Pope Francis will travel to Turkey Nov. 28-30, the Vatican announced Tuesday, as friction grows between Cyprus and Turkey over Turkish incursions in areas of sea licensed to the Republic of Cyprus.
On Monday morning, the Turkish vessel Barbados entered the exclusive economic zone of Nicosia, collecting seismic data as a first step of oil and gas exploration in the area.
The Republic of Cyprus has been divided since 1974 when Turkey invaded the island following a coup by Greek unionists. Since then, Turkish forces have occupied the north of the island, which they have declared as the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus. Turkey is the only country to recognize the Turkish Republic, however, while the international community considers the region to be a part of Cyprus illegally occupied by Turkish forces.
Turkey meanwhile does not recognize Cyprus as an independent state and opposes its offshore energy search, disputing Cyprus’ rights to a swath of sea to the island’s south and southeast that is rich in natural gas reserves.
Cyprus says it will block Turkey’s efforts to join the European Union in response to the recent events.
In a press conference Tuesday, Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu said that Turkey will not back down from its oil and gas exploration in the region.
In an important shift of its position, the Turkish foreign minister has also announced that it will allow Iraqi Kurdish forces to cross its border with Syria to help fight the IS jihadists that have besieged the Syrian town of Kobani for more than a month.
When Pope Francis, who has been an outspoken critic of IS violence in the Middle East, travels to Turkey at the end of next month, he will undoubtedly continue his campaign especially on behalf of persecuted minorities. He will also likely address the question of religious liberty, especially given Turkey’s tarnished record in that area,
The pope also hopes to meet refugees somewhere near the Turkish border with Iraq, but if he cannot he will meet with refugees in Istanbul.