By Nicos A. Rolandis
I appreciate a lot the efforts you have exerted thus far for the solution of the Cyprus problem. I hope and trust that you will go on up until the very end of the endeavour, which becomes lonelier as the difficulties and responsibilities grow bigger.
I am the most senior, living, former foreign minister, not only of Cyprus, but of the whole of Hellenism (Cyprus and Greece) – since 1978.
I am also the official, who on behalf of the government of Glafcos Clerides, pioneered and pursued strongly – in an atmosphere of insults and disdain – the oil and gas reserves in the Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) of Cyprus.
My dear President, I felt that I should write this note, because I am worried. I am worried about Cyprus, as I was on certain occasions in the past, in which my fears were unfortunately proven correct.
So I drop these lines with the humility of a person, whose largest part of life and the relevant experience is already behind him. I anticipate that the President and the Prime Minister of the Republic of Greece will take a good note of these lines, as the three of you are the institutional defenders of Hellenism.
We Cypriots, with a few exceptions, have not acted with the correct vision and the necessary wisdom in the past 70 years. Our losses have been, as a rule, larger than our gains. We have ended up with a motherland, 37% of the territory of which has been for the past 43 years under Turkish occupation. Turkey was never condemned by the United Nations for the above occupation. Furthermore, nobody ever extended an effective helping hand – neither Greece nor the United Kingdom (guarantor powers) or Europe or anybody else. Nobody.
Points of reference
- In the first 14 years of the Republic both the Turkish Cypriots and ourselves made many mistakes and committed many sins. Neither side accepted the new motherland. We stuck to union with Greece, they were working for partition. Two of the blunders of the Greek Cypriots were the attempt to amend the Constitution in 1963 and the unanimous resolution of the House of Representatives for union with Greece in 1967. On account of the above Turkey threatened to invade Cyprus on a number of occasions, but our leaders did not pay any attention. They thought that Turkey was simply bluffing. Their assessment was that such an aggression would be inconceivable against Cyprus, which was a member of the United Nations, of the Non-Aligned, of the Commonwealth, of the Council of Europe, and which had signed an Association Agreement with the European Communities. Glafcos Clerides had summoned a group of friends and associates in the upper hall of the House of Representatives circa 1973. He analysed the Cyprus problem and spoke about the existing dangers. I was there as well, a young industrialist at the time, one of the realists, the “timorous”, the “danger mongers”. In 1974 we had the Greek coup d’ etat (described by Makarios as Greek aggression against Cyprus in his Security Council speech of 19 July 1974). On the following day we had the Turkish invasion, which nobody had anticipated with the exception of us, the danger mongers. So, more than one third of our motherland was lost. Had we been more far-sighted and wise in the first 14 years of the Republic, I believe that the Turkish invasion and occupation might have been avoided.
- In the wake of the invasion a number of initiatives for the solution of the problem were undertaken. We had the best opportunities in the initial years after 1974, when most of the obstacles we experience today did not exist, such as the Turkish settlers, Morphou and the territorial problem, the users of properties, the rotating presidency, the Turkish investments, political equality, the four freedoms, water and electricity from Turkey, virgin birth, solidification of the fait-accompli. Those of us who supported a solution and warned that partition would stay for ever, were labelled as acting against the national interests. Nowadays, 43 years on, it appears that the military occupation is probably here to stay and partition or annexation by Turkey may follow. Those who had rejected the good opportunities and thus destroyed Cyprus have never apologised. Had we been wiser during the first years after the invasion, I believe that we might have had a satisfactory solution on Cyprus, based on one of the rather positive plans proposed in those years
- In the mid-1990s, we had the purchase of the Russian S300 missiles. It was a wrong decision, initiated by Greece in a heroic mood, in the ambit of the “defence dogma of Greece and Cyprus”. The matter was adopted by the Cyprus Government, by all the political parties and by all politicians and it was described as a sovereign and holy right of defence. I was the only one who had a different assessment: That Turkey and her western allies would never allow the installation of Russian missiles in Cyprus, next to the British bases. This was considered by many as a betrayal of a holy right. Only I, my wife Lelia and some close associates know about the difficult moments we went through. Eventually the missiles were shipped and paid for but they were unloaded in Crete instead of Cyprus, where they lie in peace on the mountains since December 1998, under the supervision of NATO. President Clerides told me that Turkey was going to bomb the port of unloading (Limassol). So, I was right. We lost $270 million. and our national dignity. The PASOK government in Greece which had initiated the whole matter never appeared and never apologized. Had we been wiser and far-sighted we would not have lost $270m. and our dignity.
- Nowadays, my dear President, we have to address a very important issue, the gas reserves in our EEZ. Since I commenced the whole matter back in 1998, Turkey kept threatening and President Clerides was kept well informed. We believed that we should be extremely cautious, because we had positive indications about a hefty wealth down there, under the seabed. And of course the larger the wealth the larger the danger.
We knew pretty well that many conflicts and wars worldwide are connected with oil and gas interests. We also knew that Greece had not moved and is not moving into the Aegean reserves, in order to avoid a clash with Turkey.
Sharing the wealth
In view of the above I put forward a proposal in 2006 for a fair distribution of this wealth between the two communities (I had in mind 75-80% for the Greeks, 20-25% for the Turks). I repeated this proposal many times and I included it in an article of mine on 29 March 2017. The Turkish Cypriot “president” (in 2006) Mehmed Ali Talat showed an interest to discuss my proposal. He also said that he would be prepared to take up the matter with Ankara. But our side did not respond.
The fair distribution of the gas earnings was supported time and again by many countries. Amongst them a statement was made by the President of the European Council Herman Van Rompuy in May 2012. Also the Americans made relevant statements, amongst which those of US Ambassador in Cyprus Kathleen Dohenty (8/5/2017) who said that gas may be of help to Cypriots as a whole and the State Department (10/5/17) which stated that “oil and gas resources should be equitably shared between both communities in the context of an overall settlement”. Furthermore, the Foreign Minister of Russia Sergey Lavrov said on 17/4/2013 “Any exploitation of the natural resources must be based on consent, so that all Cypriots, without any exception, will benefit”.
Turkey keeps threatening us in connection with the above.
Nobody will justify her menacing attitude or any action against us if she questions our sovereign rights.
But at the same time I am afraid that nobody will justify us in regard to the rights of the Turkish Cypriots. The matter is extremely sensitive.
So, dear President, watch carefully your future steps. You may study my proposal, if it is not too late. Neither the oil majors nor our “friends” will offer a safety net. Turkey is an unpredictable and dangerous country. After all we know that better than anybody else: We had the invasion of 1974, the Tylliria bombings of 1964 and the threat to bomb the S300 missiles in 1998.
Cyprus does not have any further margins of national humiliation and financial collapse.
The writer is a former foreign and commerce minister of Cyprus