Thursday, 14 October 2021

Breaking the Cyprus impasse: ideas to avert disaster


Since 1974 a lack of imagination has been one of the cardinal features and failings of the way Greek Cypriot politicians have confronted the Turkish occupation of Cyprus.

For decades, presidents, foreign ministers, chief negotiators, party leaders and stalwarts have devoutly followed the shibboleth that UN mediation efforts are the only means to finding a ‘solution’ to the so-called ‘Cyprus problem’. Time and again, this has involved engaging in exactly the same process. The UN secretary general appoints a special adviser to the island. He or she scuttles between the free and Turkish-occupied halves of Nicosia, meeting in the free areas the president of Cyprus in his capacity as leader of the Greek Cypriot community and in the occupied areas gabbing with the leader of the occupation regime in his capacity as leader of the Turkish minority on the island. The aim is to find enough common ground to convene an international conference. This is usually held in some luxury Swiss resort and involves the entire political leadership of the Greek and Turkish Cypriot communities decamping to the Alps along with representatives of the island’s so-called three ‘guarantor powers’, the UK, Turkey and Greece, with the hope that intense talks and banging of heads under UN auspices will bring the desired result. After 47 years, it never has.

Now, Turkey under the rule of the Islamo-nationalist strongman Recip Tayyip Erdogan, harbouring fantasies of revived Turkish hegemony in the Eastern Mediterranean and even further afield, has decided that the UN process no longer serves Turkey’s purpose in Cyprus, which is the establishment of a confederation of two independent states on the island. Thus, Ankara has put forward preconditions for negotiations that it knows the Greek Cypriot side can never accept and to all intents and purposes has made the UN process redundant.

By doing this, the Turkish side wants to create the space and time to develop further ‘facts on the ground’ – opening up Varosha to Turkish colonisation, importing more Turkish colonists into the occupied areas generally and suppressing those Turkish Cypriot voices that would prefer reunification of the island to creeping annexation by Turkey, with all that implies for the demise of the secular/Kemalist nature of Turkish Cypriot social and political life.

In pursuit of homogenising and straightjacketing Turkish Cypriot identity and opinion, the Erdogan regime has gone so far as to threaten and intimidate dissenting Turkish Cypriot politicians and literally bribing the ‘electorate’ of the occupation regime, 30 to 50 percent of whom are Turkish colonists and hold sway in ‘elections’, into choosing (in last year’s illegal ‘presidential’ elections in the occupied areas) the repulsive extremist and Ankara-lackey Ersin Tatar over the more moderate Mustafa Akinci.

So, what has the Greek Cypriot response been to the consolidation of Turkey’s occupation of northern Cyprus and the demise of UN mediation efforts?

Addicted to the UN process, they have reacted by repeating ad nauseam that they are the only way to achieve a Cyprus settlement, and by lobbying the international community – as if it has nothing better to do – to press Turkey to reverse course.

These efforts are so forlorn as to be ridiculous. The EU has made it clear – under German leadership – that it values ties to Turkey far more than it values the well-being of a member-state; while the Biden administration is pre-occupied with other issues, such as the future of Taliban Afghanistan, where it requires the input of Turkey, to go out on a limb for the sake of Cyprus.

What, then, should Cypriot leaders do to prevent the Turkish occupation from becoming irreversible?

There are many things it could do. Previously, in relation to the opening and colonisation of Varosha I have suggested that criminal procedures could be initiated against occupation regime officials for violating any number of Republic of Cyprus laws.

Another idea that should be considered is to sidestep the UN process, and do away with the the malign input of the guarantor powers, especially Turkey, by establishing a constitutional convention. This would involve Greek and Turkish Cypriot political leaders who believe in reunification – i.e. all the mainstream Greek Cypriot political parties and those in the centre and on the left of Turkish Cypriot politics, the 49 percent who voted for Akinci – meeting to thrash out a Cyprus settlement, which they would then present to the international community as the will of the majority of Cypriots.

Of course, it would take a great leap of faith and courage from Turkish Cypriot progressives to defy Turkey and participate in such a convention; but the alternative is what they all say would be a disaster, the annihilation by Turkey of the Turkish Cypriot community and the annexation of occupied Cyprus to Turkey.

Inevitably, Turkey would reject any deal Greek and Turkish Cypriots come up with; but then at least, in such circumstances, Turkey's nefarious role in Cyprus would be exposed. No one would be able to pretend the 'Cyprus issue' is intercommunal. The root cause of the island’s division and unhappiness – Turkey's occupation – would be indisputable, clear for all to see and addressed as such.