Pipeline Politics


Melina Nicolaides

Water has been moved and transported and diverted for centuries; in actuality, ancient Rome’s renown for its superior hydraulic knowledge and technological innovations which remained unsurpassed until the end of the 18th century, extends even further back to the water exploits of the Etruscan civilization. In modern times, water has been displaced and redistributed by mega waterprojects, waterway re-distributions, reservoir and dam infrastructures, and by artificially-engineered hydrolic projects. Typically, large-scale water transfers are extremely costly investment projects, but are also frequently contentious in nature; time and again, water experts agree that the implied ‘benefits’ of projects linked to the redistribution of water do not substantially outweigh the risks when viewed in the context of potential environmental damage, and latent socio-political, economic and human impacts.

Today, water has incontestably emerged to the forefront as the most important issue for the fate of mankind – from the perspective of our current ecological and climate change crisis, but also in the form of the intensifying relationship between water, peace and international security. The growing inevitability around the world of water-related geopolitical tension and inter-state conflict - and in the extreme case of Daesh, the ‘extra-state’ tyranny of human subjugation through water - have made this natural resource an unequivocal focus of attention in this century. The oft-referenced ‘water wars’, whether carried out with political, diplomatic or economic means - and in which the ‘use’ of cross-boundary water projects can be included - often serve to keep alive or to re-expose already existing tensions, even to start new cycles of mistrust. Ultimately, all of these factors serve but to thrust into the background the real and immediate water challenges of a community, a region or nation, and thus impeding focus on the human factor of access to, and availability of water.        

Presentation wall of the 'Water Pipeline Project' at the Turkish Pavilion during the 7th World Water Forum, Daegu, South Korea from 12-17 April 2015   *

Presentation wall of the 'Water Pipeline Project' at the Turkish Pavilion during the 7th World Water Forum, Daegu, South Korea from 12-17 April 2015 *

The most recent water-transfer project brought into being is Turkey’s Subsea Water Pipeline - a project conceived, produced and executed by the Government of the Republic of Turkey to transfer water via a suspended pipeline from the Anamur River of a southern province of the Turkish mainland to the northern/occupied area of the island of Cyprus. This project comprises a massive system of pipes, infrastructure development both on the Turkish mainland and on the island itself, including dams and reservoirs at both extremities, stations, pumping areas, treatment facilities, and an estimated 475-kms of distribution lines and irrigation networks.

As part of ACTIVATE’s ongoing investigation into the global dynamics of water, our pipeline discussion will of course revisit some previously explored topics. We have touched upon contentious and divisive water issues that relate to the aspects underpinning the pipeline project - including the collateral impacts of large water projects, exploitative water management schemes where private interests can be tied to governmental political complicity, and the problematic involvement of multinationals in these projects through engineering and construction contracts - which potentially can directly or indirectly have long-term effects on the economy, sovereignty or territorial integrity of other nations.

In specific reference to the Eastern Mediterranean area, we have previously considered both the region’s chronic water scarcity problem and its growing ‘sites’ of water competition; in addition, to the existence of large water projects, namely Turkey’s Anatolia Project (GAP), the strategic ‘conceptual’ precursor of the Pipeline and the physical evidence of Turkey’s ongoing geopolitical water management strategy of controlling the region’s water; a strategy which has for decades defined, for example, its relations to its downstream neighbors such as Syria and Iraq with respect to the control of the Euphrates and Tigris rivers - and which of course, has had even larger regional implications.

In our following texts and visual essays, the Pipeline discussion reaches beyond the internal politics of the divided island; local issues such as the role of water and natural gas reserves in the ongoing Cyprus Problem negotiations; settler colonialism vis à vis the Turkish-Cypriot population; further illegal annexation of Turkish Cypriots and occupied lands;  the dangers of over-dependency on a single source of water - all perspectives which can be viewed under the light of the enduring and unequal power-balances on the divided island. In the hands of our contributing writers, the pipeline also becomes the narrative cue for considering the project in its wider context within this region, and also to identify the diverse energies and motivations that are revealed through this project, to name but a few - water as political tool, as definition of geographic borders, the altering of demographics, the relation between cross-boundary water rights - water management - economic flows, and future implications surrounding the further violation of international law by Turkey in regards to Cyprus.

This water transfer project, whose construction began in 2011, officially started pumping water on 17 October 2015 at an opening ceremony inaugurated by the President of the Republic of Turkey and other governmental officials. This one event was very telling in itself - it is necessary to recollect that this elaborate project launch took place just one week after the peace-rally suicide bombs of Ankara - the single worst terrorist attack ever on Turkish soil - and a little over a week before the November 1st elections in Turkey, in which Erdoğan’s governing AKP party were to win an overwhelming mandate for single-party majority rule, i.e. authoritarian rule.

The inaugural celebrations, beguilingly enveloped within a label of ‘humanitarian project’ and a rhetoric of ‘brotherly’ intentions towards both the Turkish Cypriots and Greek Cypriots, were offset only by the antithetical visual imagery of the occasion - with its unquestionable staging as a ‘distracting’ measure, and as a campaign-worthy and election-winning tool, and as another occasion to honor the Atatürk brand. It is difficult to see the inauguration spectacle in any other way but as an inverted mirror to the climate of fear, crackdown of media, and the suppression on rights and civil liberties that were going on in Turkey concurrently to the opening of this project - an opening witnessed by an ethnically ‘curated’ general public, specially selected from the ranks of the Turkish mainland settler population in order to subvert any possibility of protest, and to provide the required levels of devotion and enthusiastic adulation.   

Video 'THE ARRIVAL': President Erdogan’s arrival in occupied Cyprus to inaugurate Turkey's “peace” water for the island.

For our audience of socially and politically-engaged artists, water activists, curators, writers, students of water politics, and readers from all other fields within the larger international community, our objective here has been to put together a written and visual presentation that engages with the topic of the Turkish pipeline immediately following the project’s realization. The Pipeline has given us the opportunity to place Cyprus as the current focal-point of our water discussion, and bring it to a wider audience that may have missed the regional significance of the Project within the quick turnover of today’s international news cycle, particularly at this moment in time of increasingly rapid changes, and crises on multiple fronts all across the globe.

I would like to extend an enormous thank-you to our exceptional contributors who agreed to bring their voices to this special Water edition on Cyprus, and moreover, participate in the larger scope of our ongoing WATER PROJECTS. Our Pipeline guest writers have helped capture the pulse of how this multi-angled water politics “event” is currently playing out on the local and on the regional scale - while simultaneously revealing their level of dedication to investigating the subject. By exposing the aspects and features surrounding this highly problematic water transfer project, they have assisted in building a comprehensive introductory picture of pipeline politics at this crucial opening stage of the project - as Turkeys pipeline to occupied Cyprus is by no measure a closed discussion, and must continue to remain under scrutiny.


November, 2015

Activate's Pipeline Project Team instrumental in the evolution of this project: Melina Nicolaides (CY); Silvio Augusto Rusmigo (CY); Hyewon Lee (RoK); Suyeon Yun (RoK); Guiyoung Hwang (RoK)

Inauguration video: Silvio A. Rusmigo
Water Forum photo: Suyeon Yun

Many thanks to ACTIVATE team in Korea who while conducting research at the 7th World Water Forum held in Daegu, Gyeongbuk, South Korea from 12-17 April 2015 with the theme “Water for our Future”, (with participations from governments, International organizations, NGOs, Research institutes and Enterprises from about 200 nations) managed to make some inquiries for us at the official pavilion of Turkey. Their findings included the following information: when asked whether the project will provide water to the Republic of Cyprus, a pavilion representative speaking on behalf of one of the Project's Managers, explained that it was a “political subject” since in Cyprus there were “two states”, in the north was the “TRNC” and in the south, was “Greece”, and that there were “too many political problems for close collaboration”. Moreover, that this project was carried out by the Turkish Government, more specifically the DSI (General Directorate of State Hydraulic Work, Ministry of Forestry and Water Affairs of the Republic of Turkey), and “a lot of different international companies working for the Turkish Government”.
Just fyi, Turkey was host to the 5th World Water Forum held in 2009, with the theme “Bridging Divides For Water”.