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45 years more of the Cyprus problem?

10 February 2013

Speaking in Brussels last week, Professor Kudret Ozersay, former chief negotiator for President Eroglu on the Cyprus problem and founder of the online community movement ‘Toparlaniyoruz Movement’ said that Cyprus will face another 45 years of peace negotiations unless a settlement to the decades-long Cyprus problem is found.

In a divided Cyprus, only the south was permitted to join the EU and for many years the TRNC has suffered trade restrictions, is not allowed direct flights to the north and many other factors have hindered economic development in the north.

Ozersay continued that the only way peace would come would be if both sides agreed that the current situation was unacceptable and further, if the international community was motivated to change the status quo.

[Some cynics have suggested that countries like France and Germany do not want to see a settlement in Cyprus because the ‘problem’ is inextricably linked with mainland Turkey. Those two EU member countries, it is suggested do not want Turkey to join the EU community].

He said that because Greek Cyprus had been granted EU membership, had served for six months in the rotating presidency of the EU, [despite settlement being a precondition of joining the EU] and had enjoyed the “right” – hotly disputed by Turkey, to sell drilling rights to foreign investors; the Greek south had no incentive to negotiate for a settlement of the Cyprus problem.

Ozersay proposed that there were two influencing factors that could contribute to the negotiation table. One was that there has been an increase in the numbers of Greek Cypriots who were travelling to Turkey via Ercan airport, this despite the fact that the Greek Cypriot authorities had deemed Ercan airport as an illegal entity. The second factor was that Turkish exports to via Greece had in the past two years increased by 500%.

Other factors are that the Greek Cypriot economy is in dire straits and the Turkish Cypriot administration is foundering. Discovery and transport of gas could be a joint concern. The most practical way to transport gas finds would be via Turkey. [Currently the south is building a gas terminal to liquefy gas and plans to transport liquid gas by ship, much to the consternation of the Green lobby and a far more expensive option in financial and ecological terms]. He said that the international community was increasingly of the opinion that Turkish Cypriots must be “co-owners” of Cyprus’ natural resources.

Ozersay contends that as both sides of the island are pre-occupied with their own domestic problems and are anxious for change, leaders and negotiators may actually have “more leeway” in the next round of talks. So that despite the fact that both sides have been pretty intransigent, there may now be an opportunity to look afresh at the Cyprus problem.

Addressing both sides, he said it was time to lay new foundations for talks and to stop point scoring while referring to the current UN guidelines.

We must allow the parties to discuss with one another outside the box, according to the principle that a settlement is agreed and negotiated by both sides,” said Ozersay, concluding that it was not helpful to focus on labels like ‘confederation’ or ‘loose federation’.

In an ideal world Mr Ozersay might be right, but assuming that he gave up his post as chief negotiator for President Eroglu in despair over the entrenched positions on both sides, such a settlement is highly unlikely. Even if the favourite Greek Cypriot presidential candidate Anastasiades won the election, and even though he voted in favour of the Annan Plan in 2004, the general populace voted against it; one wonders what could possibly change their minds now?

The situation has rolled on for decades; perhaps the last opportunity for a settlement died when the Annan plan failed to win over the Greek Cypriots.

Turkey has made its presence felt in the north for decades by rescuing the Turkish Cypriot population from decimation by the Greek Cypriots, by keeping its troops there, and also by bolstering the TRNC’s income with Turkish lira. Now a new economic program has been agreed with Turkey; water and eventually electricity will be transported by undersea pipelines from Turkey. Technicians and civil servants probably possessing more nous than the local incumbents, may help to streamline and rationalise the civil service in the north.

The Greek Cypriots on the other hand see light at the end of the tunnel because they have sold drilling rights to several companies, why would they share the revenues with the north? Further, at the time of writing, it has just been announced that the south has just been granted  €1 billion in subsidies by the EU under the Cohesion Policy and the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) with a potential to increase those subsidies to €1.3 billion, pending further applications. This will span from 2014 to 2020.

Also the spectre of division between Turkish and Greek Cypriots lingers. Professor Glen D. Camp in his paper on the historical roots of the Cyprus problem, points out that although Greek and Turkish Cypriots lived alongside each on Cyprus for generations – both sides were never truly integrated. Greek and Turkish Cypriots are divided by language, culture and history. He quotes Assistant Professor of International Relationships at the University of Cyprus, Joseph S. Joseph who says:

Despite four centuries of coexistence and physical intermingling, the [two communities] remained separate and distinct ethnic groups divided along linguistic, religious, cultural, and political lines … Communal dualism became the foundation of political structures and practices that prevented the development of a … common patriotism, joint Cypriot consciousness, and unifying political culture supportive of the Cypriot state”.

So it would seem that because of the length of time Cyprus has been partitioned, because of political and cultural divides and because positions will probably remain entrenched, bolstered by new factors like hydrocarbon finds and the political and financial influence of outsiders, re-unification seems highly unlikely.

I will be following the peace talks with great interest. But something tells me that it is already a done deal.

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