Greek Cyprus ‘punished for blackmailing Europe’

Greek Cyprus ‘punished for blackmailing Europe’

ISTANBUL – Hürriyet Daily News
Greek Cyprus ‘punished for blackmailing Europe’

‘Currently Turkey is powerful. It is time for Turkey to start a charm offensive towards Greek Cypriots,’ says Hugh Pope talking at the Istanbul office of the International Crisis Group. DAILY NEWS photos, Emrah GÜREL

Greek Cypriots used every means available to them by virtue of their membership in the European Union to punish the Turks, but the EU is now taking a manner of revenge on the country, said analyst Hugh Pope, adding that Greek Cypriots never expected to be humiliated this much by Europeans.

“Cypriots tested everyone‘s patience. But they did not realize they were doing it,” said Pope, the Turkey-Cyprus project director for the International Crisis Group.

A new government has been formed in Turkish Cyprus led by the Republican Turkish Party (CTP) known to be pro-solution. How will that affect the settlement prospect on the island?

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] Derviş Eroğlu is still in charge. He is in charge of the negotiations process.

It seems there is never the right alignment of stars to solve the problem. Is the island cursed?

On the contrary, it is one of the most peaceful places on earth. No one has been killed in nearly two decades. De facto, what we have is a partition. It is not recognized, Greek Cypriots remain aggrieved, Turkish Cypriots remain isolated, and Turkey remains unable to have proper relations with the EU. It remains a pain in everyone’s neck.

But time is playing into the hands of those in Turkey who want a partition.

But time does not solve the problem. Greek Cypriots think that because they are in the EU, they can get Brussels to force Turkey to accept their version of the settlement. Turks think that because they are the big country everyone will force the Greek Cypriots to cave in to their demands.

The two sides don’t understand each other. If Turkey really wants to put this problem aside, it has to change the nature of the discussion and one of the ways is to reach out to Greek Cypriot [public] opinion. In 2010, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan invited a group of Greek Cypriots and it was a really effective move. But since then, [there has been] nothing.

But there was a wave of hope in Ankara that a solution will be easier following the election of Nikos Anastasiades as Greek Cypriot president. Now there is disappointment because Ankara feels he is dragging his feet, arguing he has to deal with the economic crisis.

But he has to. He has a shipwreck of an economy. Greek Cypriots are being pushed around by the EU. If you talk to him [Anastiasiadis] and his people; he has a much more realistic position than the public position that he is forced to maintain in terms of the Greek Cypriot public, but Ankara want [the change] immediately.

Ankara has no empathy for the situation of Anastasiaids is in. Ankara cannot deal with one person in isolation. The moment Ankara is seen as attaching itself to one person, that person is dead meat.

These people are traumatized not just by the nationalist narrative and economic disaster, but also by the fact that there is no room in Greek Cypriot politics to take this brave mood in opposition to established public opinion.

[Greek Cypriot leaders] can’t do it unless Turkey is seen as a trusted partner by their community.

When a country enters the EU, it is supposed to gain self-confidence as well as the culture of compromise. How did EU membership affect Greek Cypriots.

Most of them view the EU as a disaster right now. They were not expecting this. They feel humiliated by the treatment of the Europeans.

I suspect that there is an element of punishment for the Greek Cypriots by the EU.

The EU does not have much proactive power. But it can withhold things. The Greek Cypriots used every leeway over the EU to try to punish the Turks, just like the Greeks did in 1980s and the 1990s.

You can do that in the EU and no one will say anything to your face. They’ll complain about it behind your back. It got to the point a couple of years back where you could meet EU officials who felt sick of Greek Cypriot actions and the way they would be representing Russian points of view. The Greek Cypriots tested everyone’s patience. But they did not realize they were doing it.

And the lack of support for Cyprus in Europe during this financial crisis is partly due to the way the Greek Cypriots abused their position; in getting into the EU – basically they blackmailed their way in – they failed to respond to the very legitimate requests of Turkish Cypriots for instance for direct trade; [in such a case], the EU cannot do anything at that time. But it is remembered.

How do you see the AKP’s Cyprus policy?

The AKP took the opportunity to have this pro-EU policy on Cyprus. But there was a real mess around the time Turkey was negotiating to actually start membership negotiations. Europeans said you have to ultimately recognize Greek Cypriots. Erdoğan decided to walk out. It was an embarrassing moment. Some EU leaders stopped him and obviously they said anything to stop him, and they persuaded him to stay. Erdoğan left thinking he got the promise of the EU. But he got the promise of [former German and British leaders Gerhard] Schröder and [Tony] Blair. The AKP got stuck with the business of not implementing the additional protocol [which requires Turkey to open its ports to Greek Cypriot ships] because there is not direct trade [with Turkish Cypriots].

Turkey gets punished for not doing that and it has half of its negotiations chapters blocked over Cyprus.

This is a terrible failure of AKP policy. With the EU policy, which is the most important relation for Turkey in the outside world – Turkey ran aground because of Cyprus.

But Turkey kept genuinely pushing for negotiations on the island.

But Cyprus is not just about supporting the UN process.

When you are the Greek Cypriots and they have no power, when you are negotiating with a huge power like Turkey, you will watch what their track record is. They watched how Armenian negotiations crashed in flames mainly because Turkey changed its mind. That was really frightening for Greek Cypriots; they’ve got one chance to solve this and they have to trust the partner on the table.

They are watching this Kurdish process with huge interest; is Turkey a peacemaking government, or are they just seeking an opportunity to gain some time and then start the war again. They are watching this issue as a life-and-death issue for them.

Let’s say it does come to the point Greek Cypriots feel this is finished [and that they say] “Let’s make a divorce agreement with Turkey.” They can only come to that conclusion if they trust Turkey. The only condition for any agreement to be reached is when they feel Turkey is no longer a threat to them. But obviously it is important for Turkish Cypriots to feel that Greek Cypriots are not a threat to them.

Which means we are back to square one.

Yes, but it is up to the most powerful party to set a good example. It is always the most powerful party that should set the tone. It is at the moment you are powerful that you can give concessions, when you are weak you can never give concessions, and currently Turkey is powerful and Greek Cypriots are completely week.

It is time for Turkey to start a charm offensive, but the fruit will not come tomorrow or next month, but in a year or two or three.


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.’