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Cablegate: Rumors of Development Shake Cyprus's Karpass

VZCZCXYZ0012
RR RUEHWEB

DE RUEHNC #0696/01 2391156
ZNR UUUUU ZZH (CCY ADFC5088 MSI0393-695)
R 271156Z AUG 07
FM AMEMBASSY NICOSIA
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC 8108
INFO RUEHZL/EUROPEAN POLITICAL COLLECTIVE
RUCNDT/USMISSION USUN NEW YORK 0932
RUEHBS/USEU BRUSSELS

UNCLAS NICOSIA 000696

SIPDIS

SENSITIVE - SIPDIS

C O R R E C T E D COPY CAPTION

DEPARTMENT FOR EUR/SE

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: PGOV PREL PHUM SENV CY TU
SUBJECT: RUMORS OF DEVELOPMENT SHAKE CYPRUS'S KARPASS

REF: 06 NICOSIA 2051

1. (U) Summary: The pristine Karpass peninsula, the long
finger of land stretching northeast "like a dagger toward the
heart of Anatolia," has dominated north Cyprus newscasts
nightly this summer. A sleepy corner of the island known
more for its turtle hatcheries and unbroken surf, Karpass has
hijacked the headlines over two matters: the extension of
high-voltage electrical lines to the undeveloped extreme tip
of the peninsula, and the destruction of Greek Cypriot-owned
houses in its largest town, Rizokarpasso. Regarding
electricity, an impromptu environmental coalition has
coalesced to fight the project over fears that hotels,
marinas and golf courses will follow the wires, destroying
the peninsula's character forever. The coalition's odds of
success seem miniscule, however. As to the bulldozing of the
homes, many in falling-down condition, Greek Cypriot
community representatives believe the move belies Turkish
Cypriot authorities' true intent: to extinguish the G/C
presence in Karpass permanently, and to open the area for
further settlement and development. End Summary.

THE KARPASS: CYPRUS'S PRISTINE PANHANDLE
-----------------------------------------

2. (U) The Karpass peninsula is a largely undeveloped
region of hilly scrubland and gorgeous coastline. It is home
to a variety of plant and animal species -- a handful of
which are found only in the Karpass -- and is one of the few
nesting grounds of endangered loggerhead and green sea
turtles. The peninsula's population is 8,000, of whom
roughly 400 are enclaved Greek Cypriots (Reftel). Apart from
the region's two main towns of Yialousa (Yeni Erenkoy in
Turkish) and Rizokarpasso (Dipkarpaz), the inhabitants live
in a scattering of small villages. The stark beauty of the
area combined with its historical sites and beaches makes the
Karpass a common, if remote, vacation destination for both
Greek and Turkish Cypriots from throughout the island and for
Europeans -- and a few Americans -- looking to partake in
alternative ecotourism.

"POWER" STRUGGLE EMERGES
------------------------

3. (U) Launching the Karpass into the headlines this summer
was the announcement of a "TRNC" plan to bring electricity to
the extreme tip of the peninsula. Electric lines currently
end at Rizokarpasso, leaving the last 15 miles without power.
The scattering of 50-odd locals and less than a dozen hotels
and restaurants either rely on generators and solar panels
for power, or do without. Located in this unserved area is
the Apostolos Andreas Monastery, a pilgrimage site which many
Greek Orthodox consider the island's holiest.

4. (U) The announcement of the electrical transmission plan
was greeted with protests by environmental groups and
left-wing political parties skeptical of the "government's"
motives. The groups claimed that the extension of the power
grid beyond Rizokarpasso would mar the natural beauty of the
peninsula and endanger the environment, particularly the rare
and unique species living there. Further, the opposition
groups argued the "government" plan was not just unwise, but
illegal: the tip of the peninsula was designated a park area
in 1978 and the "government" had declared it a "specially
protected area" in 2007, ostensibly to prevent its
development. Undaunted, the "government" forged ahead and
began to erect poles on August 12, with "Prime Minister"
Ferdi Soyer declaring that electricity does not equal
development, noting that other protected sites in the "TRNC,"
such as the ruins of Salamis and Kyrenia Castle, have
electricity yet are protected from commercial development.
The "government" estimates that the Karpass could be fully
electrified by the end of the year and that a law
specifically preventing commercial development of the area
would be passed in the near future. In response, the
environmental groups applied to the "TRNC" courts for an
injunction to halt the project; the hearing has been delayed
two times, and now is scheduled for September 10. Court
"officials" attribute the delay to the need to allow the
contracting company and the "government" to argue their
position; according to the environmentalists, however, the
real reason is to allow enough time for workers to finish
putting up poles, creating a fait accompli.

A NEW "VEGAS ON THE SHORE?"
---------------------------

5. (SBU) One of the most vocal opponents of the electricity
extension is Dogan Sahir, the chairman of the Green Peace
Movement (Yesil Baris Hareketi, not to be confused with the
global ecological organization Greenpeace). He shared his
misgivings with us in a meeting August 6. Sahir conceded it
was not electricity itself that was objectionable; certainly
the Karpass population deserved grid access just like any
other public infrastructure service. His concern was that
electricity was merely the fist step to irresponsible
development of Cyprus's last natural refuge. Sahir
questioned the "government's" motives, claiming the
electrical capacity of the new project was far greater than
was needed to provide electricity to those houses and
businesses in the Karpass that did not already have it, and
that solar power panels could fill the demand at lesser cost.
He concluded the "government" intended to open areas of the
peninsula to large-scale development, drawing a comparison
with the tacky hotel/casino-fueled sprawl of Kyrenia (Girne)
and the kitsch monstrosity of the Artemis Hotel in Vogolidha
(Bafra).

6. (U) Unregulated development would turn the pristine
Karpass into a sprawling chain of hotels, casinos, marinas,
golf courses, and villas, complete with the attendant
infrastructure -- roads, gas stations, apartment blocks,
hospitals, schools, shopping areas -- to support it. In such
a scenario, the peninsula's unique cultural and ecological
assets would be severely damaged, if not obliterated. Sahir
had obtained a proposal presented to the "Prime Ministry" and
the "Tourism Ministry" by a South African development company
envisioning such a complex, to be named "Romeo Bay Golf and
Marina Resort" (the proposal is now posted on the internet at
www.karpasia.com). Although unclear whether the proposal is
under serious consideration, Sahir claimed it proved there
was interest in developing the Karpass. He doubted the
"government" could keep those interests at bay.

7. (SBU) In response to the allegations of the
environmentalist groups, "Government" officials, including
"President" Talat, his closest advisors, and the "mayor" of
Rizokarpasso, Mehmet Demirci, repeatedly have claimed the
augmentation of the electrical grid in Karpass was designed
solely to bring power to villages that currently relied on
generators for electricity, and to supplement the power
supply to Rizokarpasso, which is subject to brown-outs and
power cuts when demand peaks. Demirci told us August 14 that
his "constituents" overwhelmingly supported the electricity
project. They feel they have lagged behind the rest of the
"TRNC" economically, and that the electric lines would help
increase their standard of living. Development would also
help stem the outflow of educated youth to the cities.
Demirci bristled at the suggestion his "constituents" were
unaware of the environmental risk to their region, saying no
one in Cyprus wanted to conserve the beauty of the Karpass
more than the people who lived there, and who would not
accept the kind of development the environmentalists feared.
The project would bring electricity to those who needed it,
and the excess capacity would only be sufficient to support a
handful of new small hotels and restaurants.

REPERCUSSIONS NOT ONLY ENVIRONMENTAL
------------------------------------

8. (SBU) Izzet Izcan, head of the communist United Cyprus
Party and a former member of "Parliament", decried the plan
for political reasons. In addition to harming the
environment, Izcan reasoned, extending electricity the full
length of the Karpass might make negotiating a final Cyprus
settlement even more difficult. Certain versions of the
Annan Plan reunification effort would have demanded the
"Turkish Cypriot Constituent State" hand over administration
of parts of the Karpass to the Greek Cypriots, he related.
As difficult as that was for Turkish Cypriots to accept in
2004, it would be even harder if the current and future
"governments" succeed in wiring the peninsula, building
additional infrastructure, and attracting significant foreign
investment. The "mayor" of Rizokarpasso was sanguine on this
point, arguing it was irresponsible for the "government" to
neglect the needs of its citizens in anticipation of an
ever-elusive CyProb solution.


ENCLAVED GREEK CYPRIOTSS PROTEST KNOCKDOWN POLICY
--------------------------------------------- ----

9. (SBU) Accompanying the electrification controversy
lurked accusations by Greek Cypriot contacts that the "TRNC"
was illegally demolishing Greek Cypriot-owned buildings in
Rizokarpasso, home to the largest group of enclaved G/Cs.
Six members of the Karpass Coordinating Committee, an "exile"
organization, told us August 10 that Turkish soldiers in

April/May had marked a number of vacant Greek-owned
properties in Rizokarpasso for demolition and tore them down
sometime later. The Committee complained that, while some
were old and perhaps unsafe, most were in good condition
despite being unoccupied since 1974. Some were also of
historical value, such as an old flour mill. Members claimed
that G/C property owners were afraid to file complaints or
ask the "TRNC" for compensation over fears of reprisal. In
their minds, the concurrence of the destruction of Greek
houses with the electrification project was no coincidence;
the "government" was tearing down unoccupied Greek houses in
Rizokarpasso to make way for massive development projects,
made possible by the influx of electricity.

10. (SBU) Of similar mind was Andreas Tanis, a former
Karpass "mukhtar" (village elder). Tanis lamented the loss
of the houses, claiming the Turks were already building new
housing for Turkish settlers on the now-empty land (Note:
During an August visit, Embassy staff saw a handful of
recently destroyed buildings, but did not see evidence of new
construction on those sites). He also claimed that, although
all the houses were unoccupied, several were owned by Greek
Cypriots still living on the peninsula who had inherited them
from the now-deceased residents, meaning they could have been
restored and utilized by enclaved G/Cs.

11. (SBU) Tanis's vision of the future for Karpass Greek
Cypriots was grim. With young G/Cs leaving the peninsula
after high school for better opportunities in the south, the
average age of G/C residents was increasing every year. "The
Turks are waiting for us to die," he claimed, after which the
"TRNC" would take over their land to hand over to Turkish
settler families. Even the prospect of electricity could not
brighten his vision of the future; yes, electricity would
make life easier for Greek and Turk alike and would help to
make visits to the Monastery easier, but the economic
benefits would not be sufficient to stop the population
decline and thus would serve only Turkish interests in the
long run. When asked what could make the future of Karpass
Greek Cypriots better, he insisted that all G/C land needed
to be restored to its rightful owners, that all settlers from
mainland Turkey be removed from the Karpass (and preferably
sent back to Turkey), and all Orthodox religious sites be
restored.

12. (SBU) Conversely, Turkish Cypriot "Mayor" Demirci
defended the demolitions. He claimed all the structures were
decrepit safety hazards, despite many looking sound from the
outside. Evincing obvious frustration over relations between
the communities, he related how Karpass Greeks overwhelmingly
had opposed the Annan settlement, despite the fact the
arrangement would have returned all Turkish-occupied
territories in Karpass to their pre-1974 owners. How could
T/Cs help or even work constructively with people who
insisted, without room for compromise, that everything had
been frozen in time since 1974? he questioned.

COMMENT
-------

13. (SBU) The corruption and near-sightedness that plague
the Turkish Cypriot-administered area's political system and
economy make us doubt the "government" can resist the
bulldozers' advance into far-off, beautiful Karpass. Once
the wires are up and working, property values there will
increase. With increased property values, the citizens of
the Karpass -- whom "mayor" Demirci claims care deeply about
their environment -- may find the prospect of developers
offering top dollar for their land irresistible. Despite the
best intentions of the "government," enforcement of
development laws is weak enough that rogue "ministers" or
politicians could be convinced with large enough bribes to
open the Karpass to developers on the sly. Eyesores already
abound on the road to the peninsula -- either in the form of
cheap, ugly pastel-tinted housing developments ill-suited to
Cyprus's terrain or traditional architecture, half-built
husks of abandoned construction projects, or the
aforementioned Artemis behemoth -- and the threat that
similar structures could continue their creep up the coast is
disheartening. Further, the "government" is not winning
itself any allies with its heavy-handed ways, such as
continuing to plant poles despite the active drive for an
injunction. It is entirely possible that the poles will be
fully erected before the September 10 hearing, in which case
the environmentalists will no doubt accuse the court of
deliberate delay.

14. (SBU) In stark contrast to the noisy environmentalists
and equally strident "government" spokesmen, there has been
conspicuous silence on the part of the investors purportedly
interested in developing the Karpass, making them hard to
identify. Rumors and allegations abound, pointing to the
same international developers who have invested heavily in
Kyrenia: businessmen from Turkey, Russia, western Europe and
Israel (one enclaved Greek Cypriot told us an Israeli company
had offered him five million Cyprus pounds (nearly $12
million) for his coastal property; he was holding out for
more, figuring that the arrival of electricity would increase
his land's value). Statements of support for economic
development of the peninsula from leaders of Turkey's
governing AKP -- Prime Minister Erdogan once announced his
hope that Karpass become a tourist magnet like Ayia Napa in
the south, Karpass Committee members claimed -- suggest that
politically-connected investors and/or contractors are
lobbying hard in Ankara and Istanbul. Worse, the prospect of
a property stampede in territory notorious for weak
regulations and poor enforcement is a clear invitation to
organized crime syndicates and money launderers.

15. (SBU) We have no evidence the destruction of Greek
Cypriot-owned homes in Rizokarpasso is linked to the
electrical project or to any eventual plans for development,
as the Committee members alleged. The demolitions do
underscore the continued mistrust between the peninsula's
ethnic Greeks and Turks who, despite living in close
confines, live rather separate lives.
SCHLICHER

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