical parallel, it serves as a reminder that in 1974 Turkey took advantage of the divisions which existed among Greek Cypriots following the failed Greek military junta coup against the Makarios government. What followed was the Turkish invasion of Cyprus and the occupation of 37 percent of the island which continues to this day.