An important role falls on Turkish Cypriot civil society
As peace talks between the supposedly most pro-solution leaders of the divided island of Cyprus have collapsed; the answer to “what now” lingers in the air.
“If you fail never give up because F.A.I.L. means ‘first attempt in learning,’ says a recent posting I saw in social media. When you apply this to the Cyprus issue; it is obvious there have been too many attempts and that there has not been much learning left to do. In fact for years, those familiar with the problem have been saying the parameters of a viable solution are very well known to each side and that what’s missing has been the existence of political power courageous enough to go the extra mile.
“The end is not the end. In fact, E.N.D. means ‘effort never dies,’ continues the posting. If you get no as an answer remember N.O. means ‘next opportunity.’”
So, are the Turkish Cypriots supposed to say that efforts for reunification should never die, and tell their Greek Cypriot interlocutors, “see you in the next opportunity?”
The Greek Cypriots, probably with the exception of those who have land and property in the north, might have the luxury of waiting for the next opportunity. Yet, the Turkish Cypriots who suffer under the embargo do not enjoy such comfort. Without officially closing the doors to a negotiated settlement, they could seek ways that will find partial solutions to key elements of the problem, like land and property issues, which could on the other hand, force Greek Cypriots to adopt a more conciliatory stance.
Looking at the Turkish side of the island, some are complaining about a chaotic mood in terms of the course of action to be taken. Yet, the Turkish Cypriots need to focus and try to find a general consensus on the way forward.
Enabling the return of the Maronite community back to Turkish Cyprus, reactivating the Immovable Property Commission (IPC), which could prioritize the applications from Morphu/Güzelyurt and Maraş/Varosha, while opening the latter ghost town to its former Greek Cypriot owners, are steps that could alter the course of future settlement, while giving a clear message to Greek Cypriots that time is not on their side.
But, these are costly steps and looking to Ankara for financial assistance is futile as the Justice and Development Party (AK Party) will be in serious need of cash ahead of upcoming elections.
It seems there is talk of enacting a special tax in Turkish Cyprus to generate income for the IPC. It could prove difficult however, for any political party to assume responsibility to enact such a tax that would be unpopular under normal circumstances among any constituency. Seeking a general consensus in society explaining the need for such a tax could make things easy, enabling political parties in the Turkish part of the island to come together and act in unison.
Turkish Cyprus has a dynamic civil society, representatives of civil society, business community, and NGOs, which could start such an initiative to build a consensus that could open the way for political actors.
As someone who built his career on a reunification of the island based on a negotiated settlement, it is not hard to understand the disappointment of Turkish Cypriot President Mustafa Akıncı. It is not the first time that pro-solution leaders who fought for years against the “nay-sayers” on the Turkish side have been let down by their Greek Cypriot friends. His predecessor, Mehmet Ali Talat, has suffered from the same fate.
Looking for alternative but radical ways while keeping the door open to talks does not mean the end for a negotiated settlement. On the contrary, it might even facilitate it. As it may prove difficult for political actors on the island to meet on a common platform, civil society can play a catalyst role.