From the Pipeline to Paris


In the days before the 2015 UN Paris Climate Summit COP21 - which proceeds as planned despite the terrorist attacks of Friday 13th November - we find ourselves in a moment of time worthy of remembrance. The anticipation that has been felt over the past year by the world community around this international conference is accounted for by the possibility of achieving a world-saving strategy for the good of our common futures - to be accomplished through an agreement which has already been hailed as a potentially defining moment for future collective global commitment and action.

Within our timeline of just the past few months, events of international significance have lined up in such a way that make them impossible to either ignore - or to not connect - in some way to our Pipeline discussion; that is, the placement of the Pipeline’s 17 October inauguration in the pathway between the UN Sustainable Development Goals Summit 0f 25-27 September, and that of the COP21 meeting of 30 November to 11 December 2015.

Just as was the SDG agreements embodied an historic example of global engagement, partnership and voluntary commitments, the COP21 - regardless of the actual outcome of the agreement that will be signed - has come to be the symbol for the type of global partnership that is indispensable to the salvation of the planet and as a guarantee of humankind’s future. Many have observed that the tragic recent events in Paris may have only served to reinforce the current spirit of global solidarity, which it is hoped, will even further enhance resolve for international cooperation.

The goodwill evoked by this meeting of nations innately represents the best version of us: of cooperation of all parties involved, policy-making for the greater good of all people and for the protection of our environment. These 2 multi-lateral agreements represent collaboration in all domains, the potential synergy between all levels of society, and an end to the exploitation of our natural environment, our atmosphere, people, and in most particular, the weaker members of our global community.

Within this consensus-based vision of negotiation, of collective political decision-making across communities and states, and of responsible and democratic governance and leadership, the timing of the AKP government’s water transfer project seems painfully out of place. Indeed, reversely, the Pipeline represents an example of unilateral action, and embodies the imposition of one viewpoint and objective over all other parties involved and directly affected. It is an action that has, among other things, had a summative and damaging environmental impact, has imposed upon the inhabitants of the island, and re-enacts an unequivocal exertion of power of the stronger over the weaker.

It must be reiterated that not only was the pipeline project not a joint water venture by Turkey with the Government of the Republic of Cyprus, there was no mutual advisory body, no joint engineering cooperative, no reciprocated environmental impact analysis initiative; and ultimately the project was also patronizingly duplicitous towards the Turkish-Cypriots - and although their “leadership” may have signed a principal ‘agreement’ with Turkey, it is ironic that neither was, in actuality, to have any real involvement in decision-making, in the construction of infrastructure, or the instatement of the pipeline water in the occupied northern part of the island by Turkey.

Telling is the fact that at the time of writing, an ongoing dispute between local municipal authorities in the occupied areas and Turkey over the management of the water is being played out on the basis of the ‘ownership rights’ of the entire Project - with the “motherland” as sole proprietor predictably favoring privatization. Rumors abound that for this reason, water-flow through the pipeline has been cut off and the customary financial funding by Turkey of the Turkish-Cypriots has been withheld. In light of such conduct, akin to manipulation and perhaps even blackmail, it is even more impossible to reconcile Erdoğan’s declarations at the pipeline inauguration ceremony, such as “what actually matters to us is humans..”, and similar claims to that effect.

It should not go unmentioned, for those who might not be aware, the unilateral and political nature of this project had been made clear repeatedly over the five years of the project’s development, through the overt provocation by Turkey that came with the unmistakable symbolic use of contentious and charged dates. These dates were linked to significant political events of Turkey’s recent and historical past such as: the project’s principal ‘agreement’ was (illegally) signed on 20th July 2010 - the 36th anniversary of Ankara’s 1974 invasion of the island - and subsequent inaugural dates for the project have been alternately this same date (only averted due to construction delays) and the 29th of October - a date that commemorates the day in 1923 when the secular Republic of Turkey was declared by its founder Mustafa Kemal Atatürk; and this unilateral attitude is also, of course, not unlike the self-declaration of the illegal ‘Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus’ in 1983. (NB. this other provocative ‘opening’ date was also averted by unexpected circumstances - in this case, Turkish internal instability that was exacerbated by the Ankara peace-rally bombings.)            

If the Pipeline is to be viewed in any “cooperative” frame,  it would be that of joint venture of the Turkish government and the foreign companies in their employ. As previously established, the only points of cooperation to this project came in the form of foreign engineering expertise and construction contracts; within this reality, it is impossible to not point out the complicity of other nations - in the form of the involvement of multi-national companies in the project’s development and execution - which designates the implicit if not direct intervention, interference, and entanglement of other nations in the existence of another country.

With the pipeline, Erdoğan’s “water from Anatolia” clearly reconfirms ‘water’ as part of the founding goals of the secular Republic of Turkey, proving that the action of the Pipeline is unquestionably in step with Turkey’s manipulation of the water supply of its neighbors. The essence of the Pipeline is further enhanced by the provocative symbolism behind Erdoğan’s desire to not only boost his practical role as the region’s strongest player with unapologetic geopolitical imperatives, but also the omnipotent and imperious profile of a guardian and “modern-day sultan” who decides alone. As a president allegedly referred to by an fellow AKP official as a leader “in possession of all the attributes of God Almighty”, divisive events such as the ‘rabia’ hand-gesturing ethno-nationalist tone of the 17 October Pipeline inauguration, fail to convince us of the humanitarian nature of the water-transfer towards either the occupied part, nor the free legitimate part of the island. Instead, it is just one more display of Turkey’s patent and habitual violation of international law.

In the larger context of Turkish overall strategy of using water resources as a way to affect long-term political and human balances in the region, the Pipeline lies in stark contrast to the global spirit of planetary and humanitarian unity of this moment, which is evermore highlighted by the irony of ‘water’ as a life-giving natural resource.

As our world passes through a phase of history in which abstract ideological notions are increasingly entering our psyche as two opposing forces of light and dark, we see in the case of Cyprus, the extreme polarities of the democratic principles, and values of respect for human dignity and equality represented by the European Union - versus - the hand of authoritarian rule reaching across the pipeline. Additionally, as the antipole to the vision and principles of the upcoming UN Paris Summit, we can view Turkey’s action only as an enemy to the all-embracing values of universal human progress and unity, and all the ideals that we should be striving for today.

Water scarcity is spreading and intensifying in this region of the world. In the spirit of cooperation and collective action that abounds at this moment, it must be pointed out that there is an urgent need for future sustainable and equitable water-sharing. This can only happen effectively through open, democratic dialogue, and strategies for unified action. Furthermore, in order to tackle cross-boundary hydro-political issues, which carry with them both social, economic and environmental concerns, it is only through lawful water-sharing agreements that potential distress and conflict may be averted. Finally, it must be recognized that the delinquency in comprehensive international policy response and global cooperative arrangements that address water security challenges worldwide, make inter-country water competition a growing risk everywhere.  


Without question, the existence of the pipeline to Cyprus highlights the absence of assured commitment to sustainable and equitable water diplomacy in the region. The Pipeline is also the latest example of how the lack of a cooperative arrangement before an inter-country water transfer is undertaken, creates security risks capable of feeding any existing inter-state tension, exacerbating long-standing territorial disputes - and inevitably, further imposing hardships on the more vulnerable.

As has been argued by some, an act of aggression through water, a water war does not have to embody the conventional concept of war - of ground-troops, tanks and warplanes, or armed conflict. But let us not forget that in the case of divided Cyprus the ‘offense’ is at present twofold: as the physical presence of military power is in reality, already in very much evidence. 

Respice, adspice, prospice.
Examine the past, examine the present, examine the future, of water.

The story of Cyprus within the politics of water has not yet reached its conclusion -
it is in fact, only just beginning to unfold.

Melina Nicolaides
November 2015