A shift in Turkey's Cyprus policy?

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A shift in Turkey's Cyprus policy?

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A new government, a new international environment and a new approach from Turkey regarding Cyprus.

The Turkish Prime Minister paid his first trip ‘abroad’, to the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus, a country that is recognized only by Turkey. During and before his visit Recep Tayyip Erdogan made strong statements about the future of the island, directing sometimes harsh language at Greek Cypriots for resisting a peace treaty.

Before flying to Cyprus, Erdogan warned Turkey’s relations with the European Union “will be completely frozen” if Cyprus assumes the bloc’s presidency before a deal reunifying the ethnically split island is reached. He continued his criticisms during the ceremony to commemorate what Turks see as Turkey’s ‘Peace Operation’ of 1974, which is considered as an ‘occupation’ by Greeks. He said “everyone should know the existing window of opportunity on Cyprus will not always remain open. We hope that all the efforts that have been made (for a solution) will not be wasted. We hope we are not just spinning our wheels.”

These remarks were welcomed even by Erdogan’s opponents, who stood against his efforts to unite the island in 2004. Erdogan and his cabinet was then accused of treason by nationalist for “giving up Cyprus”. Plans of military coups were even made by some generals to take his government down. But now, former Turkish Cypriot Foreign Minister and Democrat Party leader Serdar Denktas (son of Turkish Cypriot leader Rauf Denktas) said of Erdogan “he sounds like my father.” Turkey’s main opposition party, the CHP, also claims that “Erdogan now reached to a point where we stood on Cyprus issue.”

But it seems they are missing the essential point: that the AK Party government took great risks and forced for a solution which was acceptable to both parties and less favourable for Turkey in 2004. Candidacy for the European Union was at stake and with the support of Erdogan’s government, Turkish Cypriots voted for reunification under terms brokered by the United Nations. It was Greek Cypriots who rejected the so-called Annan plan. So Erdogan’s position is stronger just because he did try to reach an agreement and the international community found it had to listen to what he was saying. After years of negotiations, and weak support from the European Union, which did not keep promises of starting direct trade with the Northern Cyprus, Turkey today feels that it has right to ask for the return of its efforts and put the onus on Greek Cypriots.

Mensur Akgun, Head of Global Political Trends Center, a non-profit, non-partisan research institution established under the auspices of Istanbul Kültür University, draws attention to the words of Prime Minister Erdogan and stresses the fact that Erdogan’s words are still parallel with UN parametres. “He talks about two founder states, a concept which was in the Annan Plan; he talks about continuing the talks until October, he is not talking about giving up the negotiations. What is new here is that Erdogan described what will happen if the solution is not reached.”

Akgun says a major shift in the Cyprus issue can take place only if there is a major change in European policy. “I am not talking about the German-French axis or Sarkozy-Merkel opposition. Today the EU is in a deep crisis and focused on solving this problem. Maybe Eurozone will be shaken. The Greek economy collapsed, Italy is in a similar position. Others may follow them. The crisis may also affect us, as Minister Babacan said. So there is nothing to lose from the side of Turkey, because everything that could be lost has already been lost. But for the EU there are things at stake. Political dialogue will be cut with Turkey which is stronger than the past and is part of the solution in many regional problems. Plus, Turkey will behave in a tougher manner in NATO.”

The two sides have 19 rounds of negotiation to go. So far they have produced limited progress as several core issues remain open, including territorial adjustments and what to do with private property lost during the war. The UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said he expects both sides to reach agreement by October on all core issues.

by Bora Bayraktar, Istanbul