A matter of confidence in Cyprus
It is claimed that the Cyprus conundrum has reached a “make or break” stage. Why? Has there been any progress in any of the outstanding issues? No. On the contrary, because of the hydrocarbon complexities it can be said that the Eastern Mediterranean has become so flammable that one spark could produce a total disaster.
The situation regarding the hydrocarbon standoff between the sides more or less resembles the situation in 2011-14 when talks were deadlocked because of the unilateral undertakings of the Greek Cypriot government in the island’s exclusive economic zone. That crisis, which also involved the U.S. Noble energy company, seriously hurt the talks, but because those talks were underway the response of Turkey and the Turkish Cypriot side was rather muted. The Turkish side did not want to hurt the process or to give an image to the international community that the talks collapsed because of its reactions against Greek Cypriot sovereign decisions. After all, the Greek Cypriot side was recognized as the “sole legitimate government” on the island.
What is different this time? The claim that the Turkish side has “toughened” its position misses the mark because the reactions of the Turkish side during the last collapsed cycle of talks were constrained, amid concerns not to be seen as the party hurting the ongoing process. As a result, that reaction did not at all reflect the real mood of either Ankara or the Turkish Cypriot leadership.
This latest hydrocarbon crisis reflects one of the fundamental aspects of the Cyprus problem. Cyprus is not a Greek island. The Greek Cypriot people constitute a greater share of the population but the relationship of the two communities on the island should not be one of majority and minority, but rather one of two politically equal people sharing the same homeland. Thus, unilateral action by one ignoring the fundamental rights of the other cannot be acceptable. After all, the Cyprus problem started in the first place because the Greek Cypriot people and leadership tried to violently annihilate the partnership rights and the very existence of the Turkish Cypriot people. The hydrocarbon standoff is therefore not a product of Turkish intransigence or intrusion in the exclusive economic zone of the island, but rather an effort to defend the inalienable Turkish Cypriot partnership rights in the land, sovereignty and indeed independence of Cyprus.
The Greek Cypriot leadership has been working to resume the talks from where they collapsed at Crans Montana. Efforts are underway for a “social dinner” of the two leaders, which they hope would serve to revivify the process. Is no one asking what has changed to merit resumption of the talks? Has there been any move on the Greek Cypriot side toward accepting the political equality of Turkish Cypriots? Has there been any assurance from Nicos Anastasiades that he has agreed to “effective participation in governance” and “rotation of the presidency”? Has he accepted the realty that the Turkish Cypriot people cannot accept the removal of all Turkish troops from the island on day one after a settlement?
What the Greek Cypriot side has long been trying to achieve is to give the impression to the international community that some sort of normalcy is already underway on the island. Why is that important? Could it be because of the increasing insurance costs? Could it be because it has become clear for everyone interested in the hydrocarbon potential in the Cyprus EEZ that there is also a Turkish Cypriot and Turkey dimension of any deal there?
Without undertaking any concrete action, the Greek Cypriot side has been trying to convince Turkish Cypriot leader Mustafa Akıncı that it has changed and is now willing to engage in talks. Can we trust them again or should we demand verification by concrete actions, such as accepting a joint company to operate hydrocarbon resources?