From gunboat diplomacy to confronting rigs in Cyprus
I have spoken with Turkish Cypriot Foreign Minister Kudret Özersay on his meetings in Ankara with President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and other senior Turkish officials. Özersay and Prime Minister Ersin Tatar held some very important talks, and apart from realigning policy objectives, they successfully convinced Turkey to provide some fresh financial assistance within the framework of a recently signed economic cooperation protocol.
The first and foremost importance of this new funding, totaling 750 million Turkish Liras, will enable the Turkish Cypriot state to complete construction of five key highways and construct ion of some of which started back in 2012. But when the contracting companies went bankrupt, no surprise, they were left unfinished, adding additional woes to booming traffic challenge of North Cyprus. Some $150 million specifically allocated to complete infrastructure projects will be a great development for the Turkish Cypriot economy besides helping advance the life quality.
Criticisms from the leftist opposition in North Cyprus that most of the 750 million fresh credits would go to the defense expenditures are indeed correct. The Turkish Cypriot Security Forces, which includes the police as well, have personnel costs besides investment projects – including placement of recording gadgets on poles all around that might help turn North Cyprus into some sort of a “big brother state” too. It is so unfortunate that for the sake of domestic security and as part of efforts to boost anti-terrorism vigilance as well as curbing petty crimes, the Turkish Cypriot state has as well opted to monitor every move of its citizens through high definition cameras placed throughout the northern third of the eastern Mediterranean island. In such a small place, particularly after, though not so willingly and very limited, the two sides on the island have started some sort of a cooperation against crime. Was there a need to convert North Cyprus into some sort of a “someone is monitoring us” house?
These and many other things handled in the Ankara talks were important, but apparently an issue that displayed not only a changed paradigm but more so of an increased determination of Turkey and the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus not to allow any letup in the defense of their separate and collective interests in eastern Mediterranean hydrocarbon riches might be the most important understanding developed between the two states.
Up until very recently Turkey was pursuing a gunboat diplomacy, threatening use of force against all hydrocarbon activity off the island of Cyprus in areas either considered by Turkey as within its territorial shelf or by the Turkish Cypriot state as within its exclusive economic zone or part of its partnership rights under the 1960 arrangements that created the Cyprus republic on a 7/3 formula between Greek and Turkish Cypriots.
Now, Ankara and North Cyprus have decided not to resort to the use of force but firmly defend Turkish drilling or exploring vessels but in all clarity make Greek Cypriots and the world see that if someone establishes a rig in disputed waters, the Turkish national oil company, which was granted contracts by the Turkish Cypriot state, might establish a rig in close vicinity and soon “we may find ourselves waving at each other from our separate rigs.”
This is a revolutionary and explosive yet determined approach to demonstrate neither Ankara nor North Cyprus would give up their inalienable rights in the eastern Mediterranean. At a time when Turkey has some serious economic, security and domestic political challenges and North Cyprus is going through one of its worst economic periods – largely imported with the faltering value of the Turkish Lira – a surge in tensions might help domestic politics as such developments help nations unite against the perceived enemy. Was that what Turkey has been looking after? Some people believe so. Yet walking such dangerous roads may end up in serious difficulties.
In any way, such a policy change might be much safer compared to the challenge posed by the gunboat diplomacy.