ERDOGAN'S WATER AND THE CYPRIOTS
Nikos Moudouros, PhD
It has been called the “project of the century” and many experts in the field call it a world novelty. This is none other than the undersea water pipeline from Turkey to Cyprus, which will transport 75 million cubic meters of water on an annual basis. According to the terms of the Protocol signed in 2010 between Ankara and the Turkish Cypriot leadership, the rights of the sale of water in Cyprus, as well as in other countries, belong to Turkey. The ownership of all project installations also belongs to Turkey, either on Turkish or Cypriot soil. The protocol makes absolutely no provision for payment, as a way of royalties or rent, by Turkey to the Turkish Cypriot community for the use of the land on which the facilities are built (dams, pipelines, etc.).
Additionally, the land, through which the terrestrial part of the pipeline passes on Cypriot soil, is directly passed on to Turkey. The Protocol clearly states the conditions for the status / securing of private companies that have undertaken the completion of the project, as well as those companies that will take over the management of water on the island. Consequently, one of the major new elements introduced by this agreement is the complete privatization of water management and the control of water resources of one country by another. However, the information mentioned above - while indeed important – perhaps does not give a comprehensive picture of how important a shift in paradigm has been caused by the future operation of the pipeline vis-à-vis the Cyprus problem - and more widely, the Eastern Mediterranean.
The civilisational process as a hegemonic aspect of the new Turkey
In order to have a clear understanding of the geopolitical impact of the water pipeline in conditions of non-resolution of the Cyprus problem, it is necessary to make a broader analysis of the ideological framework within which projects of similar scale of the Turkish government are placed. The selective perception of Erdoğan’s Justice and Development Party (AKP) regarding democracy has gradually brought forth its belief that it forms an agent of a “historic mission”. AKP perceives itself as the leader of a restoration course of the imperial experience of Anatolia, and of a course promoting Turkey as a global power. Among many other facts pertaining to the regeneration of the greatness of Turkey, AKP also deems that this should be expressed territorially, spatially and visually. It should be reflected through massive infrastructure projects, giant buildings and skyscrapers, modern roads, huge commercial centres that deify consumerism, as well as through the use of new technologies.
This civilizing type sets a specific content of economic growth in a dominant and completely detached position from issues of democratisation and safeguarding the rights of those in inferior positions. Erdoğan often says in his speeches that “roads are civilisation” and insists on counting the tens of thousands of kilometres of new roads created by his own government. This particular form of material civilisation and of modernisation transforms into a hegemony of an alternative cultural context. It transforms into a pursuit of implementing a new social machinery, in which the ideological identity of the new regime will also be understood through the change of space, of the immediate environment, of buildings and of other infrastructure.
This “obsession” with major infrastructure projects, and the development of technology, placed within the wider context of “Islamic modernisation”, ultimately expresses certain aspects of the geopolitical vision of Turkey itself. The “civilising force” of the country, also applies to foreign policy. It turns into a kind of “modernisation export” that some have called the “Turkish model”. As a result of the special historical relations between Cyprus and Turkey, as well as the very specific structural dependency of the Turkish Cypriot community on Ankara, especially after the invasion of 1974, the efforts of Turkey to export ‘modernisation’ to the island inevitably creates a dynamic of transformation of the entire Turkish Cypriot community. This prospect applies to a multiple degree if we consider that the implementation of an economic and commercial integration strategy between Turkey and Cyprus through the project in question, involves a fundamental issue such as water.
A "new Cyprus" without Turkish Cypriots?
How does the above framework relate to Cyprus, the Turkish Cypriots and the water pipe? The provisions of the Protocol mentioned above serve to illuminate precisely this point. This project is one of the most typical expressions in paradigm shift in the relations between Turkey and Turkish Cypriots. Turkey, in the current conditions of non-resolution of the Cyprus problem, enters, in an official manner, a course of autonomising its presence in Cyprus. It exports its own modernization without the legitimizing presence or consent of the Turkish Cypriot community. Ankara undertakes to “civilise” the space, to expand its hegemony, without the mediation of the Turkish Cypriot leadership. It undertakes to set up a “new TRNC” (Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus) touching upon almost every sphere of social life in the occupied territories. Through the transport of water, Ankara thus, undertakes to solve a vital problem such as the water and, by resolving this problem it pursues to further contribute to the normalization of its own presence in Cyprus.
This method of solving the water issue is quite typical. It refers to the attempt of structuring a parallel social and political reality; a ‘Turkish’ reality where Turkish business circles will dominate. At the same time, this new parameter marginalises and alienates the Turkish Cypriots, both politically and culturally. By extension, the modernisation of this atypical colonial relationship has a very crucial collateral damage for Turkey because it modernises and, at the same time, reproduces the Turkish Cypriot opposition. The intensity with which the Turkish Cypriots react to the new context of their relationship with Turkey becomes political. It acquires a clearer purpose focusing on the Cypriot-Turkish Cypriot space. The discourse of the Turkish Cypriot opposition clearly claims the renegotiation of the Turkish Cypriot community’s relationship with Turkey and, at the same time, it de-legitimises Ankara’s policies both regarding water management, and the wider context of the Cyprus problem.
The paradigm shift of Turkey’s presence in Cyprus, achieved through the undersea water pipeline in the current divisive conditions, marks the beginning of structuring a political and economic system that will further marginalize the Turkish Cypriots. The addition of the water issue, as an element of further structural dependency of the occupied territories on Turkey, nourishes the creation of political, economic and cultural “borders” with Turkey. In this sense, the Turkish Cypriot reactions underline the differences and questioning of the Turkish hegemony. At the same time, these reactions indicate that the “defence line” of the Greek Cypriots includes, or should include, the Turkish Cypriot community because the effort of the Turkish Cypriot community to protect their existence is, at the same time, an effort to repel the autonomy of Turkey’s presence in Cyprus.
Nicosia, November 2015
DR. NIKOS MOUDOUROS obtained a postgraduate title from the University SOAS London and a Doctoral title from the Turkish and Middle-Eastern Studies Department of the University of Cyprus. His research interests focus on the modern history of political Islam in Turkey, as well as the history of the Turkish Cypriot community. He is currently teaching as a Special Academic Staff at the Turkish and Middle-Eastern Studies Department of the University of Cyprus. He offers courses on issues like Islam in Turkey, Turkish foreign policy, social changes in Turkey and the transformation of the relations between Turkey and the Turkish Cypriot community.
He is the author of the book The Transformation of Turkey - From the Kemalist domination to ‘Islamic neo-liberalism’, by Alexandria publications (Athens). Many of his articles have been published in academic journals, such as the Journal of Globalizations and the Journal of Balkan and Near Eastern Studies.