TRNC Foreign Minister Tahsin Ertugruloglu was in the United States for the first time last week after the collapse of the Cyprus reunification talks. He first went to New York to have meetings on the sidelines of the UN General Congress and then travelled on to Washington. At the end of the talks, he met with representatives of American companies and think tanks at a round table meeting at the International Institute of Republicans (IRI). Everyone present wondered how the Turkish Cypriots would continue their path after, once again, the reunification negotiations failed.
In an interview with Turkish daily ‘Hurriyet’, Ertugruloglu was asked what did the Turkish Cypriots want now.
We told the UN; If there is going to be any further negotiations after that, it will only be on a ‘state to state’ basis. The target can only be a confederation, not a federation. The federation option for us is dead. This is a failure of 50 years. Despite international opinion, it is our choice to propose new methods. If they want to talk to us, we want to do it in dialogue with the international community. But if they do not want to talk to us, we do not have much time. We want our new roadmap to be set long before the Greek Cypriot elections.
What will be the main political goal of your roadmap?
It’s time to start to work for international recognition. So far we have adhered to this. But now we can work for international recognition in the TRNC. The next option is an autonomous republic. A model like France-Monaco or Britain-Gibraltar. In other words, we are a republic where we transfer our authority on foreign affairs and defence to Turkey and manage the rest ourselves. We have not yet decided which path to choose. We will sit down with Ankara and decide.
It’s either recognition or autonomy.
Are you open to negotiations with the Greeks in the search for oil and gas deposits in the Eastern Mediterranean?
Do you really believe that the Greek Cypriots would like to negotiate this issue? However, we will do our best to keep them according to their lead. What the foreign companies have to understand is that they cannot do this job with the Greek Cypriots. You know that upon our invitation, a Turkish ship has come to carry out our seismic surveys. We hope that they will not insist on unilateral surveys. For years they have been internationally robbing [us] through the embargoes, but we will not allow it this time. We will do whatever is necessary so that they will not get away with it.
So you’re talking about a hit? American companies are among those exploring for hydrocarbons offshore the Cyprus.
Yes, if it is necessary. Of course we do not prefer this, but if things heat up, what else could we do? Is it expected for us to turn a blind eye to the Greek Cypriots’ fait accompli? If tension is increased, the South Cyprus administration will be responsible for this. We have supposedly established this republic together. Where are the Turkish Cypriots? Has anyone asked us where these reserves were and what rights we had on them?
What will be the role of the UN Peacekeeping Force?
The UN Peacekeeping Force has no military significance but can be transformed into a civilian structure that coordinates humanitarian projects. We do not want to collect the UN Peacekeeper’s scalp, but we say that the rules of engagement should be changed. It does not serve as a military unit, but it can be used as a humanitarian agency.
Are you also negative about the UN’s other mechanisms in the field?
In the last meeting we had with the UN officials after the negotiations collapsed, we decided that will no longer allow the UN cavalry to provide humanitarian assistance to the Greeks and Maronites living in North Cyprus. Because the first one does not need it and they earn money by selling the goods that they bring to them as humanitarian aid. Secondly, this mechanism seems to create the impression that the Greeks and the Maronites are living under siege in the north. However, border gates between north and south have been open since 2003; their families can bring their friends what they want. In addition, the goods they produce can be sold easily in the TRNC.
Turkish-American relations are going through a difficult period. Do you have anxiety that you might lose Ankara’s support in this environment?
Until today, Turkey was the only country that did not sell us out. We have no reason not to trust them. The more powerful Ankara is, the stronger the Turkish Cypriots are. The interests of Turkey and the interests of Turkish Cypriots are not separate. If we need to discuss something with Ankara, we will do this behind closed doors, keeping it in the family way. But you cannot see me criticizing the government in Ankara here. No matter which political party is in power in Ankara, we are our own rulers and there will always be special relations between us. We are not going to distance ourselves from the motherland because Turkish-American relations are downsized. Such a thing is unthinkable. If necessary, Turkey is ready to send its sons to the Turkish Cypriots to die. Do I need to say anything more?