Cyprus Mail
CM Regular Columnist

We’re using the gas to push Turkish Cypriots closer to Turkey

Mustafa Akinci says he could work with just the 'tiniest opening on the issue of partnership

By George Koumoullis

IT IS painful to observe that weaning our Turkish Cypriot compatriots off Ankara’s embrace is becoming all the more difficult, especially now that Turkey is posing as the guardian of Turkish Cypriot interests over the exploitation of hydrocarbons.

What has gone wrong again? Three months ago, the House plenum approved a law on the operation of the National Investment Fund and the Organisation for the Management of Cypriot Investments. The new law’s aim is for the fund to be regulated to allow it to operate smoothly and ensure that its investments will benefit all Cypriots.

Nowhere are the rights of the Turkish Cypriots mentioned, although verbally the cliché that “the Turkish Cypriots will benefit from the exploitation of hydrocarbons just like any legal citizen of Cyprus” is repeated ad nauseam by the government spokesman and deputies. This proposed arrangement does not seem to satisfy the Turkish Cypriots in any way.

Firstly, Turkish Cypriots say, if there is no settlement how will the economic benefits be secured since ownership of the fund will belong to Greek Cypriots? Second, the Turkish Cypriots consider it condescending to be at the mercy of Greek Cypriot ‘magnanimity’ for as long as the Cyprus problem is unsolved. Then, most importantly, is our record. It might not be a bad one in our opinion, but is considered anything but perfect by the Turkish Cypriots.

An anthology of the most bitter experiences of the Turkish Cypriots that goes some way in explaining their distrust would include the House’s resolution in support of enosis in June 1967, which was a blatant violation of the deputies’ oath to defend the constitution. It would also include the expulsion of the Turkish Cypriot football clubs from the Cyprus Football Association (KOP) in 1955 and the refusal of sports clubs to allow the use of their stadiums for matches between Turkish Cypriot teams.

The record would also refer to the abandoning of the trial of some 20 youths that invaded the English School and assaulted Turkish Cypriot students, injuring five of them. It would also include the more recent attack in November 2015 by students on Turkish Cypriot drivers, causing damage to their cars. Instead of these youths being led to justice and punished, the attorney-general arranged for them to be let off by issuing a nolle prosequi.

For all these reasons, the establishment of the National Investment Fund is considered a suspicious and unfair arrangement. But – and this is the problem for us – the fund strengthens the ties between the illegal regime and Turkey. True to tradition, we are pushing the Turkish Cypriots closer to the bosom of their ‘mother’ yet then keep urging them – with words, never with actions – to cut their ties to her.

We should give serious thought to the suggestions made by Mustafa Akinci in an interview recently published by Phileleftheros. He said: “If on this subject, (natural gas) we see the tiniest opening (a little light even), on the issue of mutual assistance, of partnership, on the joint production of work, on the matter of sharing; if we see an understanding, we are ready to hold on to this. But what a shame that exact opposite developments are taking place.”

It is really a shame that we do not offer the hand of cooperation nor utilise a rare opportunity to approach our Turkish Cypriot compatriots for the future exploitation of our undersea wealth. It is as if we are programmed for an indefinite confrontation with a section of our population.

I believe it would be preferable to establish a bicommunal committee for administering the wealth in the Cypriot EEZ. Lack of space does not allow me to go into the details of how such a committee would operate, but it suffices to say that the revenue from the hydrocarbons would be deposited in a special fund to which the communities would gain access only after the settlement of the Cyprus problem. If there is no settlement, the two communities would jointly decide how to share the money.

Such an arrangement, apart from helping to prepare the ground for a settlement, would deprive Turkey of the argument she is invading our EEZ to protect the interests of the Turkish Cypriots. For the first time, the interests of the Turkish Cypriots would be aligned with ours and in conflict with Turkey’s. Whereas now, the invasion of our EEZ, which is a violation of Law of the Sea, will not be stopped, just as the Turkish occupation will not end without a Cyprus settlement.

Huge damage has been done to the settlement prospects by the presence of the Fatih in the sea west of Paphos. The last hopes of a settlement have been dashed. The statement by President Anastasiades that he would return to talks only when the Turkish ships withdrew from the Republic’s EEZ showed ignorance of realpolitik, because if Turkey complied this would be seen as surrender. In the jungle the squirrel has never been able to force the tiger to surrender.

There are now big doubts over earlier expectations that the hydrocarbons will make us prosperous and happy, while fears that we will emerge from our hydrocarbons’ adventure deprived and complaining are growing.

George Koumoullis is an economist and social scientist

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