Warm Waters: 70 Hot Days Ahead

Exactly three years ago, in October 2011, my phone rang at my antique maps gallery-cum-office. At the other end of the line was Dr Gregory Reichberg, an American seasoned researcher, a dear colleague then Director of the PRIO Cyprus Centre. Already at my time at the UN University HQ Tokyo we worked together with Dr Reichberg in the production of a volume on the attitudes of world religions on fundamental issues of humanity: war and peace. (The volume I believe is stored in this temporary building of the Kyrenia Diocese which hosts us today).

Dr Reichberg, noting the turn of events in this ever troubled and dismembered island asked about my opinion on convening an international conference on the already talked about Cyprus energy reserved. I enthusiastically supported the idea. Indeed with Norwegian and German sponsorship we convened in the buffer zone of the dismembered capital. The conference’s theme was Cyprus Offshore Hydrocarbons: Regional Politics and Wealth Distribution. I believe it was the first international conference on the subject on the island itself.

Why do I do this three year flashback? Well, at the conference and the subsequent trilingual (English, Greek, Turkish) resulting volume of the proceedings I had the honour to publish Primus Inter Paris the research paper under the title Projecting for Control of Warm Waters: Turkey’s Posturing for Hydrocarbon Hegemony in the Eastern Mediterranean. This paper in updated versions was subsequently presented at various forums around the world (inter alia IDSA, New Delhi; ISPI, Milano). The paper’s title speaks volumes of the thrust of the time-honoured argument:

Ankara has been consistently and persistently posturing for hydrocarbon hegemony! What we are witnessing today in the EEZ of the RoC, since the 20th of this month - and if the whims of the neo-Ottoman policy makers in Ankara go unopposed - for the next 70 days is an unwavering continuation, a steadfast rock solid expression of Ankara’s power projection to achieve the next high goal in its quest to re-establish the up until the dawn of the last century Ottoman Empire glory in a 21st century neo-Ottoman version of an extended sphere of control stretching from the Western Balkans to North Africa and Western Asia (N.B. Turkish connivance in aiding and abetting the three year old insurgency in Syria that targets the Christian and secular Muslim population which forms the overwhelming majority of the neighbouring country).

The Turkish 3-D seismic research vessel Barbaros escorted by a bunch of Turkish Navy warships is commissioned by Ankara’s MFA to create a new fait accompli in the eastern Mediterranean. It is chartered to ‘achieve’ the goal of the tacit acceptance by the international community of the ‘reality-to-be-established’ that Ankara nurtures vital interests, and hence, according to the Neo-Ottoman rulers wishes ‘is entitled to’ resources rights in the Levant.

I call upon the memory of the senior members of the audience and for the benefit of the junior members, our group of thirty international students, let me note the mindset with which the Turkish leadership both in Ankara and Lefkosha – after all the latter is little more than a puppet of the former – approach the peace (settlement) negotiations going on and off for the past forty years: ‘adherence to the realities’! Which realities?

The reality of the de-facto to be legalized apartheid system of segregation of the Greek and Turkish communities of the island that has been put in place by the force of Turkish arms forty years ago.

The reality of the desecration of the Orthodox Christian places of worship, the reality of the utter destruction beyond restoration of the Greek Orthodox heritage in the Turkish occupied part of the island.

The reality of the total deprivation of property, the reality of the absolute desecration of the cemeteries of the Diocese of Kyrenia, which in her predicament generously plays host for us today.

These are the realities that the Turkish side aims for the Greeks of this island to accept in order to reach a settlement.

In the same time-honoured fashion Dr Ahmet Davutoglu, as from September PM in Ankara and par excellance architect of Turkish projection of power onto the island and the surrounding region, responds to the international campaign of the RoC to protect its sovereign right by stating that Turkey is only implementing its bilateral agreement with the illegal regime in the North of the island, the self-styled TRNC, vis-à-vis exploration in the island’s waters …

Let us have a closer look at the international legal framework:

Point 1: Turkey is not a signatory to the UNCLOS (Montego Bay, 1984).

Ankara effectively questions the Republic of Cyprus entitlement to drill in its own EEZ. Hence the overtures to Cyprus’s neighbours in the first instance not to sign, and after the conclusion of the agreements pressurizing, primarily Cairo and Beirut, to repeal their EEZ delimitation agreements with the RoC.

Pressure on Israel cannot be exerted from Ankara’s side in view of the rupture in relations with the Jewish state already with the Mavi Marmara incident.

Neither is Israel an UNCLOS signatory in the region, our Turkish colleagues counter - as they did at an early date, in the first conference I mentioned above back in 2011.

True! But and it is this but that makes all the difference: Israel respects the sovereign right of the RoC to be entitled to exploit its own resources in its delineated EEZ. Tel Aviv has duly signed and implemented an agreement delineating the adjacent EEZ of the two neighbouring countries. It is Ankara which is stirring trouble in a consistent fashion in the region: step by step in order to fool the international community into inaction so that it can reap the fruits of the ‘new realities’ a few years down line.

Further, Erdogan’s wished-for love affair with Muslim Brotherhood Egypt equally failed to blossom. The neo-sultan was shown the exit as regional heavyweight Egypt could not and cannot stomach being patronized by a neo-Ottoman ambitious Ankara.

I have always argued from my time in UNU Centre, Tokyo, ten years ago already, that if our compass in standards of behavior on the international scene is Ankara’s perception of conduct of international relations then Egypt should have devoured Cyprus waters and its accompanying resources as much as China, ten times more populous than Japan, should be allowed to annihilate Japan’s EEZ. Where would such a course lead the community of nations? Does such conduct conform with international law? Should it be condoned leading the world to the prevalence of the law of the jungle? These are crucial questions that the international community – the EU, the UN, if not NATO as a collective security organization - will need to address in the announced 70 hot days of Turkish naval provocations unfolding before our indifferent eyes!

The US Ambassador Opining on the Cypriot EEZ

Allow me, Mr. Chairman, to draw the contrast between the two governments behavior, I the Cypriot and the Turkish by making another shorter flashback: a year ago or so, H.E. the US Ambassador Mr. John Koenig was addressing a Rotary Club audience at a luncheon at the Cyprus Hilton. Cautious not to embarrass the ambassador in public, I put him in private the following question: ‘how would the US government react in case the RoC in exercising its full sovereign rights declared its entire EEZ, that is including the northern sea zone. Mr. Koenig prudently, one would say, answered: There is no reason to provoke especially as there are no proven natural resources reserves in that sea zone and while talks for a settlement go on.

Any impartial observer following the East Med affairs would testify to exactly this: the Cypriot governments, both of by name communist Christofias and Western-oriented Anastasiades followed with reverence the US admonition: to refrain from doing in the interests of being compromising and be conducive to the creation of good climate necessary to achieve a lasting settlement and all the rest of it. I bet that US Vice-President Joe Biden, in his recent (historical?) visit pressed Anastasiades to go down the same line: be a good boy, showing goodwill, not provoking with exercise of sovereign rights etc. What is more: political analysts of all hews and complexions were repeatedly reporting that the US would, this time by the sheer political weight of the US VP, make the trick in moving the peace process forward by forcing Erdogan’s arm to open the sealed-off TAF- guarded ghost city of Famagusta not to its rightful Greek owners but at least to US-led teams of experts to estimate the cost of the herculean task of rehabilitating life to the ghost town for the benefit of both communities. The Famagusta green peace project affair ended in a deadlock. Upon the declared unprecedented fiasco and the affront to the goodwill diplomatic efforts of the US VP, Ioannis Kasoulides, the Cypriot Foreign Minister revealed in a televised press conference that the Turks wanted to humiliate us: they refused to allow access to Greek Cypriot experts to enter the Greek town of Famagusta. Such a humiliation we would not accept!’

And what is the upshot? The US VP leaves the island empty handed with respect to his attempt to get the Turks to comply with a single UN Security Council Resolution: the one concerning the treating of Famagusta as an issue separate from the overall settlement process and calling for its immediate restitution to its rightful Greek owners.

A few weeks later, adding insult to injury neo-Sultan Erdogan demands and gets an apology from Joe Biden in respect to the latter’s reference to Turkey’s shameful aiding and abetting the Islamist extremists in their drive to topple Bashar Al Assad and establish the Islamic State. The three year Turkish connivance is well documented. The Syrian Charge D’ Affaires in Lefkosia, who apologizes for his absence today, due to a prior commitment told the author at an audition Tuesday that Islamist terrorists from no less than 82 countries make their way into fighting the jihad in Syria all those three years that the trouble caused half the population of his country to become displaced, internally or externally. Millions of innocent Syrians suffering courtesy of the whim of Erdogan to topple Bashar. A humanitarian crisis of immense proportions! Most of those jihadists have been using Istanbul airport on their way to reach their destination: the jihad in Syria and Iraq. In this connection, a former Iranian Deputy FM confirmed to the author the Turkish connivance in the Syrian civil war while at an international conference on Turkish soil (Istanbul) at the first days of last November.

Things turned so sour with the massacres of historic Syrian minorities (primarily Christians but not only) that Joe Biden in a moment of frankness while answering student questions at Harvard University, admitted that ally Turkey armed extremist rebels in Syria compounding the menacing threat of jihad that rapidly reaches the threshold of Western civilization flying in its face the despicable decapitations of Western captives for many weeks now, one after the other, in a macabre death row.

Under the pressure of the unfolding serious events, the US Vice President speaks out denouncing Ankara’s dangerous policy in aiding the menacing growth of Islamist Forces in the Levant, Erdogan demands an apology. The neo-Sultan gets it his own way, humiliating the superpower. Biden for yet another time within the space of a few months after the Cyprus debacle gets another Erdoganian slap in the face. A humiliated Biden calls the neo-Sultan in Ankara and offers his apology: slipping tongue he says – which tells the truth the time-honoured saying goes!

Lest we forget, this island lies on the crossroads of the three geostrategically important continents. In fact it is closer to the troubled region than any other Western country: 20 minutes conventional civil aircraft flight time to Beirut, 30 to Damascus.

A jet fighter takes only a modicum of time to take off and bomb in Syria. Naturally, as the ISIS situation worsens and more British heads are chopped by the jihadists as if they were chicken heads the former colonial power leadership in the Whitehall becomes increasingly alarmed if not panicked. They pay their visits to the island paying their respect to the vital service offered by the British Forces Cyprus stationed on the island’s two crucial bases (RAF Akrotiri and Dhekelia Garrison) while paying little if no respect to the strategic partner Republic of Cyprus.

Michael Fallon, British Secretary of Defence makes a swift working visit in the midst of the summer vacations (16 August 2014) indicative of the gravity of the worsening situation in the (Islamic?) Levant. Michael Fallon flies into the island landing at RAF Akrotiri disrespecting the RoC’s international airports of Larnaca and Pafos. He tours the island inspecting British air base and surveillance installations in retained sites – most important of which is the 24/7 manned listening post on the top mountain Troodos. As he is done with his job he remembers that nearby the President of the Republic has his British colonial time built summer residence. Indeed, Anastasiades is in so Fallon rolling down the hill a couple of miles stops by to greet Anastasiades in a desultory manner. The Cypriot President gladly receives the British Defence Minister in violation of the state protocol i.e. in the absence of his Cypriot counterpart. In fact the meeting is touted by the Cypriot government as a true sign of the strategic partnership between the UK and the RoC. Is it so?

To start with the UK government has failed for the fifty past years to pay a penny on account of the uninterrupted use of military and surveillance installations on Cypriot soil. A package of annual economic aid that has been promised by a British government declaration in the House of Commons in 1959 and that would have gone a long way to alleviate today’s economic woes of the struggling Cypriot population has not been paid since 1963. One can safely guess that the arrears in aid run into billions of pounds. Whilst RAF tornadoes are busy taking off and landing rupturing the Cypriot skies, on the ground hundreds if not thousands of Cypriot families can afford food for their children. Our host, the Metropolitan Bishop of Kyrenia can attest to that. He contributes half of his income to the needy families. The Chancellor of the Exchequer, I am just surmising, in the spirit of ‘our strategic alliance’ could have approved an allowance to Cyprus for playing faithful host to the British Bases. Please note that the RAF Akrotiri is the largest airbase outside British soil while the surveillance installations on the island form an integral part of Echelon the Anglo-Saxon worldwide surveillance and intelligence network. For more on that please refer to the works of Duncan Campbell and Peter Snowden. Not a penny full stop.

The British PM followed a few weeks later, as more British captives’ heads were beheaded by ISIS terrorists. Cameron paid a desultory visit to RAF Akrotiri. Understandably, secret in its nature. Cameron’s schedule though, failed to include even a courtesy call at the Cypriot President’s.

In the same period of time, adding insult to injury Cameron’s government practically upgraded the status of the breakaway ‘TRNC’. David Lidington, British Minister for European Affairs received my contemporary politics aside, good friend Ozdil Nami who travels around the world purporting to be the non-existent under international law ‘TRNC Foreign Minister’. Despite protests from the Cypriot High Commissioner in London Lidington offered the hearing. Cyprus MFA issued a statement condemning the British move.

Beyond the Cyprus imbroglio:

A point of substance with regard to contorting a coalition of the willing versus ISIS. As somebody who has worked for the strategic think tank of the UN promoting multilateralism I cannot but stress the importance of a multilateral approach in addressing key security threats in today’s world.

Ideally, the action taken against ISIS should have had UN Security Council’s authorization rather than the West going it alone and ending up in a mess – see the all too recent Libya affair.

For one, both the other non Western permanent members of the Security Council, the Russian Federation and China have reasons to fear Islamic extremism (Russia: Islamist destabilization of the Caucasus, China: the restless Muslim Uyghur population in the western Xinjiang province), therefore I would see them as willing to approve rather than block affirmative action in order to nib the extremist Islamic threat in the bud.

In any case, the US-UK led anti-ISIS campaign is what it is. The Atlantic West is not prone to multilateralism as our Indian Senior Vice Rector in Tokyo used to say. On the other hand I am aware that military expert members of this audience may cast their doubts on the capacity of the six increased to eight RAF tornadoes to pulverize ISIS strongholds in neighbouring Syria. The view has been expressed that the action against ISIS may just be placed in the backburner away from the limelight of international (or to be more precise western) media in the same manner that ISAF in Afghanistan was left to run its ten year life and let die without really uprooting the Taliban sway of power in this central Asian poor country.

From Lefkosia’s perspective whether the Cypriot government likes it or not, with or without its consent, the British Bases constitute the launching pad for strikes light or heavy, is immaterial, on ISIS positions. Unavoidably putting Cyprus in the theatre of the Western anti-jihadist war in the Levant. And inevitably including the island in the list of possible targets of the Islamist extremists.

This very fact by itself can be used as a powerful argument by the Cypriot government to demand compensation and/or trade-offs from the UK-US bloc.

Today, Cyprus stands at the frontline of defence of Western civilization in the face of the menacing Islamist threat. Alas, instead of rewards and support we receive neo-Ottoman provocations and insults and US cajoling and begging Ankara. Kissing Ankara’s dirty hands!

Overtaken by this deluge of provocations and negative events from the West President Anastasiades had no option than to suspend the talks aimed at a comprehensive settlement of the Cyprus question.

The day before yesterday resolute to denounce Turkey in the European Council, Anastasiades travelled to Brussels. He intended to demand a condemnation of Ankara’s provocations in the Cypriot EEZ (he has already done so with the UN which circulated his 6 October protest later as an official UN document a few days ago) and was going to meet David Cameron at the latter’s behest in an effort to persuade our ‘strategic partners’ to restrain Ankara from going ahead with her string of advanced, stepped up provocations.

Yesterday, hypertension and strain sent our bleeding President instead of the European Council to a Brussels hospital. I would not envy his difficult position. All I can wish for is for him to make the right choices in our foreign, defence and foreign policy.

No Cypriot in his right mind would put up with another forty years of neo-Ottoman occupation.

Your Excellencies, Πανιερώτατε, Dear friends,

Thank you very much indeed for your patience.

* This speech was delivered at the international conference 'Cyprus & Middle East: Current Crisis' hosted at the Kyrenia Diocese, Cyprus, 24 Oct 2014.