Tuesday, 3 September 2013

The conflict of interest between Turkey and the Turkish Cypriots and what this means for Cyprus negotiations

Kutlay Erk is a leading figure in the leftist Republican Turkish Party that yesterday became the senior partner of the ‘government’ in the Turkish occupied region of Cyprus.

Last week, Erk, according to the Cyprus Press and Information Office, speaking in occupied Nicosia, made these comments about the relations between the Turkish minority in Cyprus and Turkey.

‘On the issue of the Cyprus problem, the Turkish Cypriots have their own vision and targets and Turkey has its own vision and targets.’

Erk went on: ‘The target of the Turkish Cypriots is to exist on this island, while Turkey wants to have influence in the Eastern Mediterranean and has the target of being active and influential in Cyprus because of the fact that the energy pipelines are congested in the area.’

Erk concluded: ‘We [the Turkish Cypriots] often see ourselves as living here for our ability to maintain Turkey’s interests. Our target must be to live in this geography, not to protect Turkey’s interests.’

Let’s decode what Erk is saying here.

Turkey wants to exert control over the whole of Cyprus as part of its policy to assert its influence and authority in the Eastern Mediterranean.

To do this, Turkey cannot countenance the Republic of Cyprus – or any other Greek-controlled entity – flourishing in the Eastern Mediterranean. Abolishing the Republic of Cyprus is something the Annan plan would have done and explains why Turkey was so enthusiastic about its adoption.

For the Turkish Cypriots, on the other hand, the kind of unwieldy, conflict-ridden Cypriot state envisaged by Annan, in which they would play the role of ‘maintaining Turkey’s interests’ by restraining the ability of the Greek Cypriots to exercise sovereignty, is not so attractive.

The optimum solution for the Turkish Cypriots is a clean partition and recognition of the ‘Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus’. But this outcome, while satisfying the Turkish Cypriot desire to live separately from Greek Cypriots, given Greek opposition and the international climate, is not feasible. Thus, Turkey, to undermine the ability of the island’s Greek population to exercise sovereignty in Cyprus and realise its ambitions to be a dominant presence in the Eastern Mediterranean, must infiltrate the government of Cyprus and make it impotent to resist Turkish interests. It is this role of ‘protector’ of Turkey’s interests in a putative federal government of Cyprus the Turkish Cypriots are increasingly reluctant to play, if it means at the same time having to emerge from their self-imposed isolation and take part in a state, institutions and society with the island’s Greek majority. Turkish Cypriot frustration with Turkey does not mean, as some naive Greek Cypriots would like to think, that the Turkish Cypriots want to abandon Turkey – and Turkey to abandon Cyprus – and come closer to Greek Cypriot positions on what a reunited Cyprus might look like. In fact, in many ways, it means the opposite, which is why President Anastasiades has been saying recently that, regarding Cyprus negotiations, it is the intention of his government to find ways to bypass the Turkish Cypriots and talk directly to Turkey.

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