On his second working day in office, on Sept. 1, Turkey’s new President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan will make his maiden foreign trip to the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus. Turkish Cypriots are proud that Erdoğan will be making his first visit as president to northern Cyprus and thus “will demonstrate to friends and foes” that Turkey will continue remain committed to the wellbeing, security and prosperity of its Turkish Cypriot brethren. Greek Cypriots, on the other hand, expect the new Turkish president to deliver some “meaningful contribution” to efforts aimed at reaching a settlement to the over half a century-old problem of power sharing between the two peoples of Cyprus.
The very fact that Erdoğan will be travelling to northern Cyprus just days after he officially takes over the presidency on Aug. 28 will of course be a very strong message regarding not only of the commitment to supporting Cyprus settlement efforts, but more so not to leave the Turkish Cypriot people out in the cold under any condition. Even if Erdoğan is not appreciated much among the Turkish Cypriot population of north Cyprus because of his rather rude reference to Turkish Cypriots as a people “fed by Turkey”– three unprecedented anti-Turkish hegemony and anti-Erdoğan rallies were held in Nicosia in 2011 – there is full confidence in Turkey and a firm belief that Ankara will never ever abandon Turkish Cypriots.
Erdoğan has been on the record declaring he wants a resolution to the Cyprus problem and the era of “no settlement is a settlement as well” was closed and an era of determined pursuit of peace with a pledge of being a step ahead of the Greek side started back in 2002 with his Justice and Development Party (AKP) coming to power. Yet, he has also been on the record declaring any Cyprus settlement must be based on the “reality” of the island, reflect the “bi-communality and bi-zonality” agreed by the two peoples in past high level agreements and include Turkey’s effective continued security guarantees for the Turkish Cypriot people. He has also been stressing that Turkish Cypriots cannot wait out in the cold forever for Greek Cypriots to agree on a compromise resolution, if they do not want a compromise federal resolution, then Turks may opt for Plan B. What that “Plan B” is was never elaborated on, but from time to time Turkish officials stress that if achieving a federation is not possible, then the two peoples should consider a velvet divorce and a two-state resolution on the island.
Particularly Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu – who Erdoğan announced would succeed him as party leader and prime minister this week – has been rather vocal on the issue and has been stressing that if a federation is not possible, it would be normal for the two peoples to walk their separate ways and continue on with their separate states.
Greek Cypriot leader Nikos Anastasiades has been stressing that through “common friends” he received information that the new Turkish president wants to contribute to a federal resolution and for that reason he did not expect him talk of the “existence of two states, two peoples or two democracies” and such during his visit to Cyprus, like outgoing President Abdullah Gül did almost during all his visits to north Cyprus. To what extent such an expectation is reasonable or based on correct intelligence I doubt. Erdoğan most likely will make the same emphasis on the equality of the island’s two peoples and express his firm support to resolution efforts, which should not be limited to a federation, but must encompass the possibility of two states as well.
In the meantime, with the approval of the two sides on Cyprus, Espen Barth Eide, a former foreign and defense minister of Norway, will be starting his mission in early September as the new special advisor of the secretary-general – a post vacated by Australian Alexander Downer.
Turkish Cypriots have been complaining for months that Cyprus talks were not moving ahead because of Greek Cypriot disinterest and indeed reluctant commitment to the process. Will Erdoğan’s visit or the appointment of new special advisor help energize the process? Unlikely, Greek Cypriots are just not interested in a resolution.