President Tayyip Erdogan is due to visit the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus (TRNC) on 20 July to mark the 47th anniversary of Turkey’s invasion of the Mediterranean island, which is celebrated as “Peace and Freedom Day” on the Turkish side of the divided island. The president has said he plans to make a “big announcement” during the visit. Omer Celik, the spokesman for Erdogan’s Justice and Development Party (AKP), suggested that the fact that the president is planning to travel to Cyprus with all the high-ranking members of the party demonstrates the “special meaning” of the visit.
Just like in the past, Erdogan will use the visit as a platform to promote his government’s nationalist agenda, but there is also a real chance that the embattled Turkish leader will seek to stir tensions in the Eastern Mediterranean. There is a lot of speculation that Erdogan will announce some new exploratory drilling for gas (or that he will say that previous surveys have confirmed the presence of gas off the Cypriot coast) and/or the construction of a permanent Turkish military base in the TRNC.
The latest request to Turkey’s Energy Ministry for new licensing for exploration work by the Turkish Petroleum Corporation (TPAO) in the Eastern Mediterranean, and in particular in the area between southern Turkey and the TRNC, is seen as a substantial new escalation by Ankara and a bid to increase pressure on the Republic of Cyprus. The area in question includes not only parts of the territorial waters of Turkey, but also a significant part of Cyprus’ exclusive economic zone (EEZ) off the coast of the northern, occupied, part of the island.
As Turkish-Cypriot authorities have recently stepped up their preparations to open parts of Varosha, Erdogan’s announcement could also be related to the fate of the one-time luxury resort turned ghost town along a UN buffer zone. Last year, Erdogan sparked anger from Greece, Cyprus, the EU, and the US with a visit to the beachfront area of the politically-charged seaside resort of Varosha, whose status is regulated by two UN Security Council resolutions and by the conclusions of the European Council.
In his 20 July speech, Erdogan will reinstate Ankara’s commitment to a two- state solution to the Cyprus question. Turkey believes that the only way to resolve decades of dispute over Cyprus is to establish two states on the island and not reunify the two communities under a federation. The two-state formula is rejected by the Republic of Cyprus and the EU.