Cyprus Mail

Gas a golden opportunity to work together

Ozdil Nami - gas should not be at the centre of conflict but turned into a ‘cause’ for reconciliation

By George Koumoullis

THE president of the Republic Nicos Anastasiades recently advised the Turkish Cypriots to wean themselves off Turkey in order to facilitate the solution of the Cyprus problem. This admonishment would have been understandable and imperative if Greek Cypriot society had likewise cut itself loose from Greece. But has it?

Cyprus’ national anthem is Greece’s. Greek fighter jets fly over parades marking Cyprus’ independence. The colours of the national football team are Greece’s. Greece’s entry in the Eurovision song contest always receives 12 points from Greek Cypriots even if it is sometimes reminiscent of Anatolian dirges. Under such circumstances, to demand the Turkish Cypriots wean themselves off Turkey constitutes unbelievable and unprecedented hypocrisy. It is a bit like the promiscuous woman with many lovers who slaps her daughter after a classmate kisses her on the cheek.

For the Turkish Cypriots’ complete dependence on Turkey, there is nobody to blame but us. Before independence, every archbishop, who was also the ethnarch or political leader, considered the presence of the Turkish Cypriots as “bothersome”, because in his opinion religion defined national identity. When the Enosis struggle was being organised the Turkish Cypriots were completely ignored by the Greek Cypriots.

It was an appalling mistake for which we paid a heavy price to put it mildly. Even Akel, and its union federation Peo, snubbed the Turkish Cypriots and later backed Enosis, pushing many of them from 1942 onwards to quit the unions which had served both communities and set up their own. Historians consider this move as the sowing of the seeds of partition. And the cause, as always was the maximalist objective of Enosis.

Yet today, there is a golden opportunity to work together with our Turkish Cypriot compatriots. Everyone understands that in the international jungle nobody gives away anything “for the sake of principles” and that only the common interest and cooperation can save the small, defenceless animals from the big predators. As the Latin saying highlights, “ex unitate vires”. I refer to the cooperation we could secure with the Turkish Cypriots on exploiting natural gas.

The Turkish Cypriot ‘minister of economy and energy’ Ozdil Nami highlighted the point when he told a Turkish news agency recently that natural gas should not be at the centre of conflict but, on the contrary, could be turned into a “cause” for reconciliation. What Nami is saying implicitly is “come and disengage us from Turkey,” which could also be seen as a very subtle SOS signal. Alas, the antennae of our political parties were made in the 1960s and cannot receive this signal. Instead of this statement becoming our guiding light we openly snubbed it.

While we recognise the right of the Turkish Cypriots to benefit from the undersea wealth, the way in which we intend to implement this right – that is, to set up an account in which a percentage (undefined so far) of the net revenue from the sale of natural gas would be deposited and given to them only when there is a settlement – not only fails to reassure them but, on the contrary, infuriates them. Rightly or wrongly (I am not examining this), the Turkish Cypriots consider us untrustworthy. Some of our actions that we do not even remember now have been indelibly marked on the memory of the Turkish Cypriots, such as the resolution approved by our deputies in 1967 in support of Enosis, despite having taken an oath to respect the constitution of the Cyprus Republic which specifically rules out union with any country.

Apart from trustworthiness there are other issues. What happens if there is no settlement? Will this arrangement be an incentive for the Turkish Cypriots to agree to a solution or will it prove a disincentive for a permanent solution for Greek Cypriots? Would it be fair, if the Cyprus problem is solved in 10, 20 or 30 years, for the Greek Cypriots to invest and fully exploit the revenue from the natural gas during this period while the capital of the Turkish Cypriots remained unused in some bank? Have we considered the chasm that would separate the standards of living of the two communities if the Turkish Cypriot economy was left to the mercy of Turkey? There is the danger that the Turkish Cypriot economy would head towards the abyss with inflation soaring, in contrast to the robust Greek Cypriot economy.

The smart approach, supported by Kyriacos Tzambazis in his book “Regulating the Cyprus issue, but how?” is the establishment of a bicommunal committee for managing hydrocarbons with the right to sign agreements with oil companies. There would also be a fund in which all revenue would be kept until there was a settlement of the Cyprus problem. Neither community would have access to this fund until a settlement was agreed, and it would thus act as an incentive for a deal. But if a settlement takes very long or never arrives, the two communities could then decide jointly how to divide the wealth.

In this way, the interests of the Turkish Cypriots would be aligned to ours and become a positive step in the direction of disengaging themselves from Turkey. There would no longer be a case for defending the interests of the Turkish Cypriot community. In addition, the bicommunal committee could enter negotiations with Turkey for delineating of the EEZ of the two countries, ending the never-ending confrontations and threats of war.

George Koumoullis is an economist and social scientist