The Cyprus Spring
“Conflicts can only be solved when they are still hot,” Henry Kissinger once famously said. But Cyprus seems to overrule this quote since the 50-years old question seems to be defrosting at last.
Actually, the current U.N.-supervised negotiations on the Cyprus question have been going on for a while and were expected to have ended by the start of 2016, with a referendum to be held in the early months of 2016. Yet the negotiations got stuck due to the disagreement between the two sides of the divided island over the sharing of the territory and governance, the “guarantorship” question, and the military bases on the island.
Previously, Turkey’s EU membership bid was the main rationale behind its Cyprus initiative, as Cyprus has been one of the major impediments in the accession process. Today, however, the main motivation is energy. In other words: The gas and oil reserves that were recently discovered in the waters off of Cyprus and Israel. The “Aphrodite” gas field - off the coast of southern Cyprus in the eastern Mediterranean - is estimated to have 200 billion cubic meters of gas and 3.7 billion barrels of oil. Similarly, great oil reserves have been discovered in the Tamar and Leviathan fields off the coast of Israel.
The only viable option to export this gas is to transport it to Europe via an underwater gas pipeline through Turkey, which requires a compromise between Turkey, Cyprus and Israel. It is exactly this energy potential that has increased the will for a solution on the two sides on the island, Turkey, Greece and the West. A solution will also make Turkey a significant energy hub. This energy potential has also created a strong impetus for normalization between Turkey and Israel.
The economic crisis is another factor behind the efforts. Amid the worsened economic situation in Europe, Greece’s economic crisis has directly affected the Greek Cypriots. According to a 2014 survey conducted by the Economic Policy Research Foundation of Turkey (TEPAV), 72 percent of people in the EU were complaining about the economy but this number was as high as 98 percent in Greek Cyprus. This has strengthened the will for a solution among the Greek Cypriots, who actually rejected the Annan Plan in 2004.
The international community is also enhancing the chances. The U.S.’s involvement in the issue is at its highest level ever. Vice President Joe Biden’s visit to the island in June 2014 marked the first at this level since 1962. The international context is also pro-solution. 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.
The international context is also in favor of a compromise. 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, as since the U.S. lost power in Ukraine and Syria against Russia, it is trying to be more active in the international arena. This is also reflected in its Cyprus policy.
A solution in Cyprus would directly affect Turkey-Greece relations, probably leading to an agreement on the Aegean dispute, which had been sidelined due to the instability in Greece. A solution in Cyprus will certainly accelerate this process.
The unprecedented reconciliatory attitude of the two leaders on the island is also raising hopes.
Last but not least: The recent new page opened in Turkey’s foreign policy seems to be leading to a new phase in Cyprus. This new impetus may be helping to create an opportunity to solve various longstanding conflicts, including in Cyprus.