“[Greek] Cypriots tested everyone‘s patience. But they did not realize they were doing it,” Hugh Pope, the Turkey-Cyprus project director for the International Crisis Group, has said.
Pope said that now the EU is taking a kind of revenge against them because the Greek Cypriots have used every means available as members of the EU, to punish the Turks.
Pope, speaking in an interview at the head office of the International Crisis Group was asked how he thought the new TRNC coalition party’s pro-solution stance would affect the outcome of the Cyprus problem.
It is such a complicated situation that it has no direct impact. The Cyprus problem will be decided between Turkish Cypriots and Turkey, and they are always in consultation. [President] Dervis Eroglu is still in charge of the negotiations process.
Referring to the interviewer’s observation that there never seemed to be the right conditions for a settlement, she asked if the island was cursed.
Pope said that in fact, it is one of the most peaceful places on the planet. Nobody has been killed over the division of the island for almost 20 years. Nevertheless, he described the current situation as a pain in everyone’s neck, given that there was, de facto, partion, that North Cyprus remains unrecognised, the Greek Cypriots remain bitter, the TRNC is isolated and Turkey’s relations with the EU is blighted.
The interviewer suggested that time is playing into the hands of those in Turkey who want partition.
Pope responded that time does not solve the problem; that because the Greek Cypriots are in the EU, they can influence Brussels to make Turkey accept the Greek Cypriots’ conditions for settlement. On the other hand, he said that Turks believe, simply because they are a big country that they can make other nations force the Greek Cypriots to concede to their demands.
In Pope’s opinion, the two sides just do not understand each other. Therefore, he says that Turkey has to change the way the problem is approached. It could, for a start, reach out to the Greek Cypriot public, adding that in 2010 Turkish Prime Minister Erdogan invited a group of Greek Cypriots to visit Turkey, to great effect. But that was the last gesture Turkey made.
Referring to a new wave of hope in Ankara, following the election of President Anastasiades in the South, Pope said that hope had been dissipated because Turkey felt that the Greek Cypriot president was dragging his feet over the Cyprus problem and was using the economic crisis in the South as an excuse not to engage in it.
However, Pope said, that because the economy in the South was in tatters, naturally, he had to deal with that. Pope also said that Turkey has no empathy for Anastasiades and the situation he finds himself in and is demanding immediate action on the Cyprus problem.
On the question of the effect of EU membership on the Greek Cypriots, Pope said that most people in the South consider the EU to be a “disaster” at the moment; that they did not expect to feel humiliated and punished by the EU – (referring to the bailout conditions imposed by the EU following the near collapse of the banking system in the South).
Pope added that he did not believe that the EU had much proactive power but could withhold things. He went on to say that the Greek Cypriots had used every means of influence to punish the Turks, just like the Greeks did in the 1980’s and the 1990’s.
He also went on that EU officials had tired of Greek Cypriot actions and how they were also representing Russian points of view. The Greek Cypriots, he said, had tested everyone’s patience.
He said that the lack of EU support during the Greek Cypriot financial crisis was, in part, because of the way the Greek Cypriots had abused their position. They had blackmailed their way in and had failed to answer the very legitimate requests of the Turkish Cypriots to allow direct trade. The EU were unable to act in response to that, however, everyone remembers.
When asked about Turkey’s policy on Cyprus, Pope said that the situation was complicated by the fact the Turkey was trying to gain EU accession. The EU said that Turkey had to recognise the Greek Cypriots, PM Erdogan nearly walked out of that meeting and was persuaded to remain, thinking he had been promised support by the then UK Prime Minister, Tony Blair and German Chancellor Schroder.
The current Turkish government refuse to open its ports to Greek Cypriot ships because there is still no direct trade for the Turkish Cypriots, therefore half of its EU negotiating chapters have been blocked over Cyprus. Turkey, he said, had run aground because of Cyprus.
Reminded that Turkey is genuinely pushing for a solution to the Cyprus problem, Pope said that it was not just about supporting the UN process. The Greek Cypriots feel powerless and when negotiating with a big power like Turkey, they would be watching Turkey’s track record. Pope cited the failure of the negotiations with the Armenians, the process with the Kurds is ongoing. They will be considering whether or not the Turkish government is a peace making one. In other words, the Greek Cypriots must be able to trust the partner at the negotiating table.
He added that obviously, the Turkish Cypriots must feel that they will not be threatened by the Greek Cypriots. The interviewer said that this puts all parties back to square one. Pope agreed but said that it was up to the most powerful party to set a good example; that the powerful could afford to make concessions.
Pope concluded that it was time for Turkey to begin a “charm offensive”. However, the fruit of these efforts would not come soon, rather it would take the next few years to pay off.
Hugh Pope has been the Turkey/Cyprus Project Director for International Crisis Group, the conflict-prevention organization, since 2007. Based in Istanbul, he writes reports on EU-Turkey relations, Cyprus, and Turkey’s ties with its neighbors.
Pope was previously a foreign correspondent for 25 years, most recently spending a decade as Turkey, Middle East and Central Asia Correspondent for The Wall Street Journal. He received a B.A. in Oriental Studies (Persian and Arabic) from Oxford University.
Pope has written books including ‘Turkey Unveiled: A History of Modern Turkey’ and ‘Sons of the Conquerors: The Rise of the Turkic World.’ His most recent book is ‘Dining with al-Qaeda: Three Decades Exploring the Many Worlds of the Middle East.’