By Evie Andreou
The Turkish and Turkish Cypriot leadership on Saturday inaugurated the long-awaited ‘peace water’ project saying it could be shared with the south of the island after a settlement as the Cyprus government protested to the international community .
Two separate ceremonies were held, one in Turkey and one in Cyprus to launch the pipeline both of which were attended by Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan and Turkish Cypriot leader Mustafa Akinci. Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu also attended the ceremony in Turkey, calling it an “historic day” but did not travel to Cyprus. Hundreds of people turned out in both locations.
“Turkey and (north Cyprus) have been interlocked in such a way that they will never be separated,” Davutoglu told a crowd of hundreds of people in Anamur. “The water we bring… we believe that the two peoples in Cyprus will live in peace. Turkey supports wholeheartedly the conclusion of the negotiation process with a quick fair and permanent solution.”
In his comments, Erdogan pledged Turkey’s continued support to the Turkish Cypriots in their efforts for a settlement of the Cyprus issue, so that they could take their rightful place in the international arena and stand on their own two feet. “We walk into the future as one nation, one flag, one country, one state”.
“As a mother country and a guarantor power we follow the negotiation progress very closely. We honestly want a solution. We have always been a step ahead in all processes,” Erdogan added.
Turkey he said, wanted a comprehensive solution of the Cyprus problem that would secure political equality and the rights of the Turkish Cypriot community. Such a solution will not only be beneficial to the two sides but it would also have a positive impact on the eastern Mediterranean, he said.
In the case of a solution, if the Greek Cypriot sides wishes, the water can be used for the needs of the whole island, he added. “If the in the south say they wish to benefit from this water, we well call it ‘peace water’ and give it to them,” Erdogan said.
Erdogan and Akinci arrived in the north around 2.30pm following the first leg of the ceremony. Some controversy surrounds the pipeline in the north and several organisations demonstrated on Saturday, saying the water project was a means for Turkey to tighten its control on the Turkish Cypriots. There was also an ongoing issue of the water management with Turkey appearing to take control to the annoyance of many in the north. The agreement between the two sides provides that management of the water would be undertaken by a private company qualified in running build-operate-transfer models. But the administration in the north later challenged these conditions and asked for the management rights of the project to be given to the local authorities.
In the government-controlled areas on Saturday, Acting President Yiannakis Omirou sent a written protest to the President of the European Parliament among others, saying the project was an attempt to integrate the occupied areas into Turkey and undermine the ongoing negotiations on the Cyprus problem. The move was also slammed by all of the Greek Cypriot political parties.
But Akinci tried to keep things light in his comments, thanking Erdogan and stressing the problem with water shortages in Cyprus, and joking about “brushing our teeth with sea water”.
He said the arrival of water in the north was very important. “The fact that the water arrived in Cyprus could be a great contribution to the peace process and to the settlement discussions,” he said.
He said that as the water project had turned from a dream into a reality, he believed the same could happen with natural gas where the reality could see the Eastern Mediterranean become an energy corridor between Cyprus, Turkey and the European Union. Akıncı said the water would turn Cyprus “from yellow to green”. “When the time comes and by increasing the volume, this water can be shared with the south too. Then it will become a true ‘water of peace,” he added.
Erdogan said the project meant ‘Turkish Cyprus’ would no longer have water shortages.
“The Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus will no longer experience shortages of drinking water and agricultural irrigation for the next half a century,” he said.
According to reports in the Turkish Cypriot press, the water will be distributed in Nicosia by the end of October, and gradually other areas will be connected to the network.
The project was officially started in 2011 when Erdogan, then the Turkish Prime Minister, laid the foundation of the Alakopru Dam over the Dragos Stream in Mersin province. Davutoglu said the project had cost 1.6 billion Turkish lira (more than $500m). The 100km long pipeline is set to carry 75 million cubic metres annually to the north. It was completed within four years.
Meanwhile Omirou said on Saturday the pipeline was a flagrant violation of international law.
This action, he said, is still an attempt to integrate the occupied territories into Turkey and undermine the ongoing negotiations on the Cyprus problem.
“We condemn in the strongest possible way to the European and international community those marauding and expansionist attitudes of Turkey and we call upon the UN, the European Union and its Member – States to condemn such actions and to demand compliance by the occupying power towards the international and European law,” he said.