Salty and rubbery, halloumi -- the national cheese of Cyprus -- hardly seems to be the kind of thing people would fight about. But, considering the historical divisions on the island, which has been split into Greek and Turkish sides since 1974, perhaps its not surprising that humble halloumi has been dragged into the Cyprus conflict.
As previously mentioned on this blog, Greek and Turkish Cypriots have been fighting over who gets to claim halloumi (or "hellim," as it's called on the Turkish side) as their own, with Greek Cypriots having put in a request with the European Union to give the cheese Protected Designation of Origin (PDO) status. That would mean that only cheese from Cyprus could be given that name. Similar protection is offered to Stilton cheese from England and other European cheeses and food products.
The trouble is that because of the island's division, Turkish Cypriots are concerned that the designation will only apply to halloumi made on the Greek side, which is a member of the EU. With the PDO applicaiton in process, the fight over halloumi is heating up, as the Cyprus Mail reports:
The agriculture ministry is the responsible authority for the inspection of halloumi cheese and the Turkish Cypriot Chamber of Industry (KIBSO) cannot be inspectors for production in the north, said minister Nicos Kouyialis yesterday.
As Eurasianet's Justin Vela recently pointed out, the dispute over who has the right to explore for oil and gas in the waters off the divided island of Cyprus has all the ingredients for a major geopolitical confrontation. But oil and gas are not the only natural resources that are fueling the Cyprus conflict. Turns out cheese is also one of the island's disputed commodities.
As anyone who has visited Cyprus knows, the island essentially runs on one kind of cheese, the rubbery, briny white kind known as "halloumi" in the Greek-speaking south and "hellim" in the Turkish north. As one Greek Cypriot website puts it, the cheese is "the flagship of Cyprus’s authentic cuisine." On both sides, the cheese -- made from a combination of goat, sheep and cow's milk -- is often fried or grilled in chunky strips.
The cheese of either side of Cyprus's dividing Green Line might taste the same, but the issue of who gets to claim halloumi/hellim as their own is pitting the two parts of the island against each other. Greek Cyprus, which is a member of the European Union, has asked Brussels to give halloumi Protected Designation of Origin (PDO) status, which would mean that only Cypriot cheese could be given that name. Similar protection is offered to Stilton cheese from England and other European cheeses and food products.
As previously reported on this blog, the discovery of what could be very large reserves of natural gas off the coast of Cyprus has led to increasing tension between the Greek Cypriots, who would like to reap the benefits of these finds, and Turkey, which says Cyprus cannot take advantage of its good luck until negotiations with the Turkish Cypriots over the divided island's status are resolved. The fact that the Cypriot find abuts a large gas field discovered by Israel, whose relations with Turkey have worsened dramatically in recent years, and that the energy company drilling in the Cypriot waters is American- and Israeli-owned, only complicates the picture.
Considering the potential for conflict surrounding the gas issue and inability of the Greek and Turkish Cypriots to make any progress in their reunification talks, the International Crisis Group has released a new report that suggests ways to prevent things from spiraling out of control. From the ICG's report:
A paradigm shift is needed. The gas can drive the communities further apart and increase discords, or it can provide an opportunity for officials from all sides, including Turkey, to sit down and reach agreements on the exploitation and transportation of this new find....
....Cooperation on the exploitation of significant gas finds, which Greek and Turkish Cypriot leaders agree are a common heritage, can help build confidence without prejudicing the eventual outcome of comprehensive talks. If the sides continue engaging in unilateral actions, tensions will rise, accidents will become more likely, and Turks and Greek Cypriots will be on course for a head-on collision in the eastern Mediterranean.
With negotiations seemingly stalled and talk of a permanent division of their island getting louder, the Greek and Turkish Cypriot leaders decided to at least create the impression of goodwill by hosting a dinner for United Nations officials at the island's only ethnically mixed village. From the AP's report on the dinner, which took place Thursday in the village of Pyla:
The gathering in Pyla came ahead of a crucial session with U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon in New York later this month.
Accompanied by their wives, Greek Cypriot President Dimitris Christofias and breakaway Turkish Cypriot leader Dervis Eroglu braved midwinter drizzle to greet villagers and exchange New Year’s wishes in the village square before sitting down for a meal at a Greek Cypriot fish tavern, followed by coffee at a Turkish Cypriot cafe.
The event was effectively a photo-op designed to underscore the leaders’ commitment to a peace deal, even though there has been scant progress in recent months.
Straddling the U.N. controlled buffer zone in the island’s southeast, Pyla remains the only village where Greek and Turkish Cypriots have continued to live together since 1974, when the island was split after Turkey invaded in response to a coup by supporters of union with Greece.
With its relations in Israel in freefall, following the release of a United Nations report about last year's Gaza flotilla, Turkey has increasingly been turning up the heat on its former ally. In particular, Ankara has promised that it will be increasing its naval patrols in the Eastern Mediterranean to show Israel its displeasure with the ongoing naval blockade of Gaza. But could these beefed up patrols (if they materialize) actually be aimed at flexing some muscle towards Cyprus? From Reuters:
Some Turkish and Israeli commentators have suggested Turkey might use the feud with Israel to build up naval patrols in seas between the Jewish state and the divided island of Cyprus.
Turkey has bitterly complained about recent Cypriot-Israeli energy deals. The presence of Turkish ships would have a menacing effect and could be seen as a provocation by neighboring Greece, also a NATO member.
Noble Energy, a U.S. firm, is due to start exploratory drilling for natural gas off Cyprus in October despite warnings from Turkey against such concessions.
Turkey and Cyprus have been at odds for decades over the ethnically split island, whose internationally recognized Greek Cypriot government is an EU member. Turkish Cypriots live in a breakaway state in northern Cyprus recognized only by Turkey.
Asked about exploratory drilling for natural gas by Greek Cypriots, Egemen Bagis, Turkey's European Union minister, told Turkish media last week: "It is for this (reason) that countries have warships. It is for this (reason) that we have equipment and we train our navies."
In the wake of Israel's recent find of massive amount of offshore natural gas in its little patch of eastern Mediterranean, Cyprus (the Greek side, that is) is hoping that it too is sitting on top of large energy reserves. The Cypriot government has given the green light to an American energy company to start exploring for gas in the island's waters later this year, but there is one major problem that stands in the way of Cyprus's plans: Turkey. From a report by the energy analysis firm Platt's:
There is still one stumbling block to Cyprus becoming a gas power though--namely its uneasy relations with Turkey. Israel and Cyprus have reached agreement on their maritime borders and each has accepted the other's exclusive economic zone. But Turkey, which occupies the northern part of Cyprus, has said it does not accept the agreement.
The Turkish government claims any agreements concluded by Cyprus are void unless and until the island is reunited and both the Greek and Turkish communities are represented.
Turkey has termed the offshore gas exploration activities "unlawful and in violation of international law" and as the planned date of drilling approaches, Ankara has stepped up its campaign. Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu warned that Ankara would "take appropriate measures" if Greek Cypriots went ahead with drilling plans.
The Turkish newspaper Hurriyet reported that the country's embassy in Washington is planning to convey Ankara's reservations regarding Noble's plans to begin drilling to the US government.
And the Turkish foreign ministry warned that agreements and exploration activities in the southern Mediterranean "would negatively affect the settlement of the Cyprus question and lead to new conflicts among the countries in the region."
In a post from a few days ago, I linked to a column that suggested there might be some new hope for the stalled reconciliation process on the divided island of Cyprus.That hope was based on the understanding that with last month's elections behind it, the governing Justice and Development Party (AKP) can now get back to focusing on some of the unresolved political and diplomatic problems that are blocking Turkey's forward path.
Well, only a few days later, its seems like that hope might quickly be vanishing. Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan is today making a visit to Turkish-controlled Northern Cyprus and what he had to say there offered little comfort to those hoping for a new day on the island. From a Today's Zaman report:
Turkey is no longer prepared to accept the concessions it has agreed to in order to help with the reunification of Cyprus in line with a UN plan back in 2004 and the Turkish side will accept nothing short of recognition of a two-state solution on the island, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has said.
Erdoğan, speaking to a group of Turkish Cypriot journalists ahead of a Tuesday trip to the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus (KKTC), said 2012 was a final deadline for a settlement on the island. “We will see if this is resolved by 2012 or not. If it is not, we will have to find solutions ourselves,” Erdoğan was quoted as saying by the Anatolia news agency on Tuesday. The news conference took place on Monday.
The unresolved conflict in Cyprus stands as perhaps the greatest obstacle towards Turkey's joining the European Union and one of Ankara's major foreign policy headaches. Although the island's reconciliation efforts have mostly come to a standstill, there appears to be new hope that a resolution might be in sight. Dogu Ergil, a Turkish academic and columnist for Today's Zaman, recently wrote about the reasons behind this new momentum. From his column:
Following the third electoral victory of the Justice and Development Party (AKP), the Cabinet was reshaped with several basic goals. The first is to increase the innovative and productive capacity of Turkey to have it promoted to the list of developed countries; the other is to enhance relations with the European Union with the aim of gaining possible membership in due course.
Achieving both goals is connected with the solution of the so-called “Cyprus problem, which” has become a burden on Turkey in diplomatic, political and economic terms. Two pieces of news on the Cyprus issue surfaced in the papers recently -- one came from the UN (reported by the Greek Fileleftheros), which said they expected a resolution by December; otherwise they would consider redeploying the UN military forces elsewhere because both sides would have proved they have no intention of reconciling.
Although the Cyprus conflict is frequently overlooked these, what happens on that little divided island could have serious implications for the future of Turkey, from its stalled effort to join the European Union to what kind of legal problem it might face in European court, particularly regarding property issues.
The question of what to do with the island's contested property, in fact, is emerging as one of the thorniest issues in Cyprus's ongoing, but struggling, reunification talks. In a new report, the International Crisis Group is offering some suggestions with how to deal with this issue, in the hopes that solving the property problem can help lead towards an overall settlement to the Cyprus problem. From a release about the report.
“Less than a quarter of Cypriots say they want to return to their old homes”, says Hugh Pope, Crisis Group’s Turkey/Cyprus Project Director. “Both sides should seize the opportunity of the current talks to strike a realistic balance between the right to return with the rights of the current users. Time is only making a property settlement harder”.
The flagging talks could be revived by compromises. Innovative proposals by the Turkish Cypriots deserve careful consideration. A Greek Cypriot proposal to link negotiations on property, territory and settlers could be adapted to become the first stage of a proposal the Turkish Cypriots have made for an international conference on all negotiating topics. The two sides should commission a rapid joint audit of land owned in both parts of the island and an economic impact study of redevelopment proposals.
Singer and actress Jennifer Lopez has now learned -- as numerous politicians and negotiators before her have found out -- that wading into the Cyprus issue leads to nothing but trouble.
Turns out the American star had agreed to perform (most likely for very big bucks) at the opening of a ritzy new casino and resort on the coast of northern Cyprus, otherwise known as the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus, a country only recognized by Turkey. Lopez's management probably imagined the difference between north and south Cyprus as being about the same as the difference between North and South Carolina, but they probably didn't imagine the kind of pressure the performer would come under from Greek and Cypriot groups opposed to her performing in the TRNC.
Now Lopez has informed the world that she will, in fact, not be going to Cyprus to perform in the north. As the gossip site TMZ.com reports:
.... a rep for Lopez tells TMZ, "Jennifer Lopez would never knowingly support any state, country, institution or regime that was associated with any form of human rights abuse."