Saturday, March 13, 2010

Cyprus Spring?

Back in February, Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu met Greek Cypriot academics  and representatives of civil society in Ankara to discuss developments and prospects of the Cyprus issue. And only a few days ago, journalists from Alithia, Politis and the Cyprus Mail, former Cyprus-EU chief negotiator Takis Hadjidemetriou and United Democrats leader Praxoulla Antoniadou Kyriacou, as well as a number of Turkish Cypriot journalists, met Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and EU Minister Egemen Bağış in Istanbul.
This is the closest to what one could call track II encounter and exchange process between the two countries and, as such, it should not be underestimated. Apart from the novelty of this unprecedented activity involving, amongst others, the Turkish Prime Minister addressing Greek Cypriots, one could not but notice the messages that he and his colleagues conveyed.
Erdoğan reportedly stressed his view that time is right for a solution as the two communities and two ‘motherlands’ have leaders committed to resolving the Cyprus issue in place. In contrast to the usual rhetoric that has been representing the Greek Cypriot leadership as dragging its feet in the ongoing negotiations, Erdoğan (and Bağış) clearly accept President Christofias as an interlocutor who genuinely seeks a solution. Bağış also stressed that the Turkish government is attempting to push forward towards a solution in Cyprus in a challenging political environment: the nationalist MHP commanding a considerable following partly drawing on its critique of the government's handling of the Cyprus issue; the military establishment is still devising scenaria of overt or covert military interventions as the recent prosecutions of a host of military officers indicate.
Erdoğan pointed out that 'Turkey genuinely seeks a fair and lasting comprehensive solution based on the joint declaration of the two leaders on May 23, 2008' and with unprecedented clarity expressed his support for a bizonal, bicommunal federation as defined by the relevant UN resolutions, with political equality and a single international identity. In addition to this, both Erdoğan and Bağış affirmed Turkey's willingness to remove its troops from the island when a solution based on political equality is reached and accepted by both communities.
In a veritable exercise in acknowledging and addressing the fears of the Greek Cypriots and overcoming the inertia that have stalled the negotiation process, but also in an implicit message to Greece, Erdoğan said: 'What happened has happened in the past, we should leave it there. We have to look at the future and how we build the future … What we are saying to our friends is to not engage in more armaments because we should be investing in the people; that’s what gains us results'.
These contacts and the statements made by the three senior Turkish politicians were greeted in both Nicosia and Athens with caution. This has been partly due to the suspicion reflexes that the two capitals have developed towards Ankara over time and partly due to the lack of willingness of some political circles in Greece and, even more so, Cyprus to grant Ankara the status of a legitimate interlocutor.  

Perhaps Ankara, wrongly, sees a solution to the Cyprus issue passing through Athens. That would explain its insistence on a four or five party conference (involving the two communities and the two 'motherlands', together possibly with another European country - Spain who currently holds the presidency, or Britain). But, one thing is certain; Turkey understands that any viable solution will have to address the fears (and prejudices) of the Greek Cypriots. This is signaled by its attempt to communicate with Greek Cypriot journalists, politicians and academics and by its effort to fashion the, badly received, five party conference framework. It clearly has not yet found the language to do so; but talking (and listening) is certainly worth the effort. 

PS  The emergence of Tahsin Ertuğruloğlu, a UBP politician , as a third North Cypriot presidential candidate, just after his meeting with Turkish President Abdullah Gül, indicates that Ankara is prepared to bolster the chances of Mehmet Ali Talat who is best placed to see the ongoing negotiations reach a conclusion and should also be read as a further indication of Ankara's commitment to finding a solution to the Cyprus issue.  

2 comments:

  1. Very interesting analysis of what might indeed be indications of the bulbs of Spring for Cyprus.

    Now the Erdogan Government is getting the message that Turkey's road to the EU does indeed pass through reunification of Cyprus he is finally making the kind of statements which address the concerns of Greek Cypriots. The scepticism with which his overtures have been met with on the Greek Cypriot side are however arguably quite justified, I feel, by what needs to be analysed more fully in the thoughts contained in your last paragraph.

    Cyprus President Demetris Christofias has on a number of occasions made the effort to speak directly with Erdogan, at summits attended by both, but has received nothing but fobb-offs because of course the Turkish state (not just Erdogan) are trapped in the logic of non-recognition of the government of the Republic of Cyprus and can not therefore possibly talk to them directly - ergo all the efforts to convene four party and five party conferences in order to bring other 'actors' on board who Turkey no doubt hopes will have the same effect as that well known UN debacle in 2004.

    The bitter experience for Cyprus of that 'process' in 2002-4 is ample justification for refusing such overtures and looking instead for the fundamental shifts in Turkish attitudes at the negotiating table and not just in PR-speak aimed at its journalists, academicians (and other opinion-formers abroad as well as in Cyprus).

    The European Parliament, in February this year passed certain strongly worded paragraphs requiring Turkey to begin now to withdraw its forces of occupation from Cyprus, to begin to withdraw some of the many thousands of settlers it has shipped into the Turkish-occupied area on Cyprus, and to give back the deserted city of Famagusta to its legal inhabitants - all of which have not been addressed in Erdogan's overtures to Cyprus opinion formers, and in fact had the standard response from Erdogan and Bagis , that we will consider those items *after* a solution has been agreed for Cyprus.

    The biggest thorn in the 'overtures' towards Cyprus by Erdogan and Bagis (same as there were thorns in their proposals to the Kurds and to the Armenians) is that they reiterated their age-old requirement that the solution to the Cyprus problem will consist of two states and a 'virgin' birth. Although that is an issue important enough for all Cyprus-observers to know about, it is not mentioned at any point in your analysis. Is there a particular reason why those important points, which somewhat diminish the sincerity of the committment by Erdogan and Bagis to a Federal solution in accordance with UN resolutions and the Acquis Communautaire, were not mentioned? How can they be taken seriously by Greek Cypriots about the sincerity of their intention to see a country with a single international personality emerging from a solution they are prepared to accept ? Ergo, their fundamental and often-repeated position about "two people" and "two nations" in Cyprus remains unchanged!

    PR-speak from Turkey may well generate favourable impressions among commentators internationally, but those who do know better do have the duty to not omit certain crucial factors in their informed analysis - particularly when the package of proposals submitted by Turkey/Talat prior to Ban Ki Moon's visit contained so many confederal elements which are rarely mentioned in any analysis!

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  2. I agree that the analysis does not touch upon very important issues such as the dispute over what federation means to Greek Cypriots on the one hand and Turkish Cypriots (and Turkey)on the other. I also agree that, for Turkey, the Republic of Cyprus no longer exists and therefore cannot constitute an interlocutor. The point I was trying to make was that there are indications that Turkey is attempting to talk and to reassure Greek Cypriots. I am not suggesting that Greek Cypriots accept unconditionally what the AKP government tells them; what I am suggesting is that we need to think creatively and grasp the opportunity that has presented to us instead of hiding behind of formalisms and protocols and refusing to discuss.

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