A divine plot?
Nicolas Sarkozy has become history as he has been replaced at the Elysée Palace by President François Hollande. The last epitaph of the “Oxi” blockage against the 2003-2004 Annan Plan period will be broken in Cyprus with President Demetris Christofias leaving his seat later this month to the sole pro-settlement figure of that period, Nikos Anastasiades. Pope Benedict XVI has announced that he will step down on Feb. 28 because he no longer has the mental and physical strength to cope with his duties.
Pope Benedict XVI’s decision to step down from papacy will be of great importance for the Christian world as he will be the first pontiff to step down since the Middle Ages, or the first in almost 600 years. For Turkey and the Muslim world, however, his departure will have some added value. A pope who displayed antipathy against Turkey and who used blasphemous language against Islam and Islam’s Prophet Muhammad will be gone.
What a coincidence, is it not? A diehard Turkey opponent, Sarkozy lost the vote in April 2012 and went down the drain of history. With his undecided policies and reluctance to undertake courageous, compromise-based steps required for a resolution to the Cyprus problem, Christofias was a real stumbling block to peace on Cyprus and will be sent back to his papa’s coffee shop. Hopefully, as polls all indicate so far, Anastasiades will replace Christofias in the presidency. Will he be as pro-settlement as he was in 2004? Probably not because he will be elected with the support of a coalition composed mostly of members of the “Oxi block.” Still, he at least has the caliber to deliver if any compromise deal can be achieved in the talks.
Can we say that there is a divine plan in the making? Of Turkey’s three top headaches on the path to Europe, one is gone and the other two will become history within days. At a time when some officious aides have started whispering loud into the ears of the prompter-premier about the idea of Turkey joining the Shanghai Five club of less-democrats, it is as if a divine bulldozer has been engaged to clear the way for Turkey toward the European club of democracies.
Turkish hopes are high for Hollande removing the “Sarkozy scars” on French-Turkish relations and the upcoming state visit will perhaps be a promising start. Of course, a Turkey that moves toward eradicating its people’s lack of democracy and, within that framework, of its Kurdish population as well, will help a lot. A France that lifts its political vetoes on Turkey’s accession talks would be a landmark move toward Ankara getting a view to EU membership, the absence of which has been poisoning relations ever since talks started.
A Benedict, together with his Turkey-skepticism, that abandons the Vatican might help Turkey and Turkey’s friends in Europe forge a better atmosphere that could ease the accession process while also improving the perception of Turkey. Again, the success will depend on what strides Ankara will indeed take in terms of democracy. Cyprus is Cyprus and within a short period of time, the “pro-settlement Anastasiades” of 2004 will be replaced by a “Byzantine Anastasiades” battling for political survival through delicate alliances forged with the Church of Cyprus and nationalist and neo-nationalist groups, the key component of which will most probably be animosity toward Turkey and Turkish Cyprus. Still, if Ankara is ready to walk the extra mile – as the prime minister had pledged to Annan in Davos in 2003 – and remain a step ahead of the Greek and Greek Cypriot sides, perhaps we might see a miracle.