WATER IN POLITICS:
The case of Turkey's expansion in Cyprus
During the last years, we observe a positive explosion of the fight for free access to water and sanitation and its recognition as basic human right available to every citizen. This developing evolution is very crucial, given that water has been used for centuries as a controlling weapon by governments in their domestic and foreign policy. Someone can easily question the ways and degree of influence that ‘water policy’ can play in antagonistic relations between states. A very recent and key paradigm of that is in Turkey’s recent strategy towards Cyprus, where water is used by Turkey in its strategic goal to annex the illegally occupied northern part of Cyprus. This is water politics at its worst!
Cyprus is an internationally recognised country, member of UN and the European Union. Since 1974, after an invasion by Turkey on the island, the northern part of Cyprus is under Turkish occupation. The illegal occupation continues still today with Turkey controlling one third of the island with thousands of Turkish troops and much more settlers being transferred to the island from the mainland Anatolia Turkey. In 1983, Turkey set up its own self-declared state in the occupied part under the name of Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus (TRNC), recognised only by Turkey.
One of Turkey’s main strategies on Cyprus has always been the alteration of the demographic character of the island - by the transferring of population from mainland Turkey to the occupied side of Cyprus. Towards this effort there was this year, the completion of the “Project of the Century”, namely the construction of an 80 kilometres-long pipeline that brings water from the mainland to the occupied part of the island. Due to the water scarcity in the occupied northern part, Cyprus faces timeless problems such as shortage of drinking water and for agricultural irrigation. As a result, Turkey uses the pipeline to strengthen its dominance in the island and to gain more power on the Eastern Mediterranean. As Turkey would never have spent 380 million euros on a project made in another country just to show good will, this totally politically-driven decision reveals its true plans regarding the Cyprus conflict, namely the continuation of its illegal occupation and strategic rule of the whole island. Nevertheless, this is the biggest project of transferring water from one country to another that has ever been made.
The objectives of the Project are numerous, starting from the increase of the Greek Cypriot properties’ value that since the invasion of 1974 have been illegally inhabited by Turkish people. Under a possible settlement of the Cyprus issue, Turkey insists that the alteration of a property's value would have as consequence its transferring from the legal Greek Cypriot owner to its illegal current user. This also increases the influx of Turkish settlers arriving in Cyprus, as it gives them additional incentives to move in. Furthermore, Turkey can now expand its political and economic control over the Turkish Cypriot population living in northern part Cyprus, as they will depend on the Turkish government to provide them with this valuable “treasure” which can bring social and economic growth to their community.
The above explains how a country can treat water as a mechanism to affect the political background by using it as a strategic weapon for territorial expansion, control and other political games of power. By international law, the Turkish settlement including the building of infrastructure, constitutes a war crime prohibited under the rules of the International Criminal Court. Furthermore, such practices violate basic human rights and undermine the international and European rules of law.
Brussels, November 2015
COSTAS MAVRIDES has been a Member of the European Parliament since 2014, representing Cyprus. He is a member of Democratic Party of Cyprus and sits with the Progressive Alliance of Socialists and Democrats in the European Parliament. He is a Member of the Committee on Economic and Monetary Affairs and Member, Delegation to the EU-Turkey Joint Parliamentary Committee.