Yasin Aktay, a senior adviser to Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and his AKP party, fumed at Saudi Arabia on Thursday for allegedly “favoring the Europeans and non-Muslims” over Turkey and Islamic countries because the Saudis do not appear to support Turkish claims on Cyprus.
Aktay’s ire was drawn by Saudi Foreign Minister Ibrahim al-Assaf’s visit to Cyprus on Wednesday for a meeting with its president, Nicos Anastasiades. Al-Assaf said Saudi Arabia wishes to develop better relations with Cyprus “on all fronts.” The Cypriot government declared the first state visit by a top Saudi official as “historic.”
Al-Assaf held a press conference with Cypriot Foreign Minister Nikos Christodoulides in which he declared Saudi support for “the legitimacy and sovereignty of Cyprus” and said Saudi Arabia “stands with our ally, the Cypriot president, against Turkey’s illegal activities in the Mediterranean.”
This was a reference to Turkey’s efforts to grab undersea oil and gas deposits around Cyprus. The European Union has sanctioned Turkey for illegally drilling in a gigantic oil field discovered by American explorers a few years ago. In 2018, Turkey sent warships to drive off Italian ships contracted by the Cypriots to explore the oil field.
The good news is that Turkey agrees with Saudi Arabia that Cyprus should be recognized as a sovereign nation. The bad news is that they disagree over which part of the island should enjoy that status. The island has been bitterly divided since the 1970s.
The Turks occupy the northern part of Cypress and refer to that area as the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus, a (not very) independent entity with an exclusive economic zone that just happens to cover most of those valuable offshore oil and gas resources. Turkey is the only country that formally recognizes this northern republic as a sovereign entity.
The European Union regards the entire island as an independent sovereign Republic of Cyprus administered by Greece. The European Union granted the Republic of Cyprus membership 15 years ago. Turkey’s quest to obtain full EU membership has been less successful, in part because of the confrontation over Cyprus.
The Turkish government has said it will continue drilling in the Cyprus undersea fields “with determination and without change” until the Greek Cypriot government agrees to a cooperation plan proposed by the Turkish Cypriots.
Turkish President Erdogan’s adviser Yasin Aktay erupted during an interview with Turkish state media on Thursday when the topic of the Saudi visit to Cyprus came up.
“What does the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia benefit from this visit and establishing this relationship with Southern Cyprus, the Roum, which Turkey does not recognize?” he exclaimed, using a somewhat derogatory term for Greek Cypriots.
“Saudi Arabia should not have recognized this country but as a Muslim country and as part of the Organization of Islamic Countries, we were waiting and wishing for them to recognize the state of Turkish Cyprus, which is a Muslim country. They take the Europeans, the Roum and the non-Muslims as friends of theirs but are moving away from Muslims. This is surprising,” Aktay continued.
“This visit to the Roum and this challenge to Turkey from this policy is not worthy of the Kingdom to do so. They should take a more rational stance and should realize that Turkey is not an enemy to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. Turkey wants to advise her as a true brother and friend to establish justice,” he said.
Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu announced on Thursday that the once-popular Cyprus resort town of Varosha will be reopened soon after 45 years of being fenced off and occupied by Turkish troops. Cavusoglu said Turkey plans to open a consulate in the area.
The 40,000 Greek Cypriots who formerly lived and worked in Varosha were driven out by invading Turkish forces in 1974 and the resort has been a “ghost town” ever since. The United Nations Security Council passed a resolution in 1984 that stipulated only the original inhabitants of Varosha can resettle there.
Cavusoglu added that no one can prevent Turkey from drilling in the Cypriot oil fields and said Turkey is prepared to “defend” all of its claims on the island and surrounding area.
The Greek Cypriot government condemned Cavusoglu’s comments “in the most categorical way” and said it would use “all political and diplomatic means to address these statements.” Cypriot President Anastasiades said he regarded Turkey’s plans for Varosha as a deliberate provocation and is considering asking the U.N. Security Council to intervene.