THE SEMANTICS BEHIND THE ‘WATER OF PEACE’:
Strengthening the dependence of ‘TRNC’ on Anatolia
The recent ceremony in the occupied northern part of the Republic of Cyprus on 17 October 2015, in the presence of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, for the inauguration of the 80 km-long underwater trans-Mediterranean fresh water pipeline from the Anatolian coast of Anamur to the Panagra coast in the self-proclaimed ‘Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus’ (‘TRNC’) – beyond its obvious functionality – carries symbolic insinuations as well as strategic implications.
The water scarcity on the Eastern Mediterranean island, consequent of the continually diminishing rainfall during the last decades – addressed effectively by the Republic of Cyprus through the timely construction of an adequate number of reverse osmosis desalination stations – was not followed in the occupied area of the Republic. Although the initial idea for the transfer of Turkish water to the island was introduced by businessman Uzeyir Garih in 1995, after repeated failed attempts with giant floating balloons in 1997, by a Turkish subsidiary of the Norwegian Nordic Water Supply company, and through high-cost tanker transfers by the State Waterworks Authority DSI, attention was focused by AKP’s Islamist government of Erdogan on an ambitious project with deep national symbolism.
The selection of a technologically high-risk and financially expensive solution for the underwater 160 cm-diameter Eastern Mediterranean pipeline – the largest in the world, that could carry annually 75 million cubic meters of water – at a total construction cost of USD 576.3 million, floating at 250 meters below seal level, was considered by Ankara as preferable to the lower-risk desalination technology that carried less symbolic connotations. The discreet insinuation of the notional connection – an umbilical cord – between the occupied northern part of the island under ‘TRNC’ and ‘motherland’ Turkey, was perceived as vitally more important than the technical challenges – such as the buoyancy forces, the dynamic sea currents, shipping traffic and the 7 bar operating pressure – of the project, which began in 2011.
Practically, the Turkish water is expected to address the drinking and irrigation needs of the ‘TRNC’ – despite the continually diminishing number of Turkish-Cypriots who turned into a minority within Turkish settlers and nationals – for at least the following 30 years. Strategically, the reported presence of underwater sensors and transmitters for the timely identification of pipeline faults and damages, may also include underwater devices and automatically activated sonars that can detect submarine movements in the sensitive naval passage, between the northern coasts of Cyprus and the southerns coasts of Anatolia, indirectly turning it into a semi-enclosed controlled sea.
Although the operation of the aspiring, but technologically sensitive and high-risk, undersea pipeline may be confronted with technical failures, Ankara’s effort to present the project as ‘the water of peace’, may not be irrelevant with its posture of managing the water itself rather than allocating it freely to the ‘TRNC’.
Nicosia, November 2015
PETROS SAVVIDES, PhD candidate Modern History (Birmingham), MPhil History (Glasgow), is a Defence Analyst and Historian and Research Associate at the Cyprus Center for European and International Affairs of the University of Nicosia. He also serves as Editor of the scholarly journal Eastern Mediterranean Geopolitical Review.