Sunday, November 30, 2014

Critical confrontation in Cyprus by CENGİZ AKTAR | Today's Zaman

12 Nov 2014 - Ever since the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) became a “global player,” it has no longer dealt with minor questions such as the Cyprus stalemate.

This is why these centuries-old questions are still very much in existence. Today we see that the northern province of the island of Cyprus represents, for Turkey, an economic, political, military and human fiasco.

Until recently, relations with the southern part had been defined by begrudging support from Ankara to the recently resumed reunification talks, and all sorts of poor sportsmanship coming in the wake of the discovery of enough fossil fuel in the deep waters off Cyprus to provide an answer to all of Turkey's energy needs. But on Oct. 20, the Barbaros seismic vessel and its accompanying fleet carried this poor sportsmanship to a new dimension. What Ankara has done is, to quote columnist Niyazi Kızılyürek, expand the 40 years of land occupation into the sea. Ten days later, an Oct. 30 meeting of the Turkish National Security Council (MGK) took up the drilling activity in the Cypriot Republic's Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) as an item on its agenda. In a statement made after the MGK meeting, it was announced: “It has been clarified that in the future, Turkey will resolutely take every precaution necessary to protect its rights and interests in its own continental shelf, and that of the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus (KKTC) in licensed areas, in its capacity as a guarantor state.” Never mind that Turkey, according to the 1959 Zürich Agreement, is the guarantor, together with Greece and the UK, of the Republic of Cyprus. Its guarantor status for the KKTC has no international basis!

The declaration from the MGK occurred despite the fact that just 10 days prior, on Oct. 20, Cyprus had condemned the violation of its EEZ, indicating that it would be prepared to veto any positive developments in Turkey's ongoing EU accession talks as a result. Clearly, the MGK declaration completely discounts Cyprus's reaction. It also discounts the possible negative repercussions that might damage both the Cyprus reunification talks and the EU accession talks, ignoring the ex-officio sponsor of the Cyprus talks, the US. It also undermines neighboring countries such as Egypt, Greece and Israel, which also have EEZ's, while also failing to recognize the United Nations, which is in charge of the implementation of EEZ rules in the seas.

On the weekend following the MGK decision, the fleet sent out this salvo, “If we encounter any problems on this front, we will follow the rules of engagement.” What thus appeared before the world was the vision of a real toughie, one that recognizes no rule of law!

Many people cannot help wondering, in the face of such a frightening tableau, whether the ruling party is in pursuit of a cheap foreign victory -- that actually may come at great cost -- in the run up to the increasingly unclear general elections. Or perhaps more frighteningly, could the Turkish Armed Forces (TSK) be in pursuit of guaranteeing its perpetual presence on the island?

In the meantime, the bridges connecting Turkey to other actors it has ignored and tried to intimidate are about to burned. Ankara no longer seems to care a whit about accession talks with the EU. Disagreements with the US increase day by day. And its relations with four neighbors are in poor shape. Ankara does not recognize any country named Cyprus; its animosity toward Israel is endless. The word “Egypt” alone is enough to make the ruling party mad, while 15 years of supposedly thawing relations with Greece appear to have made no real concrete gains. And on top of everything, in the wake of the UN Security Council (UNSC) voting fiasco, Ankara's umbrage with the UN may in fact be greater than ever.

Nevertheless it appears that the other actors are not even really aware of Turkey's single-sided interventions. The freezing of Turkish accession talks is about to become an EU policy. As for the US, while it gives support to the Noble Energy Company, it appears to have given no priority to the temper of its “difficult ally,” Turkey. At the same time, Cyprus-Egypt-Greece have signed an important agreement on the storage of gas in Egypt, and a similar three-way agreement is about to be signed by Cyprus-Greece-Israel. Meanwhile, the Israeli foreign minister has issued a guarantee for Cyprus and ditto for Greece.

All this when, until just recently, the fossil fuels found off the southern waters of the island would have belonged to the entire island, had the island unified as the Federal Cypriot Republic. The water that is piped in from Anatolia would have been shared, the way forward in the EU accession talks would have been cleared, Turkish soldiers would have returned home, and then a peaceful atmosphere, so needed in the Eastern Mediterranean, would have settled into place.

This is a perfect case of how to end up a solitary toughie when looking to become a global player.



Columnist:: CENGİZ AKTAR

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