The latest round of Cypriot reunification talks have just kicked off, yet most of the locals are far from enthusiastic about it. There’s a lot of worry among average folks that their country is being sold out to Turkey, with people pointing to the generous autonomy being proposed for the internationally unrecognised so-called “Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus” (unsurprisingly only recognised by Ankara) as proof of this.
Indeed, a lot of concessions are in fact being given to the Turkish community in the northern part of the island, and at the rate that things are going, there’s no way that the native Greek majority would ever agree to any of this in a referendum. More than likely, the present reunification talks will result in a repeat of 2004, when the Greeks overwhelmingly voted against the UN-backed reconciliation proposal while the Turks almost just as equally supported it.
The pace at which the latest round of talks has been proceeding and the significant international attention that they’ve garnered in the Western media however raise serious questions about the true intentions behind them this time around. The contemporary geopolitical context is marked by Turkey’s Eurasian pivot in the aftermath of the failed pro-American coup attempt last summer, and it’s obvious that the West is desperate to buy back Erdogan’s loyalty at all costs.
They may not succeed in convincing the Sultan to totally part ways with his new Russian and Iranian Tripartite partners, but they’re hoping that they can at least get him to decelerate the rate at which he is strategically integrating with them through their newly created ‘Concert of Great Powers’. For that to happen though Turkey needs to be enticed with an impressive amount of money, and therein lies the geo-energy relevance of reunifying Cyprus under the previously agreed-upon “federal” (internal partition) model.
For decades already Cyprus and its breakaway northern Turkish-populated region have agreed in principle to “federalizing” the country under yet-to-be-determined conditions, but it seems probable that they’ll involve some sort of revenue sharing between both prospective polities. Translated into relevant practice, this means that the Republic of Cyprus’ majority Greek southern and internationally recognized portion might end up transferring some of the future wealth which it is expected to receive from the large recently discovered offshore Aphrodite gas field in the southeast.
There are already talked-about plans for Cyprus to form the integral transit state between Greece and ‘Israel’ in transporting Tel Aviv’s gargantuan Leviathan gas deposits from the eastern Mediterranean to the EU market, and it’s very possible that both offshore reserves will be coupled together for export under this envisioned framework. In a “federalized” future, the revenue generated from Aphrodite’s gas sales and Greek (“South”) Cyprus’ transit role in facilitating Leviathan exports could be shared with the northern Turks, thereby enabling its transfer to Turkey if its leaders were so inclined.
The promise of a potential windfall of billions of dollars’ worth of largesse to the impoverished population in northern Cyprus and/or to Erdogan personally might be enough to convince the Turkish tough guy to listen once more to his Western ‘partners’, which could eventually complicate Russia and Iran’s strategies in Syria. To sweeten the deal, the West might even pressure Nicosia to permit the indefinite deployment of Turkish troops on its soil in the prospective “federalized” northern portion which they’re currently occupying.
Regrettably, there’s a legal basis – however questionable – for this to be enforced. The 1960 Treaty of Guarantee which preceded Cypriot independence anointed the UK, Greece, and Turkey as the joint overseers in making sure that the island would neither unite with another state (“Enosis” with Greece) or be partitioned (“taksim”, as the Turks wanted). In the same year, the Treaties of Alliance and Establishment were also agreed upon in legalizing a limited Turkish & Greek military presence on the island and giving the UK two bases there, respectively.
Turkey adroitly exploited the Treaty of Guarantee in order to invade northern Cyprus after the 1974 coup briefly turned the country into a “Hellenic Republic” and made “Enosis” an impending reality, but its subsequent occupation has been universally condemned as being in violation of international law. Nevertheless, there’s scant chance that Turkey will withdraw its troops, let alone unilaterally without Greece doing so as well, and neither of these two rivals trusts the UK enough to allow it to be the sole foreign military force on the island.
This means that only three realistic scenarios are available for Cyprus aside from selling it out to the Turks in a “federalized” (internal partition) deal: 1) all three interrelated treaties of 1960 – Guarantee, Alliance, and Establishment – would have to be either renegotiated or outright scrapped; 2) a war will have to break out in order for one side or the other to claim absolute victory and expel their rival’s forces from the island; or 3) the frozen conflict will indefinitely remain at a standstill for the foreseeable future.
In hindsight, the tragic irony is that the fate of Cyprus was doomed before the country even became independent. As a result of the three aforementioned treaties, the island was always to remain on edge in a state of potential warfare because of Ankara’s geopolitical predisposition to exploit the Turkish community in Cyprus for its own grand strategic ends, having patiently waited until the 1974 “Enosis” coup became the ‘justifiable’ tripwire for it to finally invade and violently begin establishing favorable facts on the ground in support of its long-term “taksim” objective.
Going by what’s being reported in the media about the latest round of reunification talks, it appears certain that their ‘success’ would be a definite lose-lose for the Greeks and a win-win for the Turks. This is because it essentially translates to being both an internal “taksim” and EU “enosis” at once, whereby the Greeks are forced to concede their long-held and popular position about the unitary nature of their home island in order to appease Erdogan by legally dividing it and granting EU membership to the northern Turks.
Such a “solution” holds little chance of being accepted by the majority-Greek population of the island, suggesting that unconventional means of pressure would have to be exerted on this electorate in order to force their compliance in any forthcoming referendum. Given how important the reunification of Cyprus is for the West in the present geostrategic climate of wooing Turkey back from its game-changing Eurasian pivot, it can’t be ruled out that such unscrupulous measures will be applied in the coming future if the unipolar powers become desperate enough to reach a deal on this issue.
Ultimately, however, the final say will rest with the democratic will of the Greek Cypriot people, and just like they did back in 2004, they might once more abide by the wisdom of the age-old adage that “no deal is sometimes better than a bad one”.