25 Mar 2013

Pipelines, and deposit lines: a view from north Cyprus

Across the rooftops of Nicosia are the symbols of this island’s history, now again at the top of global concerns for different reasons.

A geopolitical divide running through Cyprus that’s even difficult to see at street level, until you stumble into the border guards. And then it becomes very real. Off limits for nearly four decades, streets are still deserted since the island’s partition.

On the Greek side of the line yesterday a D-Day of sorts – their fate in the single currency decided 2,000 miles away at a meeting in Brussels of their president with the Eurozone and the International Monetary Fund. The limits on cash withdrawals squeezed again to €120 as the bank vaults run dry. A week ago it was €600 plus.

The key sticking point was a desire by Cyprus’s rescuers to wind down Bank of Cyprus, which holds many of the deposits of Cyprus’ political and legal elite – a desperate attempt to resist pressure from the troika and keep some sort of offshore financial centre on the island.

On the north of the island, you can’t move for the flags of the self-proclaimed Republic of Northern Cyprus and its protector Turkey, but something here is moving.

The troubles of the south might change this island forever. The man who called himself the Mayor of Nicosia or Lefkosa from 1976-1990 (a title hotly-disputed in Cyprus proper) said he felt strong human sympathy for what was going on in the south.

If you travel further north on pristine motorways, paid for by the now booming economy in Turkey, you stumble across something extraordinary resting on the beach: piles of giant steel pipes, made in China, that will soon form a 50-mile pipeline of drinking water from Anatolia to North Cyprus.

At that point the north will have the drinking water and the south the gas. The Turkish Cypriots think it will help their bargaining power in any unity talks.

Also now it is the north that is growing, and that has open banks, and the south that has capital controls – in a week, when the sands have shifted hugely in Turkey, Israel, Russia and in the Eurozone. It is complicating negotiations and calculations about whether Cyprus will be allowed by Brussels to fall.

And its leaving the north Cypriots smiling.

In Turkish Nicosia, there’s a spot of schadenfreude at the fate of their neighbours, but when we spoke to the prime minister, unifying the island is back on the agenda.

Irsan Kucuk, who is the leader of the Turkish Cypriots and calls himself prime minister (though again this is disputed in the south)., said:  “Of course, I see this as the accumulated effect of many years [of their system]. I can say that the juncture they now find themselves at, has not come as a surprise to us.”

He said that depositors were welcome to put money in the banks in the north, which were “safe and stable”. But he also felt that better conditions may now exist for unity and peace.

“My opinion is, thinking logically, and considering the people in both countries and caring for their livelihoods and welfare, this could lead to relatively more positive developments.  The process could take a more positive direction, one would think,” he told me.

Cash strapped southern Cyprus was banking on using its gas reserves as a security in any bailout. On Monday Turkey proper waded in, the foreign ministry saying that was “dangerous”.

Last week President Obama on the tarmac next to air Force One, made PM Netanyahu of Israel apologise and promise to compensate Turkey for the deaths on its 2010 flotilla to Gaza. Just in the past few days Turkey has made up with the Kurds who have epic supplies of oil that need to cross Turkey. It has also made up with Israel which had been lined up as Cyprus’s gas partner.

It is said in Germany that Angela Merkel’s chancellery and Wolfgang Schaueble’s finance ministry agreed that economically, Cyprus doesn’t matter, that in the jargon it is “non-systemic”.

But Merkel, perhaps unlike her finance minister, does believe Cyprus is geopolitically vital. This is perhaps what is keeping Cyprus in the euro for now.

But this crisis is not just about ATMs, banks and deposits.

More on the economics and the deal later.

Follow @faisalislam on Twitter.

19 reader comments

  1. Ruth Muller says:

    Thank goodness at least one media outlet has acknowledged the existence of Turkish-controlled northern Cyprus. I have been shocked over the last few weeks by the fact that no-one has commented that the island has, sadly, long been divided!

  2. Fevzi Hussein says:

    Agree with Ruth – well done to Faisal for bringing not only a different perspective to the Cyprus problem, but one which is an important one. Turkish Cypriots are actually disappointed with the EU as it could have placed far more leverage on the bail-out plan being linked to a final long-lasting solution to the Cyprus problem, but their failure to do so demonstrates perfectly where the issue of a divided Cyprus sits in the EUs list of priorities (right at the bottom of the pile!).

  3. Philip Edwards says:


    Anybody with a smidgeon of common sense knew this scam would be tried somewhere. And any system is only as strong as its weakest point.

    The result is this infliction on the system’s most vulnerable citizens – innocent Cypriots. And why not throw in an attack on Russian hot money too? Why not blame “the Germans”?

    But here’s the irony: if they can do it to Cyprus, why not to criminal bolt hole Switzerland and all the other “off shore havens”? After all, that’s where they hide the world’s ill-gotten gains. What should THEY be “sovereign” and not Cyprus?

    Last but absolutely FIRST, why do we not see in Brit mainstream media the names of those in the IMF who formulated the proposed theft of Cyprus natural resources? What of the slippery orange woman, La Garde, who would eat herself if she was a bar of chocolate? Why is the IMF not exposed for the gang of rotten to the core crooks it is?

    Have you fallen asleep on the job?

  4. CG says:

    Currently holidaying in north cyprus while the whole economic saga is unfolding for this island. I’m in North Cyprus and from here all looks calm and reality on south side is only realised through news on BBC. It is very sad to see how North Cypriots have been isolated for almost 40 years. Inspite of embargos North is prospering. New motorways, water and electricity transportation from Turkey are the mega projects of this decade. It’s now time for the rest of the world to allow turkish Cypriots to join the mainstream. Enough of this isolation just to keep a small a community happy.

    1. Marcus says:

      I don’t agree with you CG. To allow for the recognition of Northern Cyprus would be an act of endorsement for the criminal acts performed by Turkey, Britain and America in 1974 that resulted in the Turkish invasion and subsequent occupation of the North for the last 39 years. 200,000 plus people were displaced in 1974. They lost their homes and all of their possessions thanks to the criminals in the governments of London, Ankara and Washington. The Turks aided by the British and the Americans are responsible for human right violations of a huge proportion and must pay the price. The Armenian Genocide has not gone away either.

  5. CG says:

    Hi Marcus,

    I have studied extensively on this subject. I can assure you it will take another 40 years to find out whose fault was it. But it doesn’t take a long to see how Turkish Cypriots are suffering. They can’t sell their goods to other countries. Can’t travel freely. Most of them fled cyprus to settle in Anerica, Britain or Australia. They lost their hones and labs too. So how many more years of punishment we should enforce on them. How humane is their treatments. As you have already pointed out in your message have the original culprits punished at all? In fact victim has been punished again and again.

  6. Fevzi Hussein says:

    Marcus, stop looking through such one-sided specs and see the real story. To suggest or imply that Turkey woke up one morning and decided to invade is grossly naive and misleading. British politicians are finally waking up to the fact that the the isolation of Turkish Cypriots cannot go on any longer. There was serious issues in Cyprus in the 20 years or so leading up to the military intervention in 1974 with Turkish Cypriots forced into small enclaves, having to desert some 103 villages -since then there has been peace. These are facts. Really not sure why you are bringing up the Armenian issue here either as this is another desperate attempt to deflect the truth (not to mention the truth around the Annan Plan too which would have re-united the island and GCs choose to reject re-unification..fact!)

  7. Ogeday says:

    And I don’t agree with you Marcus because you -and representatives of communities just like you- are manipulating the historical facts. You don’t point out anything about “Enosis” and blame others. Anyway no need to give a history lesson… By prising Greek Cypriots and accepting the membership of a community which said “no” to the solution according to Annan Plan, EU had made a huge mistake not politically but as we can see today also economicly.

  8. Sara says:

    @Marcus – the Turkish Cypriots in South Cyprus were also displaced in 1974. Let’s not forget why the Turks intervened – the Greeks were getting ready to annex Cyprus as part of their country. What would have this meant for the minority Turks?

  9. Jack Lobb says:

    Marcus You fail to mention Makarios and his ill fated attempt at ‘Enosis’ with Greece. You also fail to mention the displacement of Turkish Cypriots from the south of the island, their loss of land, homes and possessions and equally the failure of the south to vote for the Annan Plan which was the basis for Cyprus joining the EU. the accession of Cyprus to the EU was illegal anyway; as a divided country should never have been allowed entry. Your irrelevant comment about the ‘Armenian Genocide’ is a totally different matter and equally irrelevant to this discussion.

  10. Volkan Koch says:

    Hi all,

    I always read the comments to see what people think on the subject because I believe that is a very direct way of understnad what people think and feel. I am a Turk born after 1974 (in Turkey), so my knowledge and ties to the island is limited but I am just so happy to see what I have read about the whole “invading Turkey” claim. And most of the comments are coming from people (I am making an assumption here) from neither Turks nor Cypriot Greeks, which makes it even more interesting. I think the argument has been put out very clearly with your comments. I specificly agree with CG and as CG mentioned and worded, it is the victims who are getting punished, and this should stop.
    I would like to thank you all for your time, concern and comments. People like yourselves, who care, will make a difference. I certainly benefitted from them.

    Regards, Volkan

  11. Andrew Dundas says:

    A most excellent & appropriate news story from Faisal; and from bloggers of rival points of view!

    Accessing those valuable gas fields will probably require agreements with North Cyprus, Greek Cyprus, Turkey, Israel and some oil/gas companies. Otherwise the gas can’t be safely brought to market and thereby converted into MONEY!

    Small nations – Greek Cyprus is 1 million, North Cyprus even less – can’t afford to be so beholden to a single industry. A deal is in everyone’s interest. Regardless of history. Only the future can be altered.

  12. micky says:

    i am half irish/english and no bones to pick,on turk or greek.i have been going to cyprus for 15 years north and south,and i find the turks very forgiving,and the greeks very bitter.
    the greeks tried to wipe out the turkish cypriots in 74,and the turkish army had no choice but to go in.
    a united island? i do not think so.
    peace has been in cyprus for 40 years now,if it aint broke ,dont fix it.

  13. simon says:

    Marcus, you are a goon…….full of the usual non-specific anti-Turk rehtoric which recognises no facts re Esnosis and 20 years of Greek Cypriot atrocities against the Turkish Cypriots. If you had any intellect you would be aware of the fact that Turkey gave 5 seperate warnings of potential invasion IF the atrocities continued. In the normal GS arrogant and stupid manner these warnings were ignored. The results speak for themselves…..Get yourself a Brain..(I fear that’s an impossibility AS YOU ARE A TOTAL IDIOT.

  14. Ozgur Cakka says:

    Thanks Faisal for a “northern” perspective on the problems in Cyprus.
    My family left Northern Cyprus prior to 74 but the ties back to the island are strong and regardless of the politics, or how deep the wounds are, I will remain optimistic that a new generation can pave the way for some form of unification of such a beautiful island.

  15. Kilix3018 says:

    It’s great to see that after all those years of one-sided Greek spoonfeeding on public opinion, nobody is buying old bleeding-heart talltales about Cyprus issue anymore… Come on South, you’ve partied hard and long enough behind Green Line all those years; wake up and smell the warm Turkish coffee, a hearty sip around a peace table may solve your headache :))

  16. Byron says:

    Sad to see so many unable to appreciate that International Politics, much deeper than the impressions shown here (bar Simon’s disposable one), resulted in the Cyprus Crisis, from as long ago as the late 1800s. Unfortunately, we Brits are mostly responsible for the island’s troubles & division, with our appalling Foreign Policy & the ‘Divide and Rule’ approach that permanently damaged many former colonies. Granting Independence, but not Self Determination, like the British populated Gibraltar & Falklands, made the Greek majority resent the Turkish minority as an obstacle to their desired Unification with Greece. British behaviour, during & since the 1974 invasion, has been embarrassing, with our Guarantee of Cyprus Independence worthless & civilian Brits plundering the conquered North by buying Greek properties from the Turks!
    Yes, both Greek & Turkish Cypriot Nationalists share blame, as well as Greece & Turkey, the intolerant control-freak Americans & the toothless U.N.
    Two Ethnic Populations, British Bases, American Telecommunication Centres & the vital location of Cyprus, created a volatile cocktail! Shame, as a bit of good will through the years could have avoided…

  17. mick says:

    marcus ,if turkey diddt go in to protect the turkish cypriots in 1974 there would be no turkish cypriots at all ,you should get the facts right and check your history on how the problem first started

  18. Byron says:

    Perhaps Mick would like to correct Marcus by providing the ‘facts’ he refers to but does not actually mention! In doing so, it would carry much more weight if he also provided his sources and actual personal experiences to support what he claims! Not many people seem to care to properly support their views, it seems.
    I will only remind Mick of one simple fact: Greek and Turkish Cypriots had lived together in overall harmony for years, despite Religious differences. My source? My own experience and pre-1950s Cyprus History.
    I repeat: International Politics, British interests and Creek and Turkish Nationalists all share the blame for poor Cyprus.

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