By Kamer Kasim
The worst confrontation regarding the Cyprus problem in recent years commenced when the Greek Cypriots stated that they would begin offshore drilling works in the Mediterranean and then took steps to do so. The Greek Cypriot administration acted in line with its view that it represents the whole island and Turkey responded to its action by signing an agreement with the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus (KKTC) on the demarcation of the seabed. Turkey and the KKTC are now going to prospect for petrol and natural gas in the seabed. Of course, the problem here goes well beyond the energy aspect and is really about the conflicting claims of sovereignty by the two sides involved.
Britain first gave signals in World War Two that it would withdraw from the island, and the Cyprus problem assumed its present position in Turkish foreign policy in 1960.It was supposed that the Cyprus problem had been resolved, but the partnership between Turks and Greeks on the island broke downwith the outbreak of the troubles of 1963, and the two sides drew away from each other. The policy of exiling Turkish Cypriots from the island which continued afterwards forced Turkey in 1974 to use its rights as a guarantor power and intervene in the island. After 1974, a different reality came into being in Cyprus. In the north, first the Turkish Federated State of Cyprus was founded, and then in 1983, the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus [KKTC] was proclaimed. Turkey did not present the establishment of the KKTC as a final solution, but continued to negotiate on the basis of a federation based on political equality between the two populations. An important stage in solving the Cyprus problem came in 2004 when the Annan Plan was submitted to simultaneous referendums in the north and south of the island. Although the north voted in favor of a settlement, the Greek south did not and so the Annan Plan was never put into effect. Although Greek Cyprus refused the Annan Plan,it thereupon became a full member of the European Union under the name of the Republic of Cyprus, representing the whole of the island. Steps were promised to relieve the isolation of the north if the Turkish Cypriots voted yes in the referendum, but they were never taken. Furthermore, the EU requested that Turkey open its ports and airports to ships and planes from Greek Cyprus. Turkey signed what’s known as the Harmonization Protocol, but stated that this did not affect its relations with the KKTC and that it would not open its ports and airports to Greek Cypriot traffic until the isolation of the north was ended.
The Cyprus problem is being used as an obstacle in the way of the Turkish accession process by some EU member states. But the problem, as was witnessed in the most recent crisis in the eastern Mediterranean, is one which transcends the EU’s dimensions. The sovereignty of the Turkish Cypriots and their having a say over the island is directly related to Turkey’s interests in the Mediterranean. If the KKTC did not exist or there was no political entity on the island ensuring equality for the Turkish Cypriots, this would open the way for Turkey losing its footing in the eastern Mediterranean. Indeed, even if a federation is established with the equality of the two sides in Cyprus and bizonality as its basis, if Turkey was not an active guarantor of this arrangement and there was no military presence, it would be much harder for it to protect its interests in the eastern Mediterranean. The Greek Cypriot administration has triggered a crisis over drilling the seabed just in advance of the summit due in October, and this could be seen as a conscious attempt to undermine it. In addition to the continental seabed agreement signed by Turkey and the KKTC in the wake of the Greek Cypriot action, the KKTC President Dervis Eroglu has proposed that a committee be established, composed of equal numbers of Turkish and Greek Cypriots, that would issue permits to prospect for oil and natural gas through a unanimous vote. Revenues thus obtained would be held in a fund under the chairmanship of the UN Secretary-General, and the committee would also decide how these would be used.
It is not yet known how the Greek Cypriot administration will respond to this proposal, but the suggestion of equal representation for the Turkish Cypriots is rejected by the Greek Cypriots. If mainland Greece does not respond with a policy aimed at distracting its public opinion from its internal problems, then it is not going to step up the tension. Both Greece and the other EU countries see that the present international environment encourages breakups in structures like Cyprus. There is an obvious contradiction between Kosovo, where the EU countries recognized its independence, and their stance on the KKTC. The international community is now as fed up as anyone else with the inter-communal talks and this time if they do not produce a result, then Turkey should openly call for recognition of the KKTC and invest effort in securing it. Turkey’s international prestige has increased, and if it was to adopt such a policy, there will now be countries which would support Turkey. If a policy is thought to be right, then criticisms of it, even if they come from influential figures, should be no obstacle to adopting it. This is how things are in the Cyprus problem as well the Palestinian problem. If you propound the thesis that the KKTC should continue on its way as an independent state, then you have to implement what needs to be done in this respect from the diplomatic angle, in spite of criticisms. If you defend the idea of an independent Palestinian state, you continue to get Palestinian independence onto the international agenda, no matter what the ideas of the Palestinian Authority may be. Let us not forget that problems whose roots are very old are never completely solved, they simply change their form, and just at the point when one thinks they have been solved, they come up against us in the international arena in a different form. The Cyprus Problem has been on the international agenda since 1878 in some sense. So whatever happens, it is going to remain on the agenda. In a historical perspective, those countries determined to protect their interests in Cyprus and are able to do so enjoy a substantial advantage in the eastern Mediterranean. It is not a coincidence but the product of its determination that, even under the Annan Plan, Britain was not going to abandon its bases in Cyprus.
Kamer Kasim, Head USAK Center for EU Studies