Final round of unification talks between Greek Cypriot leader Nicos Anastasiades and Turkish Cypriot leader Mustafa Akıncı started Wednesday at Swiss Alps in Crans-Montana. Many experts see this meeting as the last chance of peace and unification. Two leaders are joined by their delegations as well as the UN (United Nations) and the EU (European Union) officials and foreign ministers of Greece and Turkey, two guarantor countries of 1960 Cyprus Republic (United Kingdom is also a guarantor power). UN mediator Espen Barth Eide said that the best outcome in talks tentatively scheduled to last until July 7 would be a comprehensive agreement, which would be hard but not impossible to attain (https://www.reuters.com/article/us-cyprus-conflict-un-idUSKBN19J0UN). Although Akıncı-Anastasiades duo was able to make considerable progress in negotiations, in my opinion, a complete settlement in the island still seems highly difficult. In this article, I am going to summarize the developments in the last few years and the progress of the talks. I should here add that I have lived and worked in Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus (TRNC) between 2012 and 2016 and had chance to make many formal and informal talks with many Turkish Cypriot officials and journalists and I consider myself as an academic who is able to comment on Cyprus negotiations.
First of all, I should remind our readers that there have been 3 crises so far which all resolved later by mutual understanding and empathy. Talks for unification started between Nicos Anastasiades and Derviş Eroğlu (previous President of TRNC) duo in February 2014. Although both leaders seemed in favor of solution, there was little hope on both sides of the island then. However, with the election of Mustafa Akıncı in April 2015, a visible progress has made so far in negotiations. That is because both leaders (Anastasiades and Akıncı) are in favor of solution and they voted “yes” in the Annan Plan referendum in 2004. The first crisis took place when Turkey sent its sysmic vessel Barbaros Hayrettin Paşa to the island as a reaction to Greek Cypriot administration’s exploration and drilling of oil and natural gas unilaterally as well as its agreements with some energy companies (Noble Energy) and other countries. However, upon the efforts of Mr. Eide, Turkey decided to pull back its ship and contribute to the negotiation process and the first crisis was resolved right after Akıncı was elected as the new President in May 2015.
With this new duo, hopes for unification increased significantly and negotiations deepened between two sides. Although these two leaders come from very different political background (Akıncı is a socialist whereas Anastasiades is a center-right figure), they sincerely showed efforts in order to convince their people and find a middle ground for solution. However, in May 2016 another crisis took place when Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan had a formal meeting with TRNC President Mr. Akıncı at an international platform. Since Greek Cypriot administration never accepted the existence of TRNC state and only Turkey has so far recognized this country, Mr. Anastasiades saw this initiative as a blow to peace talks and left the table. However, this crisis was also resolved in time and talks resumed.
The third crisis came when Greek Cypriot administration decided to formally celebrate “enosis day” (enosis means the annexation of Cyprus to Greece, an idea defended by far-right EOKA groups in the island) in Cypriot schools. This was an absurd decision at a time when there were high prospects for peace. But this crisis was also resolved and talks resumed once again. Mr. Anastasiades and Mr. Akıncı were able to overcome problems each time with their leadership skills and concrete help provided by Mr. Eide.
The most visible progress was made in talks in January 2017 in Switzerland when detailed maps were provided by two sides in order to decide on the land partition. According to official statements and unofficial records, the difference between two maps reduced only to 1 % of the island. This shows that the land dispute can be easily resolved in talks with the sincere efforts of two sides. However, I should here mention that there are still some disagreements about which lands will be given back to Greek Cypriots. Moreover, there are still problems to solve in terms of governance, guarantor rights, properties and population (citizenship).
Among these problems, governance and population can be handled easily if both sides will be really showing efforts to put an end to 60 years old dispute. Considering population, 1/4 formula is approved by two leaders and 250.000 Turkish Cypriots are agreed to be given Cyprus Republic citizenship. It is a fact that some settlers from Turkey might not have a Cyprus Republic citizenship at the beginning; but in time this might be solved as well since a united Cyprus will need labor force.
In terms of governance, Mr. Anastasiades seems to support Mr. Akıncı in political equality and a federal state based on two zones since as a President of an EU member state, the contrary will be nonsense. However, which model of governance will be decided between two leaders is still unknown. There are talks about successive Presidency (one term Greek Cypriot President, one term Turkish Cypriot President) or the classical model of 1960 Cyprus Republic (Greek Cypriot President and Turkish Cypriot Vice President). The electoral system will also be a technical issue in terms of governance (whether two communities will choose their own Presidents or vote for the whole island). In addition, it seems like almost everyone in the island support federalism based on two different zones now. I think Mr. Akıncı and Mr. Anastasiades can solve these two issues with their skills of empathy and commitment to democracy and human rights.
Other problems are more difficult to resolve since they involve not only two leaders and their people, but also other countries and individuals. The first problem is the property issue. Some Greek Cypriots and a few Turkish Cypriots want to go back to their homes in case of a solution. Moreover, Greek Cypriot citizens want their damage to be compensated by Turkey or Turkish Cypriots since they were unable to live in their homes for long years and these houses were sold to new settlers coming from Turkey. Some Turkish Cypriots also lost their homes, but the compensation for them will be easier since their number is limited and Greek Cypriot administration was clever enough not to touch their property. So, property issue will be really the most difficult problem to solve because it requires a financement from outside. However, with a new energy deal between Cyprus and Turkey after the solution, this could be solved as well and Turkish Cypriots’ share of the natural gas resources could be used for the compensation.
The second biggest problem is about the guarantees. Turkey, Greece and United Kingdom were three guarantor states of the 1960 Cyprus Republic. Greek Cypriots do not support guarantor model anymore and they think EU membership is a sufficient safeguard against ethnic tensions. However, Turkish Cypriots -as a small community- are affraid of a possible ethnic clash as in the past and EU’s unability to solve ethnic problems such as in Bosnia as well as rising Turcophobia and Islamophobia in Europe which might overshadow EU’s objectivity in dealing with them. Greece and United Kingdom previously gave signals for giving up from their guarantees, but it is not easy to convince Turkey and Turkish Cypriots on this since they were the victims in the past. Until now, Turkey never gave a positive signal about leaving its guarantor right. So, guarantees will be the most difficult problem to overcome. Here, former Minister of Foreign Affairs of Turkey Mr. Murat Karayalçın has a creative approach; he thinks that Turkey’s guarantee for Cyprus could continue until Turkey becomes an EU member. This approach seems fair enough since Turkey conducts formal talks for EU accession since 2005 and many chapters are opened so far. The removal of Turkish soldiers is also an issue and Mr. Akıncı supports Mr. Anastasiades on this and claims that this will be automatically taking place when a solution is agreed. However, I think Turkey might still ask for a military base on the north side of the island if it will give up from its classical guarantor right.
Finally, I can conclude that reaching peace and settlement in the island is not impossible but it requires sacrifice and effort as well as concession and compromise. Akıncı and Anastasiades could achieve this and embrace the Nobel Peace Prize next year as two leaders who were able to change the history and make all Cypriots brothers and sisters again. If there is no solution on the other hand, there might not be new talks for long years because both of the communities on the island are tired of long talks and failed efforts.
Assist. Prof. Dr. Ozan ÖRMECİ