“Dark clouds” over Cyprus
The international community focuses on the future of Greek-Turkish ties because of the escalation of the tension in the Aegean Sea. Recently, strong words and cautionary signals were exchanged between Ankara and Athens.
Athens interprets the Turkish President's most recent remarks as a fresh warning of a clash in the Aegean Sea, as Greece and Turkey have approached significant electoral processes.
In Cyprus, tensions are also high as the diplomatic thermometer in the Aegean rises to dangerous levels. The relations between the two major communities on the island have recently been obscured by ominous clouds. The already tense relations are tested by new negative developments.
Leaders do not meet
As the two presidents discontinue their interactions, there are increasingly ominous clouds gathering over the Cyprus problem’s future. The two Cypriot leaders regularly met with the UN Secretary General in September on the eve of the UN's activity, which signaled the start of a new phase in negotiations. That will not occur this year.
Ersin Tatar, the head of the Turkish Cypriot community and President of the “Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus” which is only recognized by Turkey, said a few days ago that he would not meet with the president of the Republic of Cyprus and leader of the Greek Cypriot community in New York. “The Greek leader will meet with the UN Secretary-General, as will I, but this time we are expected to meet (with the Secretary-General) separately. We had a trilateral meeting in New York last year, but Greek leader Anastasiades is not running for election; a different person will be elected in February, so there is no point in a tripartite meeting”, according to Tatar, who was elected to the presidency of the "TRNC" late last year with the support of the conservative government in Turkey.
Tatar continued adding that “There are already confidence-building measures presented to us; it is not possible for us to accept them. These are a series of proposals full of traps, aiming to spread the authority of the Republic of Cyprus, which has become the Greek Republic, to Northern Cyprus with a federal agreement.”
The measures that Tatar refers to are the new confidence-building measures recently proposed by Greek Cypriots. Based on President Anastasiades' final letter to UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres, dated December 31, 2020, the Greek Cypriot side proposed that Varosha/Maras be placed under UN administration, that the Tymbou/Ercan Airport be placed under UN administration and be operated under international law, with a single FIR, the Famagusta Port be operated under the supervision of the European Union (responsibility of the Commission), provided that provided that the Ankara Protocol on Cypriot ships is implemented and access to Turkish ports is given and an escrow account for hydrocarbons is created in exchange to recognize the Cypriot Exclusive Economic Zone by Turkey.
These measures were rejected by Tatar’s leadership. The establishment of a joint committee on hydrocarbon resources and the evaluation of all wealth by this committee based on equality, inclusion in the interconnected system of the European Union (EU) through connection to the Republic of Turkey, effective use of solar energy on the island, and sharing of water brought to the island from Turkey were the four points that the Turkish Cypriot side counter-proposed. The Greek Cypriot side has not accepted these proposals yet.
Separate drilling off the coast of the island
The parties involved are moving forward with separate plans to use the natural riches off the coast of Cyprus, because the Cyprus problem is at a standstill. While Turkey and the Turkish Cypriot side step up their cooperative efforts in this area, the Greek Cypriot side announces new drilling in the Cypriot’s exclusive economic zone.
In July, following a meeting in parliament with Speaker of the House of Representatives Anita Demetriou and President for Exploration and Production in the Middle East, Africa, and South America of Chevron, Clay Neff, the Minister of Energy, Trade, and Industry of Cyprus, Natasha Pileidou, announced that the development of the Aphrodite field would continue with an additional drilling in the first quarter of 2023. According to Pileidou, drilling will be used both now to determine the precise quantities of the resource and subsequently to develop it further.
Pileidou’s announcement coincided with the launch of new activities by Turkey off its coast using the new platform ship “Abdulhamid Han” the Turkish side would continue its independent operations off Cyprus, the Turkish Cypriot leadership announced, congratulating Turkey for the new achievement. In response to the possibility of a new drilling by “Abdulhamid Han” off the coast of Cyprus, Tatar recently told the Turkish media that “there is no longer a state called the Republic of Cyprus; there are two separate states in Cyprus. We, as Turkish Cypriots, have rights in all areas they have declared to be the Republic of Cyprus, dating back to the founding agreements of the Republic of Cyprus.” The leader of the Turkish Cypriots added, “But when they forced us out at gunpoint, we had to establish our own state, so we have rights to all the riches around the island. If something is detected in that area, when the time comes, research can also be conducted based on the authorization given to the Republic of Turkey. Those areas do not belong to the Greeks alone.”
Tension also on the Green Line
Relationships between the communities on the Green Line are affected by the unfavorable atmosphere that permeates the relations between the two leaders and offshore Cyprus.
A Greek Cypriot activist was arrested by the Turkish Cypriot side a few days ago on an accusation of espionage activity. The Greek Cypriot activist traveled to the northern portion of the island in August with friends while carrying unauthorized walkie-talkies, according to information from the Turkish Cypriot side. Pictures of forbidden places were also discovered on the activists’ mobile phone. Despite objections from the Greek Cypriot side, Cypriot MEPs in the European Parliament, and non-governmental organizations, the Greek Cypriot activist is still detained in the "TRNC" and awaits the court's final verdict.
The latest development occurred during a period in which the Turkish Cypriot side accused the Greek Cypriot leadership of building additional military installations on the Green Line and demanded the withdrawal of UN personnel from Famagusta. It also had an impact when the Greek Cypriot side asserted that the Turkish army was harassing Greek Cypriot farmers in the Green Line. The accusation was refuted by the Turkish Cypriot.
The Greek Cypriot side of Cyprus also accused Turkey of exploiting the migratory issue as a tool to apply pressure to the Republic of Cyprus at the same time as the aforementioned negative developments on the Green Line. Nikos Nouris, the interior minister of Cyprus, recently stated that Nicosia has evidence that Turkey is abusing migrants by transporting them across the buffer zone from occupied north of the island to Cyprus. “We sent a letter (to the European Union) with supporting documentation. The information relates to 317 migrant travel records that “reveal the route and Turkey's instrumentalization of these persons”, Nouris added. According to the minister, most of these cases involved people from sub-Saharan Africa who had documentation showing that they arrived at Ercan (Tymbou) Airport in the north and were subsequently granted a 60-day visa. They are then exhorted to cross the territories under the republic’s control. The Cypriot politician claimed that every night, 100 migrants passed through the buffer zone and headed south. The minister reported that in the first three months of the year, there were about 5,000 arrivals. It is crucial to emphasize that, considering this assertion, Cyprus has asked the EU to look into the involvement of Turkish Airlines firms in human trafficking.
The only way out is a solution
On the anniversary of the war in 1974, Turkish Cypriot international relations professor Ahmet Sozen, analyzing the most recent negative developments in Cyprus, sends the message that the only way out of the complicated issues in Cyprus is to resolve the Cyprus problem.
According to the Eastern Mediterranean University professor, the two communities could reduce tension by concentrating on the possibility of federalizing Cyprus. “In the past 60 years, both communities have evolved and drawn lessons from the past. No longer on schedule are the previous tales of Taksim (partition) and Enosis (union with Greece). This problem also has a geographical component. In 1960, no geographic federations were established. Today, there is also the European Union's umbrella. I refer to the creation of a federation in Cyprus as the ‘Belgianization of Cyprus,’” states Sozen.
In addition, Sozen emphasizes this: “To those who oppose this idea, I reply that I have witnessed the fact that the Dutch-speaking Flemish and French-speaking Walloons continue to cooperate under the federal umbrella, even though they do not get along very well. After the recent election in Belgium, no government was formed for over 400 days, and what happened to Belgium? Nothing. The Belgians did not destroy the state because of their differences.”
*Dr Nikolaos Stelgias was born in Istanbul. He is an independent researcher, writer, historian and journalist. His doctorate is in the field of the modern Turkish political system (Panteion University, 2011). His latest book “The Ailing Turkish Democracy” was published by the Cambridge Scholars Publication in 2020. Dr. Stelgias was a correspondent of the newspaper "Kathimerini (Cyprus edition)" for Turkey and the Turkish Cypriot community from 2009 to 2021. Currently, Dr. Stelgias works at the Cyprus News Agency. Dr. Stelgias publishes in Turkish news articles and analyses on Cyprus and Greece.