Turkish Cypriots are only trying to protect their rights, Kudret Özersay, the deputy prime minister and foreign minister of the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus (TRNC) said, referring to conflict resolution process within the Mediterranean island of Cyprus that has been continuing for decades now.
Speaking to Daily Sabah, Özersay asserted that the Turkish Cypriots never sought to escalate tensions and conflict but no one should expect them to be a mere spectator while the Greek Cypriots realize defense and military cooperation with countries such as the U.S., Egypt and Israel. He added that the Turkish Cypriots are taking their own countermeasures with the aim of deterring other countries from trying to take advantage of them.
"Now, they're trying to make the U.S. side with them via military cooperation. What we have issues with is that they're claiming Turkey is a threat to them in the Eastern Mediterranean due to the dispute in maritime jurisdiction. They allege that they're trying to thwart this so-called threat," Özersay said.
Deeming these claims as baseless, he affirmed that Turkish Cypriots are only trying to protect their rights and will not allow any kind of fait accompli. In terms of maritime jurisdiction and the natural gas reserves found in the Eastern Mediterranean, Özersay said that international powers acknowledge that these resources also belong to Turkish Cypriots.
Regarding the disputed sea territories, Özersay explained that they have a slightly different approach than Turkey.
Affirming that Turkish Cypriots are willing to cooperate with Greek Cypriots over disputed territories, he stated that Turkey does not allow any action to be taken in territories it has claims to.
"Turkey won't allow vessels that are there for excavations; Turkey either won't allow them access or force them to leave. This is done by deterring these vessels. In this respect, our policies are similar with a few minor divergences. These policies shouldn't be confused with each other. There are territories on the south of the island where Turkey doesn't have stake. We'll hold excavations there as the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus together with Turkish Petroleum," he added.
Last week, the Turkish Navy stopped a Greek frigate from harassing a Turkish research ship in the Eastern Mediterranean. The seismic and drilling vessel Barbaros Hayrettin Paşa was carrying out research activity, as had been previously announced, on the Turkish continental shelf of the Güzelyurt Research Coast off the Republic of Northern Cyprus.
Turkey has consistently contested the Greek Cypriot administration's unilateral drilling activity in the Eastern Mediterranean, saying Turkish Cypriots also have rights to their sources around the area.
Earlier this month, Ankara voiced criticism against the move of the Greek Cypriot administration in the Eastern Mediterranean, inviting energy giants to bid for a license to explore in the area designated as Block 7, one of the blocks located in the unilaterally declared Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ). The Turkish Foreign Ministry stated previously that the move disregarded the inalienable natural resource rights of Turkish Cypriots, the co-owners of the island.
Meanwhile, Turkey is ready to do what is necessary to find a solution to the decades-long Cyprus issue, yet it will not compromise on the protection, interests and rights of the Turkish Cypriots, Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu said last week.
Cyprus has been divided since 1974 when a Greek Cypriot coup was followed by violence against the island's Turks and Ankara's intervention as a guarantor power.
To resolve the Cyprus issue, there have been some efforts, including peace talks last year in July. Previously there had been an on-and-off peace process over recent years, the latest failed initiative having taken place in Crans-Montana, Switzerland in July 2017 under the auspices of guarantor countries Turkey, Greece and the U.K., collapsing earlier this year due to the unreasonable demands of the Greek Cypriot administration and Greece.
Negotiations over Cyprus resumed after the 2004 U.N.-backed Annan Plan to reunify the Turkish Cypriot and Greek Cypriot communities.
The reunification talks – brokered by U.N. Special Cyprus Envoy Espen Barth Eide – were launched in May 2015 to discuss a permanent settlement for the divided Mediterranean island.
The status of the island remains unresolved in spite of a series of discussions that resumed in May 2015.
Turkey, in its capacity as a guarantor on the island, has also strengthened its presence in the Mediterranean Sea with its seismic and drilling vessels – the Barbaros Hayrettin Paşa, Oruç Reis and Fatih.
The Fatih vessel will conduct its first drilling in the Mediterranean in the next few months, he revealed. This drilling is based on the success from Turkey's exploration and production industry, which has spent over $10 billion in the past 16 years.
The root cause of the issue and the loose federation proposition
Speaking on the current state of affairs between the TRNC and Greek Cypriot administration, Özersay expressed that negotiations have been interrupted. He touched upon the United Nations report which underscores certain conditions for the reiteration of negotiations, deeming it realistic but lacking in certain aspects.
"The report states that both parties should discuss whether they have a common ideas and vision regarding the future of Cyprus. Similarly, the U.N. says both administrations should agree on the definition of a rapprochement before initiating negotiations. I believe this is a realistic approach. Moreover, the report suggests that both parties should also determine how the negotiations will go on. In short, it should be mutually agreed what is being negotiated and how it will be negotiated. However, the report lacks in terms of the root cause of the disaccord; there is an ethnic disaccord we can talk about," he said.
Stressing on the importance of addressing the root cause, Özersay stated that it should be researched thoroughly and indicated that the U.N report did not have any evaluations about the said root cause. He stated that the U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres tasked his representative to uncover the root cause of the issue and whether a common vision exists between the two parties in Cyprus.
In this respect, he indicated that the root cause was not included in the report for various reasons such as not to discuss the issue at the U.N. Security Council, not to take a risk or the secretary-general not willing to risk his own reputation on this matter.
Greek Cypriots must change their mindset
Özersay underscored that they have been negotiating with the Greek Cypriot administration to form a federal structure for almost 50 years.
"Federal partnership means having equal access to administration, political power and wealth. This requires both a constitution and a federal understanding which is ready to share. In 2004, during Annan's term, the U.N. prepared a report which was not ratified by the Security Council. Nevertheless, this doesn't make what the report states incorrect. In the secretary-general's report, it's stated that the Greek Cypriots aren't ready to share the administration and wealth with the Turkish Cypriots after the referendum. For this reason, if we're to discuss federal partnership and focus on federal partnership in negotiations, we need the Greek Cypriots to shift their mindset toward a more participative state, as President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has also stated," he said.
Özersay also talked about the loose federation proposition by the Greek Cypriots. According to him, this proposition foresees a smaller government in terms of authority while clearly indicating that the Turkish Cypriots will have the lesser role in administration and wealth as the Greek Cypriots are not ready to share power equally.
"They expect us to make concessions in terms of political equality, active participation, decision making and representation. In return, they want to share the authority in a different way. This approach is something we're accustomed to for almost 50 years; they're talking about federal partnership while clearly expressing that they don't want to share the authority with the loose federation proposition," he said.
Loose federation an unhelpful approach
Özersay asserted that a different and creative kind of a federation model could be discussed if the political and sociological basis for it was there. Deeming the loose federation proposition as an uncreative approach, Özersay signified that its implementation would perpetuate the vicious circle even though it may acknowledge the root cause and the Greek Cypriots unwillingness to share the power.
He urged that this matter should be discussed with sincerity while adding that both parties should agree on the methodology, schedule and consequences of the negotiations.
"Regardless of a paradigm shift, the Greek Cypriots should ask themselves whether they are ready to share the administration and wealth with us, which is an indispensable component of federal partnership," he said.
The island can't be ruled like a unitary state
Özersay stressed that the Greek Cypriot administration has been ruling the island like a unitary state without any concession or compromise, with certain exceptions, due to its EU membership after 2004.
"For this reason, the negotiations for federal partnership are mostly rendered hypothetical and conjectural. This is the situation. I don't believe the Greek Cypriots have internalized the idea that, despite the difference in their populations, Turkish Cypriots are their equals politically," he continued.
Foreign policy of the Greek Cypriots and the Eastern Mediterranean
Asserting that the Turkish Cypriots never sought to escalate tensions and conflict, Özersay stated that no one should expect them to be a mere spectator while the Greek Cypriots realize defense and military cooperation with countries such as the U.S., Egypt and Israel. He signified that the Turkish Cypriots are taking their own countermeasures with the aim to deter.
"I have met with Turkey's minister of defense three times within a month or two. I can say that these meetings were productive; we have a similar understanding. Greek Cypriots are allowing other countries to use their military bases in the region. Through this, they are trying to make France and Italy side with them. They have tried the same with Russia in the past by buying S-300s and deploying them in Cyprus. Now, they're trying to make the U.S. side with them via military cooperation. What we have issues with is that they're claiming Turkey is a threat to them in the Eastern Mediterranean due to the dispute in maritime jurisdiction. They allege that they're trying to thwart this so-called threat."
Deeming these claims as baseless, he affirmed that Turkish Cypriots are only trying to protect their rights and will not allow any kind of fait accompli. In terms of maritime jurisdiction and the natural gas reserve found in the Eastern Mediterranean, Özersay asserted international powers acknowledge that these resources also belong to Turkish Cypriots.
"Let's say we have a glass of water there. After saying that this glass of water belongs to the two of us, you're deciding whether this water should stay in the glass or in a plastic cup, whether this water would be consumed cold or hot, or how much of it will be consumed and preserved without asking. It's contradictory. If these natural resources belong to the two of us, together we need to agree on the administrative processes, how it should be extracted and which international powers will extract them. Yet, you decide which company should extract it by itself, decide the share of the company, through which route should the resource be transferred and with an FLNG [floating liquefied natural gas] platform or a pipeline. This is a matter which concerns the political, economic and strategic future of Cyprus. If you're so willing to resolve the Cyprus issue, you shouldn't decide on all these matters by yourself."
Özersay stated that Turkish Cypriots are open to negotiations on these matters and ready to cooperate, if the Greek Cypriots are open and ready as well.
"However, if you're not ready, we will make our own deals. We reached an agreement with Turkey regarding the delimitation of continental shelf as you've done with other countries. We have licensed Turkish Petroleum as you've licensed Total, Eni and ExxonMobil. We're realizing seismic explorations just like you. Now, you're saying that you will excavate, so will we. This is valid for all territories belonging to the Turkish Cypriots," he asserted.
Regarding disputed sea territories, Özersay affirmed that Turkish Cypriots are willing to cooperate with Greek Cypriots disputed territories and also he stated that Turkey does not allow any action to be taken in territories it has claims to.
"Turkey won't allow vessels that are there for excavations; Turkey either won't allow them access or forces them to leave. This is done by deterring these vessels. In this respect, our policies are similar with a few minor divergences. These policies shouldn't be confused with each other. There are territories on the south of the island where Turkey doesn't have stake. We'll hold excavations there as the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus together with Turkish Petroleum," he added.
Foreign policy of TRNC
Özersay stressed that the TRNC's foreign policy is closely tied with the Cyprus issue while it is not limited to it.
"I'm 45 years old; since my birth, I'm entangled in this issue. This issue is older than me. For instance, I've been in negotiations with three U.N. secretary-generals, four Greek Cypriot leaders and three TRNC presidents. In terms of our legitimate rights and interests, we've an overlapping foreign policy with Turkey; we always signify this fact. However, there's more to our foreign policy. Firstly, we want to eliminate Turkish Cypriots' international isolation. Secondly, we want to increase TRNC's international visibility by joining all possible platforms to express Turkish Cypriots' expectations, outlooks, sensibilities and demands along with participating in issues the world faces. This is what our foreign policy seeks. For instance, we want to contribute to the counterterrorism efforts and cooperate in finding refugees shelter, help them safely reach secure destinations. We're cooperating with U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees for some refugees who left Syria," he said.
Asserting that not being recognized by other countries is not an excuse to shy away from global issues such as the refugee crisis, Özersay expressed the TRNC's willingness to contribute and cooperate. He affirmed that they do not allow criminals who have committed a crime in another country to settle in the TRNC.
"If a criminal who has committed a crime in their own country escapes and tries to relocate in the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus, we won't allow it. The TRNC isn't a 'safe haven' for criminals; we are always ready to cooperate in these matters. These countries may not have extradition agreements with us as they don't recognize our sovereignty; however, both the police and intelligence services have become more open to cooperate with us recently. In return, we're proving that we're a trustworthy partner by extraditing people who have committed crimes and are sought by Interpol," he said.
Talking about the TRNC's relations with Turkey, he stated that the two parties are close and direct.
"I visit Ankara as TRNC's Foreign Minister. Similarly, Mr. Çavuşoğlu visits Lefkoşa. We come together with him in New York from time to time. I also meet with President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. I have recently met with the vice president along with Dr. İbrahim Kalın. Therefore, it's our priority to have direct and active relations at the highest level with Turkey instead of complaining about issues on the media to send a message," he said.
Resolution of the deadlock
Regarding the deadlock in Cyprus that has been ongoing for 50 years, Özersay stressed that rapprochement is possible if all parties agree on a resolution. He asserted that they are against the usage of force for the resolution of the issue.
"We have been putting effort to find an extensive resolution. We'll surely have a positive outlook on the matter; however, what we should do is to seek cooperation with all parties, including Greek Cypriots, in a peaceful manner. We have to have a modern and civil approach. Yet, first we have to create a TRNC which serves its people in the best way possible, making them feel good to be a part of it. I believe when the TRNC becomes a better state in terms of economy and administration, this negative atmosphere will disperse even if the desired rapprochement fails. Societal morale could only be consolidated with a well-functioning state," he said.
Özersay also signified the importance of the TRNC's visibility in the international community. He expressed that he has met with the U.N. secretary-general along with foreign diplomats during his visit to New York.
"We're an observer of the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC). I've made a speech at their meeting. We're an observer of the Economic Cooperation Organization. We're there to express who we are, what we want and what our position is in global issues. We're the modern, open-minded Turkish Cypriots. Explaining our position through TRNC institutions, being in contact and cooperation with everyone is our ideal foreign policy," he continued.
Lastly, Özersay asserted that Turkish Cypriots have reasonable demands such as securing the future of the island. In this respect, he stated that Republic of Turkey is the TRNC's most important strategic partner and stalwart ally.