KADRİ GÜRSEL > Natural gas changes the game in Cyprus

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When the Turkish Armed Forces (TSK) landed in Cyprus in 1974, it also captured the tourism and entertainment center Varosha, but this Famagusta (Mağusa) region famous for its long beach and hotels was never opened to the access or settlement of Turks. This was a political and strategic decision by Ankara. The aim was to keep this region that was assumed to be very valuable for Greek Cypriots as a bargaining chip that would be ready for exchange when the time for a final and permanent solution in Cyprus came.

For 38 years, whenever the Turkish side met with a Greek Cypriot proposal to open Varosha, which was not related to a final and permanent solution, the answer was always negative with the same thought of keeping Varosha to use at the very end of comprehensive negotiations.

With just a few days left until his country becomes term president of the European Union, Greek Cypriot leader Demetris Christofias proposed via the media the opening of Varosha in exchange for the opening of the Famagusta Port under United Nations supervision so that the north can engage in foreign trade. In terms of the EU though, he proposed that Turkey open its air and naval ports to the Greek Cypriots and, as a natural outcome of this, more than one accession chapter that was blocked would become unblocked during their term presidency.

There is no doubt that this proposal about Varosha will not be accepted in principle because it is not related to the comprehensive and permanent solution to the issue.

Turkey and the Turkish Cypriot side, except for a short period, have adopted an unsuccessful strategy of maintaining the partition instead of reunification of the island in these past 38 years.

When mentioning “a short period,” I meant the window of opportunity that opened in 2003 with the coincidence of extraordinary local and international circumstances and that was closed the year after when the Greek Cypriots voted an unfortunate “no” to the Annan Plan referendum.

The Turkish Cypriot side, led by Derviş Eroğlu, who is a follower of the Rauf Denktaş line, together with a Turkey ruled by the Justice and Development Party (AKP), has returned to the pre-2003 era. Ankara’s determination in applying a policy of Turkification on the island is an indication of this. The short period when the Turkish side adopted the slogan of “always being one step ahead” has become history. Developments are weakening the Varosha “card” and as it gets weaker, it loses its exchange value in the Cyprus equation.

And as the course of events show, the equivalent on the Greek Cypriot side of the huge exchange value that the Turkish side attributes to Varosha today will lose its meaning even more when a new factor emerges, totally altering the equation of the game in Cyprus in the near future.

This factor is the natural gas reserves found in block 12, neighboring Israel, in the exclusive economic zone the Greek Cyprus Administration has declared in the south of the island. According to the estimates of the American Noble Energy Company that has been conducting the exploratory drilling, there is a massive natural gas reserve of 3 trillion cubic meters in this region. According to reports, drilling will start in the second half of this year. It does not seem to be possible that the natural gas will begin to generate economic benefits before 2018, given that storage and condensing facilities still need to be established in southern Cyprus.

The Greek Cyprus Administration is known to the world as a sovereign state under the name of “Republic of Cyprus” and Turkey’s objections are not recognized.

These natural gas resources, in today’s world where the chances of a Nabucco pipeline have been wiped away, are of indispensable value for meeting the EU’s energy demand.

This natural gas will increase the Greek Cypriot’s welfare and boost their self-esteem. As a result of this, their need for the value of Varosha will drop dramatically.

For this natural gas to reach the European markets, the most economic and shortest route is through Turkey… Also, Turkey is the natural customer for this gas. But for all this to happen, the Cyprus issue must be solved…

For the north of Cyprus to receive its just share from the natural gas richness, a solution and union are a must. To try to maintain the partition, in this context, is irrationalism equivalent to isolationism.

It is also a different matter whether or not the Greek Cypriots would want to share one fifth of this gas with the north of the island, a figure that corresponds to the Turkish population’s ratio.

Kadri Gürsel is a columnist for daily Milliyet in which this piece was published on June 18. It was translated into English by the Daily News staff.


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Notice on comments

Chris Green

6/21/2012 7:04:58 PM

Since 2004, it is of course the case that cross-border movement goes on: Turkish Cypriots do work in south Cyprus but for low wages. Scraps from the rich man's table, so to speak. GC's and tourists come through to the Turkish side too. But were t not for the Greek inspired inhumane sanctions and embargoes - sour grapes for their defeat- perhaps TC's could work in their own country. Upcoming inward investment specifically into Turkish Cyprus will redress all this in the near future!

Mark Mark

6/19/2012 6:14:24 PM

@Chris Green - how can you state that no mutual trust exists? TC's and GC's have been crossing the green line for years,if there was mistrust I doubt that would happen.Thousands of TC's work in the RoC everyday taking back home their hard earned cash, is that 'no mutual trust'? Each day thousands of TC's use the hospitals and other facilites in the RoC, is that 'mistrust'?

Med Bukey

6/19/2012 4:20:01 PM

There's only one solution to the Cyprus issue; establish the Federation of North & South Cyprus. The animosity between Greek & Turkish Cypriots is grossly exaggerated by the media & politicians; most Cypriots in London where there is a big Greek & Turkish Cypriot are the best of friends some since childhood; there's even marriages between the two communities. Politicians in Cyprus in Greece, Turkey and Europe are using Cyprus as a bargaining chip for their own agendas where now the agenda is GAS

Stefanos Kalogirou

6/19/2012 4:19:39 PM

40 years were not enough for Turkey to understand that she is a hostage of Cyprus occupation. 40 years of monotonous isolation mean nothing?! Mankind has not and will not approve military occupation no matter what Turkey calls it. How many brains are needed to understand that approving Cyprus' partition will encourage anyone to invade and simply wait for recognition? (basically an annexation) ...so it's just not going to happen. The abuser ends suffering more than the abused. Very good article!

Chris Green

6/19/2012 2:16:51 PM

No, Mark: I have no property issues on Cyprus at all, indeed I have nothing to gain or lose in the tangible sense personally. I am a long term advocate for a separate state for Turkish Cypriots as was so valiantly fought for by RR Denktas and many others. I do so not only commenting here but through my own weekly columns in Turkish and TC media. I believe in a Twin State solution because thanks to almost 5 decades of Greek vileness, no mutual trust exists and so Taksim is The Realistic Solution!

nicky stern

6/19/2012 2:02:21 PM

A last, an honest, down to earth, intelligent and clear-headed account of the Cyprus realities by a Turkish journalist. Respect Mr Gürsel !

Kris Tafaras

6/19/2012 1:52:18 PM

I will be brief and bold. Turkish and Greek nationalisms developed 50 yrs ago, still dominate the Cyrpus issue and poison the minds of younger generations. The problem with Cyprus is that nobody ever treats it as a homeland above all other imagined fatherlands and motherlands. End of Story. I feel sorry for some of the replies I have read above, pathetic, biased views not worth discussing.

Mark Mark

6/19/2012 1:32:58 PM

Great article with a voice of reason, only to be spoiled by the comments of Chris Green, my fellow Brit who advocates separation at every opportune moment.What do you get to gain out of it Chris? Dont you think us Brits have done enough damage on Cyprus. Would you get to keep your house on Cyprus if this happens? Is that the concern?

Chris Green

6/19/2012 11:48:53 AM

It never ceases to amaze me how Greeks harp on about human rights and lost property, amongst many other things, when it was they who strived to deprive Turkish Cypriots not only of THEIR properties, but their very lives! Let us not forget that Turkish Cypriot children as little as 9 days old and Nonagenarians were slaughtered in the cause of Enosis! The latter dream has NOT gone away! All the time the enemy still demand 100% of the island, no accommodation can be made other than agreeing TAKSIM

Daniel Boom

6/19/2012 9:12:17 AM

It is good to hear some reasonable voices from Turkish Journalists sometimes. In any case Turkey's obstinacy and audacity toward Greek-Cypriots can not bring it any benefit. The sooner it changes it's attitude the better.
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