Natural gas changes the game in Cyprus

Natural gas changes the game in Cyprus

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.