Just down the hill from my house in north Cyprus is a once pristine beach where Caretta Caretta sea turtles lay their eggs and which was, for close to three years, jammed with the traffic of cargo boats laying a pipeline onto the shore. This project, which Turkish President Erdoğan has dubbed “The Project of the Century," today brings fresh water by undersea pipeline from Anamur, on the southern Turkish coast, to north Cyprus. For this project, massive dams have been built on both ends of the pipeline, and much of the north Cyprus countryside and many of its roads were torn up to lay pipes in order to pump the water. Erdoğan has also called this “Peace Water,” and construction included a terminal that is able to pump water to the island’s south in the event of a negotiated solution.
Map showing the pipeline from the Turkish shore to north Cyprus (from the website of the Turkish Water Directorate).
When the project was first announced, Turkish Cypriots were skeptical, as there have been many failed projects to bring water to the island from Anatolia. But as the project was nearing completion in 2015, they entered something of a panic, since many people suddenly realized that they had been given very little information about and almost no say in how the water was to be distributed and used. For many, rather than being a sign of their development, the water project is yet another mark of Turkey’s increasing presence and dominance in the island—quite literally an “umbilical cord” to the “mother.”
A small impact grant from the London School of Economics gave me the opportunity to involve a colleague from Political Geography, Dr. Michael Mason, in a report on the potential impact of the pipeline on climate change management and planning in an island that is predicted to become hotter and increasingly dry. The report focused both on the types of climate change planning that the already implemented project would make possible and the politics of a pipeline that brought the "stateness" of the patron state into Turkish Cypriots lives in palpable ways.
Following exploratory field visits to Batumi, Georgia, and Crimea, I have begun to develop a future project on what I call "infrastructural imperialism," or the use of infrastructural investments by Turkey, China and Russia to annex territory, consolidate power, and engage in "soft power" relations. The project will examine spectacular domestic projects aimed at showing the country's "greatness" and consolidating power; large-scale projects connecting the main geobody of the nation to its "near abroad"; and cities such as Batumi, Ashkabat, Addis Ababa, and Colombo that are being unrecognizably transformed by "soft power" largesse.
Based on my work so far, I have several articles in progress:
Water Futures: Sovereign Anxieties and Planning in a So-Called State In late 2015, an undersea water pipeline to north Cyprus began to pump water from the south Turkish coast. The experimental, floating pipeline was a first in water delivery, and the Turkish government touted the project as an example of their largesse in economically and militarily supporting their client state, the unrecognized Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus. This paper explores what I call ‘sovereign anxieties’ in relation to a project built on a particular vision of the environmental future of the island. What quickly became apparent around the time of the inauguration was that the north Cyprus government had made almost no plans for the water’s management, despite almost five years of negotiations with the Turkish government and then construction of the project. This paper argues that many of the sovereign anxieties relating to the project are based in particular notions of temporality that shape state planning in north Cyprus and Turkey. In particular, as an unrecognized state whose anticipated future is one of dissolution into a negotiated federation, much state planning is of the order of short-term tactics rather than long-term strategies. The water project, on the other hand, represented the planning strategies of the Turkish state, as well as the first substantial material manifestation of planning regarding the medium-term future of the island. The sovereign anxieties of the so-called state manifest themselves in the temporality of planning and in the intimacies of a glass of water.
The Imagined Infrastructures of Peace: Foreseeing Federalism in Cyprus Throughout divided Cyprus, infrastructures are being built that anticipate various temporal scales of the island's reunification. This chapter contrasts the medium-term infrastructures of peacebuilding with the long-term infrastructures of statebuilding and asks what these tell us about the island's projected future. The chapter examines the internationally supported infrastructures of the Nicosia buffer zone, where persons from either side of the divide meet in a liminal space that would presumably become obsolete in the event of reunification. I contrast these with various infrastructural projects in north Cyprus—roads, a massive undersea water pipeline, and universities--that have been designed and built using projections of a future federal state. Recent road projects have truncated branches indicating plans to later continue across the border. The water pipeline has pumping stations that are intended for pumping to the south, while one university was built in a location that will be easily connected to the south in the future. In contrast to the infrastructure of the buffer zone, which was built to "prepare the ground" for federation, today in the island's north infrastructures are emerging whose planning relies on bureaucratic imaginations of what statebuilding entails. The chapter, then, examines anticipatory infrastructure as a key to how state planners themselves imagine the state that does not yet exist.
Two Bridges and a Pipe: Infrastructural Imperialism and the Annexation Impulse The Turkey-north Cyprus pipeline, the Kerch Strait Bridge, and the new bridge linking Macau and Hong Kong all have in common what might be described as an annexation impulse: the attempt to incorporate territories in the "near abroad" into the cosmopolitan geobody. The paper will examine perceptions of these massive projects by those who are to benefit from them and the effects of this largesse on local perceptions of sovereignty and agency.