Why there is now hope for Cyprus
The Chambers of Commerce from Turkey, Greece and Turkish and Greek Cyprus announced the creation of the joint commerce forum, namely the “Nicosia Economic Forum,” last Monday in Cyprus. This was their first meeting since 1974.
Rıfat Hisarcıklıoğlu, the chairman of the Union of Chambers and Commodity Exchanges of Turkey (TOBB), said this forum would be a game-changer in the Cyprus equation. Also, his Greek counterpart, Constantine Michalos, underlined that for the first time he was very hopeful for a solution on the island.
So then what has changed since the Annan Plan of 2004?
First of all, the economic crisis on the Greek part of the island has been effective. The director of the Economic Policy Research Foundation of Turkey (TEPAV), Professor Güven Sak, shared the following numbers: 72 percent of people in the EU are complaining about the economy while this number is as high as 98 percent in Greek Cyprus. Hence this forum will create a huge difference by enhancing the trade volume between the parties, which will in turn raise the chances for a solution.
Another factor is the gas and oil reserves which have been recently discovered in the waters off Cyprus and Israel. The only viable option to export that gas is transporting it to Europe via an underwater gas pipeline through Turkey which requires a compromise between Turkey, Cyprus and Israel. It is this energy potential which has increased the support from the two sides on the island, Turkey, Greece and the West.
Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus President Derviş Eroğlu is also aware of this potential since he stated in my meeting with him last Monday in Cyprus that they suggested to the United Nations to establish a commission composed of Turkish and Greek Cypriots to market the gas via a pipeline through Turkey. However, this has been rejected by the Greek Cypriots.
It is also crucial that all parties to the problem come together under the roof of this commercial forum. According to Hisarcıklıoğlu, “the era of the black box which has existed since 1974 has come to an end.” This initiative will remove the distrust between the parties.
The statement of the Greek Cypriot archbishop that he stands for a solution has also raised the support of the Greek Cypriots by 20 percent. According to the latest polls, 50 percent support a solution.
The U.S.’ involvement is also at its highest level right now. Vice President Joe Biden’s visit last week to the island was the first at this level since 1962.
The international context is also different. In the aftermath of the Ukraine crisis, the supply of Russian gas has become risky for the West, which has shifted its attention to the eastern Mediterranean area.
Moreover, since the U.S. has lost power in Ukraine and Syria against Russia, it is trying to be more active in the international arena. This is also being reflected in its Cyprus policy.
In short, the rules of the game have changed in Cyprus. The West and Russia are closely marking each other in this energy game. Hence the business circles’ role is very crucial. They are raising awareness that the solution will create a win-win situation for all actors. And this in turn raises the chances for a solution.
Professor David Bloomfield, who is an expert on conflict studies, argues that “complemantarity is not just desirable, but also necessary.” He states that conflicts are multi-layered and that politicians alone cannot address all of those layers. He claims that other actors such as businessmen also need to get involved in the process to complement each other.
Hence politicians’ support for business circles is not only desirable, but also necessary.