Don’t expect too much from Cyprus talks

Murat Yetkin

Journalist-Writer

L to R: Greek FM Dendias, Turkish Cypriot President Tatar, UN Secretary-General Guterres, Turkish Cypriot Anastasiadis, British Foreign Secretary Raab, Turkish FM Çavuşoğlu.

Do not expect an outcome from the Cyprus talks that started yesterday. At least do not hope for an outcome that the European Union dreams of.

That train was missed when the Greek Cypriot community said “no” to the “reunification” plan presented by the then-U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan at a referendum on 24 April, 2004. Moreover, contrary to the promises given to Turkey, Greek Cyprus was awürded by EU membership. And even with a claim of also representing Turkish Cypriots despite their will.

Yes, new results, new outcomes might emerge at the Cyprus talks in Geneva, Switzerland under the supervision of the U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Gutterres. But unless the Greek Cypriot community acknowledges the political equality of the Turkish Cypriot community, none of those consequences will likely result in “reunification”.

Look, what did Carl Bildt, a veteran European politician who served as Swedish Foreign Minister and Prime Minister, said in his Twitter message on April 27:

• “The tragedy was when in 2004 the Greek Cypriots voted down the Annan Plan. The Turkish Cypriots supported it. Much would have been much better for Flag of Cyprus and the entire Mediterranean today if that hadn’t happened. And 2017 in Crans Montana was another missed opportunity.. “

The 5+1 formation of the latest meeting in Geneva is what Turkey has supported for years.

What is 5+1?

The leaders of the Turkish and Greek communities that are parties to the 1960 Republic of Cyprus agreement and the governments of Turkey, Greece and Britain, who are the “guarantors” of that agreement, are the five countries in this format as plus one, the U.N. supervises the meeting.

The meetings are held “unofficial” because parties other than Turkey do not recognize the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus, as Turkey does not recognize Greek Cyprus. It is a kind of “exploratory” meeting, like the meeting between Turkey and Greece, the participants will “discover” if there is any ground for an agreement.

Turkish Cypriot and Greek Cypriot presidents Ersin Tatar and Nikos Anastasiadis, Turkish, Greek and British Foreign Ministers Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu, Nikos Dendias and Dominic Raab are attending the meeting.

An “unofficial” U.K. plan was put forward ahead of the Geneva meeting. London still wants to seem to be forcing “reunification.” The early stages of the plan show that the U.K. wants to send a message that “We have done our part”.

The British Plan

The U.K. has marked that the reason for a plan not to work is the Greek Cypriot insistence on not recognizing the political equality of Turkish Cypriots, and wish to keep them as a minority.  It has also “unofficially” shared this view with its friends and allies, including the United States.

Therefore, the British Plan helped to determine that the “reunification” effort, in its current form, could not yield results because the Greek side did not accept that the Turks were equal with them. This will probably be one of the most tangible results of the Geneva talks.

We should remind the remarks by then-British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw after the collapse of the Crans Montana talks between Anastasiadis and then-Turkish Cypriot President Mustafa Akıncı in 2017 for the same reason:

• “Only a divided island can put an end to the conflict between Turkish and Greek Cypriots.”

This approach is not much different from the “two-state solution” that President Tayyip Erdoğan has suggested for a while.

Erdoğan’s two-state solution proposal

The most open objection to this proposal, apart from the Greek and Greek Cypriot governments, came from previous Turkish Cypriot President Akıncı. In his interview with Soli Özel and Barçın Yinanç, Akıncı said Erdoğan’s proposal would ease the hand of Greek Cyprus. Akıncı’s remark is based on the assumption that Greek Cypriots still want to live on an equal basis with the Turks, but they would reject the proposal because it belongs to Turkey. This is a passive diplomacy approach that bases its theses not on one’s own needs, but on what the other party will say to it. However, in 2017, Akıncı got up from the Crans Montana table, deeming Greek Cypriot refusal of equality a “maximalist demand.”

On the other hand, it is seen that Erdoğan’s “two-state solution” and the threat of opening Varosha (Maraş) to settlement caused a certain change on the Greek Cypriot side. For example, in the surveys, it is seen that the “bi-zonal, bi-communal federation” solution, which has not been so popular until now, despite it was embraced by Turkish Cypriots, has reached the rate of 70 percent in a short time.

At first glance, it can be thought that Erdoğan forced the “confederation” solution when he says “separate state”, a demand that is difficult to materialize under the current conditions, such as the recognition of Turkish Cyprus by the U.N.

Not to end up the first side to say “no”

However, it is not realistic to expect that Greek Cypriots would accept Turkish Cypriots as equal state-founders given that their arrogance does not let them consider Turks’ equality even when they seem to agree to a federation. With the full support of the EU through Greece, Anastasiadis would not sacrifice his peace of mind.
There is yet another important point. Ankara now seems tired of distraction tactics. The fact that Tatar, defender of this policy, won the latest election in Northern Cyprus -with or even perhaps thanks to the support of Ankara- shows that this approach has a certain reflection in Turkish Cyprus.
As a matter of fact, Turkish Cyprus, Turkey, the U.K. and even Greece went to Geneva to avoid being spotted as the side that rejected the plan and looking like a deal-breaker, while also noting down the weaknesses of the other sides. The only exception might be the Greek Cypriot side. They act with the confidence that the EU, in which they have the same vote as Germany, France or Italy, will support them in any case and they have nothing to lose.

Still a turning point?

This is the keyword anyway: Greek Cypriots have nothing to lose from a deadlock. The EU funds will continue to flow from the EU. Thus, they want to force the Turkish side into a submissive line rather than a compromising one, propagating that “You are the losing side.”
So the Geneva meeting could be a turning point. It can result in a broader understanding that nothing will change in Cyprus as long as the Greek Cypriot side recognizes political equality, a natural right to any community. The Turkish Cypriot people want to live without the Greek Cypriot tutelage over them, and they know that they can only survive this way and without becoming a province of Turkey.
Therefore, Ankara’s demand for a deadline, if there will be further talks, is rational. Azerbaijan liberated its lands from the occupation of Armenia only by force recently, showing that negotiations with no deadline are not forcing the involving sides to a result.

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