After emerging from the rubbles of the Ottoman Empire, the Republic of Turkey was faced with a host of issues including debts, capitulations, minority rights, and disputes over Antioch and the Bosphorus straits. The nascent republic succeeded in resolving most of the issues within a short span of time. However, one issue still remains unresolved i.e. Cyprus.
The island was rented to England in 1878 and since then Cyprus has been a loose end of international politics. Now there are new actors and new parameters working to resolve this long-standing matter. In 2004 they came very close to a solution, but their hopes were dashed, as the Greeks said “no” in the referendum.
Many blame the European Union (EU) for that outcome. Had the EU postponed the island’s EU membership process until the resolution of the issue, the situation would probably have been quite different. While the Greeks were rewarded with the EU membership, the Turkish population was ostensibly punished for saying “yes.”
The EU Council of Ministers demanded a comprehensive project from the European Commission in order to improve the economic situation of the north in April 2004. The Commission chalked out a plan, which made direct trading with the north possible and covered an economic aid package. However, when the Greeks rejected the plan, the EU Council of Ministers excluded the direct trading section of the plan on Feb.27, 2006 and only accepted the economic aid package so the trade embargo on the Turkish side was forcibly sustained.
The situation now, however, is much more different than it was a decade or so ago. The economic crisis in the Southern Greek part of the island, as well as in Greece proper and other countries of the EU seems to have changed previous plans. The statement of Olli Rehn, European Commissioner for Economic and Monetary Affairs and the Euro, clearly indicates that; Rehn noted that that the unification of Cyprus would strengthen the economic situation of the island. This actually means, “The EU does not want to claim responsibility for saving the Greeks from the crisis.”
Turkey is the biggest market in the region. However, the Greek Cypriots cannot benefit from it as they previously avoided any agreement and they cannot even anchor their ships at Turkish ports. Furthermore, Turkish entrepreneurs are dynamic and powerful; if they invest in the Greek region, they can lessen the negative effects of the crisis. If the island can unite, the EU will be able to save the Greeks with a cost of less than 10 billion Euros.
Natural gas and water are two vital factors that will change many things in the island’s peace process. There are natural gas reserves in the 12th Parcel known as “Aphrodite” situated on the south of the island. If this gas is extracted and successfully marketed, the Greeks can overcome their crisis very easily; however, the transportation of gas is a major problem. The gas can be transferred to Crete by pipelines and then to Europe through Greece, but this project is very costly and financially impossible for the Greeks to achieve. The most reasonable and probable route is to transport the natural gas to Turkey via the East Mediterranean pipeline and then to Europe. There is another natural gas reserve, which makes the pipeline going toward Turkey more preferable: The “Leviathan” Parcel inside Israel’s exclusive economic zone.
Under these circumstances, the most affordable option is a pipeline passing through Cyprus toward Turkey. We also need to recall that this Turkish pipeline has suddenly become highly important for the EU after the recent crisis in Ukraine and the resulting — and increasing — tensions in Russian-EU ties. It is estimated that this pipeline will decrease costs by 25 percent. And there is only one condition needed to realize this project; peace in Cyprus.
Turkey is working on a project to transport water to the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus (TRNC) via a network of 80-km underwater pipelines. At the completion of the project, the TRNC will be supplied with water for the next 50 years and an area of 4,824 hectares in the Meseria Plains will be open for irrigated farming. Yet there is a serious water shortage in the Greek area. If a solution can be devised for Cyprus, then the Greek population will themselves automatically benefit from this water project.
A solution will bring economic advantages for the EU and the Greek region. So should Turkey support the plan simply in the hope of economic benefits?
Turkey’s Cyprus policy has always been focused on ensuring the security of the Turkish population in Northern Cyprus, opposing Northern Cyprus being under Greek control and supporting the TRNC administration and these conditions are still valid for both Turkish and the TRNC governments. A federative structure is possible as long as Northern Cyprus is protected, with Turkey acting as its guarantor with the TRNC enjoying an independent Parliament, judicial and defense systems. Both sides must take the federation presidency in turns and by majority, as clearly stated by the Northern Cyprus Parliament. If these conditions were met, there would be no reason for these two brothers not to enjoy cordial relations and live together in peace. This would bring more tranquility and goodness to the island.
It is not possible to accept any solution that would place the Turkish side at a disadvantage or risk its safety. A solution that ensures these guarantees and abides by these conditions is of course possible. Unity in Cyprus would pave the way for great progress and mutual advantages; but beyond this, brotherhood is what we must essentially keep alive. The Turkish and Greek people have lived peacefully despite all these problems for years. Unity is very important to build and sustain this relationship on solid grounds.
Adnan Oktar's piece on Arab News: