By Pat Davis Szymczak
The U.S. and the EU are upset. Turkey has plans to drill offshore in an area that Cyprus claims as its exclusive economic zone. “This step is highly provocative and risks raising tensions in the region,” a U.S. State Department spokesperson told Reuters. “We urge Turkish authorities to halt these operations and encourage all parties to act with restraint.”
It sounds like a lot of noise to me. Or is it the sound of a lot of “gas” as in the 3.45 tcm and 1.7 bln bbl of oil believed to lie in the Levant Basin.
The Eastern Mediterranean is fast taking the spotlight as an important frontier market. And like all offshore frontier markets, countries surrounding the massive hydrocarbon deposits are clawing and biting each other over subsea territorial boundaries.
It’s happened before. Remember the all the screaming and scheming that embroiled Azerbaijan, Turkmenistan, Russia and Iran in the 1990s and early 2000s over who had rights to which offshore field in the Caspian? There are a gazillion other examples but that one comes to my mind because I wrote about it breathlessly two decades ago. Now before I knew better.
It might take years but eventually all the posturing and threats settle down and everyone gets down to the business of producing energy (and making money!)
The East Med is particularly interesting however because of whom the players are. It is a place where those who have to make deals with each other pretty much won’t gather in the same room. You have Israel, Syria, Lebanon, Egypt, Cyprus, Greece and Turkey (maybe I missed one.) Talk about a powder keg!
On the one hand, you would think that if all of these parties gather together and sing a little “Kumbaya” together, they would quickly get down to business. Peace might actually break out!
But memories of blood spilled centuries ago remain strong in this part of the world. So for those of you who don’t know history — listen to the hysterical laughter coming from those who do. The seismic research vessel that the Turks just sent into the area that Cyprus claims as its exclusive economic zone is the Barbaros Hayrettin Pasa.
What might appear to be a simple seismic exploration vessel is in fact the namesake of Barbaros Hayrettin Pasa. That is “Red Beard” the Pirate as in the 16th Century “scourge of the Christian White Sea”.
Barbaros Hayrettin was governor of Algiers and grand admiral of the Ottoman navy under Sultan Suleiman the Magnificent. England’s Queen Elizabeth I and Russia’s Ivan the Terrible were contemporaries of Suleiman. The sultan in fact had a Russian wife who had been taken in a raid as a slave.
The Cypriots wanted to get rid of their Venetian rulers 500 years ago. Remember Italy wasn’t Italy then, it was a collection of city-states. So they cooperated with the Ottomans and admiral “Red Beard” obliged and kicked the Venetians out. But the Cypriots didn’t like the Turks any more than they had liked the Venetians.
Fast forward to 1974, the last time there was a Turkish invasion and you have what you have today. A Turkish north, a Greek south and “Red Beard” once again prowling Cypriot waters hunting for treasure. On the light side, however. Red Beard’s ghost may well have inspired Hollywood screen writers to create the villainous character Hector Barbossa (Lord pirate of the Caspian) in “Pirates of the Carribbean”. How about that, you fans of Captain Jack Sparrow!