Lobby for Cyprus is a non-party-political human rights organisation campaigning for a reunited Cyprus.
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Summer 2006 Issue 19

18 June 2006
The oil factor
The recent announcement that the continental shelf off the south coast of Cyprus contains oil and gas reserves has focussed international attention again on the huge benefits that Cypriot membership of the EU offers to European companies and investors.

Cyprus under Turkish occupation: The Greek Orthodox cemetery of Ayia Photou in Akanthou has been desecrated and plundered

The only way Turkish Cypriots can benefit from the forthcoming economic boom in the free areas is by reuniting with Greek Cypriots. This means casting off the shackles imposed on them by Turkey

However, for as long as the island is divided and under illegal Turkish military occupation those benefits will continue to be somewhat limited.

Already the French company Beicip Franlap, a subsidiary of the French Petroleum Institute has been appointed as a consultant to the Cyprus government. The way is now open for international contractors to apply for exploration contracts and ultimately to tender for the lucrative extraction and refining contracts. Clearly, contractors from countries that pursue a policy of promoting the illegal Turkish occupation of Cyprus, such as the US and the UK, will inevitably find it difficult to succeed in persuading the government of the Republic of Cyprus to award these lucrative contracts to them. As things look at present UK plc is therefore going to be left behind once the oil rush starts.

The economic benefits to the Republic of Cyprus and its citizens will also be huge. Not only will the state own these vast reserves but property prices in the free areas will continue to rise exponentially as the oil industry moves in and seeks accommodation for its staff and land for industrial use. 

Meanwhile in the occupied areas, the economy goes from bad to worse: power stations collapse and electricity has to be bought in from the free areas, water cuts continue, violent crime spirals, and Turkish Cypriots continue to flee this beautiful but now desolate land in their thousands. And on top of it all, the price of land continues to be next to zero in the face of European directives declaring the title-deeds conferred by the Turkish Cypriot illegal authorities as worthless. Not even Turkish Cypriot banks will accept these as collateral.

Much is made of the alleged Turkish Cypriot isolation. The only way Turkish Cypriots can benefit from the forthcoming economic boom in the free areas is by reuniting with Greek Cypriots. This means casting off the shackles imposed on them by Turkey and agreeing to a settlement that restores legitimate land ownership in the north of the island. That means returning Greek Cypriot land to Greek Cypriot owners. Nothing else will be acceptable to Greek Cypriots, certainly not compensation or property exchanges.

And what better place to start than the ghost town of Famagusta. There is no greater symbol of the idiocy and obstinacy of Turkish foreign policy in Cyprus than its unwillingness to return an empty and dead city to its legal owners. Famagusta presents the largest redevelopment project in Europe and Turkish Cypriot construction workers will benefit equally from this. If Turkey is serious about joining the EU and relieving the plight of the Turkish Cypriots, then returning Famagusta to its rightful owners will not only demonstrate credibility but will also provide a much needed economic boost to Turkish Cypriots and the Europeans, who will be involved in this reconstruction.

There is in the near future an opportunity for Turkey to return Famagusta without a loss of face. In the Aresti decision at the European Court of Human Rights, Turkey was ordered to return the applicant’s land, which is within the fenced off area of Famagusta, to the applicant. The only way this can be done is by returning the town to its legal owners. So a win win situation is possible, so long as Turkey sees sense. To do this all, those with influence over Turkey need to emphasise to its leaders the need to apply some grey matter to the problem and do the right thing. 

However for as long as some countries in the European Union allow Turkey, the US and Britain to dictate their policy on Cyprus, then the economic potential for all concerned will be frustrated. The time has come to solve the Cyprus issue in a way that respects the rights of the Greek Cypriots and in this the return to them of their land is critical. The land issue accordingly remains the key to everything.