James Ker-Lindsay is an LSE academic specialising in the politics of south-eastern Europe and with a particular interest in the Cyprus issue, which he is frequently referred to as an expert. However, I find his approach to Cyprus seriously flawed and deeply patronising, preferring as it does to pin the blame on the island’s division on competing ethnic nationalisms – i.e. the Greek and Turkish nationalisms that swayed Cypriots at the end of British colonial rule and during the first years of independence – and de-emphasising analyses of Cyprus’ downfall that assert the central role of cold war machinations – the American factor; Britain’s cynical and vindictive attempts to manage its decline as a global power; and Turkey’s Cyprus policy, fuelled by post-Ottoman paranoia, resentment and belligerence, and which continues to regard the island as indispensable to its national interests. (I have previously noted that Ahmet Davutoglu’s Neo-Ottoman foreign policy sees Cyprus, regardless of the presence of Muslim Turks there, ‘as positioned at the heart of Turkey’s Lebensraum [living space]’.
Indeed, this failure to grasp Turkey’s malevolent role in Cyprus – a role that explains more than anything why Cyprus has been divided for 39 years and will continue, in my opinion, to remain divided for the foreseeable future – is unforgivable. (Claire Palley goes so far as to say there is no Cyprus Question. There is a Turkey Question, which is in fact a continuation of the Eastern Question).
Regarding the twitter exchange, it was prompted by a comment by Andrew Duff MEP that Turkey’s rejection of the Varosha proposal indicated Turkey wasn’t interested in a Cyprus settlement – preliminary talks for which have just resumed with fully-fledged negotiations expected to begin in October. Ker-Lindsay, essentially accepting the Turkish line, responded to Duff by saying that bringing up the issue of Varosha return was a distraction from the aim of achieving an overall settlement.
At this point I joined the debate and noted that there exist UN resolutions on Varosha that provide the proper context for assessing the issue. These are UN Security Council resolution 550 (passed in 1984), that:
Considers attempts to settle any part of Varosha by people other than its inhabitants as inadmissible and calls for the transfer of this area to the administration of the United Nationsand UN Security Council resolution 789 (passed in 1992), that calls for:
With a view to the implementation of resolution 550 (1984), the area at present under the control of the United Nations Peace-keeping Force in Cyprus be extended to include Varosha.I also pointed out the agreement on Varosha reached in 1979 between Turkish Cypriot leader Rauf Denktash and then president of Cyprus, Spyros Kyprianou, which states that:
Priority will be given to reaching agreement on the resettlement of Varosha under UN auspices simultaneously with the beginning of the consideration by the interlocutors of the constitutional and territorial aspects of a comprehensive settlement. After agreement on Varosha has been reached it will be implemented without awaiting the outcome of the discussion on other aspects of the Cyprus problem.Clearly, then, the Turkish side has agreed that the return of Varosha should not be held hostage to an overall deal and the city’s resettlement can and should go ahead before other elements of the Cyprus problem are resolved. In these circumstances, by putting Varosha return on the table, the Greek Cypriot side is not creating a distraction, but asking Turkey to prove it is sincere in wanting a wider Cyprus settlement by abiding by UN resolutions and the Kyprianou-Denktash deal signed 34 years ago.
(Indeed, Turkey’s cynical approach to treaties and agreements is well known and the 1979 Kyprianou-Denktash deal is no exception. Rather than implement the 1979 deal and hand over Varosha to the UN in preparation for return to its lawful inhabitants, Turkey has followed its usual tactic of making an agreement and then, before honouring its signature, demanding from the other side even more concessions – which amount to full realisation of its goals. In the case of Varosha return – supposed to be unconditional and not tied to an overall settlement – Turkey has not only extracted from the Greek Cypriot side concessions related to Famagusta port and the opening of EU accession chapters, but has insisted on more, specifically the opening of the illegal Tymvou airport to international traffic, a move the Greek Cypriots have rejected since it would amount to recognition of the pseudo-state in the occupied areas).
Apart from insisting to Ker-Lindsay that the Varosha issue be put in its correct context, I also pointed out to him that the reason Turkey was against its return was not because it was a distraction from an overall settlement but because Turkey was worried by any momentum returning Varosha might produce; momentum that would cause Turkey to lose control over negotiations on a wider deal.
A successful Varosha/Famagusta port deal might create expectations and pressures from the international community that Turkey would be unable to resist and jeopardise the kind of overall Cyprus settlement it wants, which is one in which Turkey’s occupation of the island is not ended but legitimised, in which division is enshrined not overcome and in which Turkey’s continuing presence and influence on Cyprus is not removed but institutionalised. Because Turkey knows that such a deal will never be freely negotiated by the Greek Cypriot side, Turkey’s Cyprus talks strategy continues to aim at either bludgeoning the Greek Cypriots into accepting Turkey’s preferred deal or, failing this, scuppering the talks, to prove they are ineffective and going nowhere, and then declaring that an Annan-type deal should be imposed from above or the pseudo-state be afforded international recognition.
Of course, one way for Turkey to prove such an assessment wrong is by agreeing to the Varosha proposal. The fact that Turkey has dismissed it out of hand shows that Turkey, as Andrew Duff correctly observed, is not interested in a reasonable Cyprus settlement and, in fact, regards genuine reunification and reconciliation on the island as antithetical to its perceived national and geostrategic interests.