CAMLIBEL — Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Saturday inaugurated an undersea pipeline to carry fresh water from Turkey to the breakaway Turkish Cypriot north of ethnically split Cyprus — a project which Greek Cypriot officials have decried as a Turkish ploy to cement its grip on the island.
Erdogan and other Turkish officials symbolically turned open a large valve, starting the flow of water through the 107-kilometer (66.5-mile) pipeline at a ceremony at the Mediterranean town of Anamur, before leaving for Cyprus for a second ceremony in Cyprus marking the water’s arrival.
The project is aimed to meet the north’s irrigation and drinking waters needs for the next half century, supplying around 2.6 billion cubic feet (75 million cubic meters) of water annually.
Turkey has said the water could be shared with Greek Cypriots once the island is reunified. But Greek Cypriot officials have the pipeline violates international law, serves to “integrate” the north and to “augment Turkey’s influence and control over Cyprus.”
Cyprus was split in 1974 when Turkey invaded after a coup by supporters of union with Greece. Only Turkey recognizes a Turkish Cypriot declaration of independence and still maintains 35,000 troops in the north.
“Turkey and (north Cyprus) have been interlocked in such a way that they will never be separated,” Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu told a joyful, flag-waving crowd in Anamur.
The project comes at a time of renewed peace talks between Greek CypriotPresident Nicos Anastasiades and Turkish Cypriot leader Mustafa Akinci.
Akinci said the water would turn the drought-prone island into a “green island.”
“When the time comes and by increasing the volume, this water can be shared with the south too. Then it will become a true ‘water of peace,'” a reference to the name of the project.
With Turkey geared toward an election on Nov. 1, both ceremonies had the feel of an election campaign. Spectators at a water treatment plant in the north of the island broke out in a chant in support of Erdogan, who was Turkey’s prime minister when the project was initiated.
Ilhame Yildiz, 57 was among several hundred spectators who arrived at a water treatment plant in the north of the island.
“This is good for Cyprus, the government on this side can take water and the government on the other side can take water too,” said Ilhame Yildiz, 57.
Farhan Kul, a 76-year-old from Nicosia said: “If they give water to south Cyprus, this will help bring peace.”
MENELAOS HADJICOSTIS, Associated Press
SUZAN FRASER, Associated Press
Fraser reported from Ankara, Turkey.