Ankara, Turkey—More troops not a new naval base is what Turkey is planning for the occupied northern half of Cyprus.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan announced that the recently speculated new naval base will not be forthcoming. But he added that “we will not decrease the number of our soldiers there, but on the contrary, we will increase them.”
Although Turkey does not officially publish the number of Turkish soldiers stationed in northern Cyprus, it is estimated by the United Nations (U.N.), which has been conducting multinational peacekeeping operations on the island ever since the Turkish invasion of 1974, that there are 35,000 Turkish servicemen.
“We do not have a base problem in northern Cyprus. It will take only minutes to reach the Mediterranean. This does not apply to Greece. We do not need to establish a base there,” added President Erdogan.
Yet an increase in troop numbers will only further frustrate the island’s reunification process.
From the Turkish-Cypriot side, Mustafa Akinci, the president of the unofficial Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus (TRNC), said that “Greek Cypriots thought the island belonged to them and they even wanted to join Greece. It wasn’t possible, and so it didn’t happen. Turkish Cypriots have always been pro-peace and advocate a solution with the support of Turkey.”
The process of Cypriot reunification has certainly been a protracted affair. Under the leadership of U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan, the two sides met. There were five iterations of the Annan Plan. And yet the two sides could not reach a consensus.
“Greek Cypriots’ desire to make Turkish Cypriots into a minority group by making the process long, as has been concretely seen,” said Volkan Bozkir, the chairman of the Turkish parliament’s Foreign Affairs Committee. Yet he did not mention that Turkish Cypriots are indeed a minority in the island.
In 2015, the reunification process was reignited, again under the auspices of the U.N. The Syrian conflict, general instability in the region, and, most importantly, the discovery of vast amounts of gas and oil underwater sources in the Eastern Mediterranean breathed a new sense of urgency into the topic. Last year, signs were looking very promising for a final agreement. But, yet again, a consensus was not achieved.
Turkey has long used Turkish Cypriots as a bargaining tool against Greece, Cyprus, and, lately, the region’s stability. But to what end, only the future will tell. One thing is certain: a vague, complicated situation in Cyprus will only worsen when the first energy companies begin to extract precious natural resources.
Greece, Great Britain, and Turkey remain the divide island’s guarantor countries.