New elements provide ground for optimism for Cyprus deal
ISTANBUL – Hürriyet Daily News
Greek Cypriots are finally starting to come around to agreeing to a solution in which Turkish Cyprus would have total control over the north of the island, according to regional specialist Hugh Pope.The stars are aligning for a deal on Cyprus, as there is political will on all sides to find a settlement for the divided island, according to an expert.
However, as the old paradigm based on a bi-communal, bi-zonal federation has worn thin, the sides should not stick to the old paradigm, but rather explore all other options, according to Hugh Pope of the International Crisis Group.
Are there any reasons to be optimistic about the new round of talks?
There are some new elements providing grounds for some optimism. One is that the prime minister of Turkey has clearly signaled the green light that he wants a settlement; he wants a revitalization of the EU process. I hear from Ankara he sent a message to the system, [saying] “I want a deal.”
Previously, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan used to send this message to the system: “I did everything I can; but promises were not fulfilled, the ball is in the other’s side’s court.” So you suggest he has changed his mind. Why do you think he changed his mind?
For domestic political reasons. He feels there is the need to get voters’ support; there is clearly a pro-EU constituency that has been neglected. He is also trying to rebuild Turkey’s international reputation, which is under siege at the moment. A Cyprus settlement would be great news. What’s great about it is that it matches with an existing wish in the [Turkish] Foreign Ministry to get it done; they really want to get it done. You can see it. Foreign Minister [Ahmet] Davutoğlu really pushed and the Foreign Ministry is also really pushing. He went to the island to ensure these talks started again.
He took a direct part in making sure that this all happened; that means getting everybody lined up, not just in Turkey but also on the Turkish Cypriot side to start talks again.
There is a new element on the Greek Cypriot side; Nicos Anastasiadis was elected. He was busy with his own difficult times. It was a very difficult year for him. Everyone you talk to in [Greek] Cyprus believes he wants a settlement too because he knows that normalization with Turkey and all the economic benefits that will accrue from a settlement are desperately needed by his people right now.
A lot of people in Turkey don’t understand the depths to which the Greek Cypriot economy has crashed.
They have already spent all the money that they could ever make from Aphrodite [gas field]. There are all kinds of studies showing how much both sides of the island will benefit economically – that is in Anastasiadis’ mind.
He has shown evidence that he is trying to change Greek Cypriot approaches. Look at the joint declaration; a Greek Cypriot leader has now said openly neither side will have jurisdiction or authority over the other.
Remember for 40 years Greek Cypriot leaders told the Greek Cypriot public that they would go back to their homes with the implicit promise that everything would go back to how it was before. A Greek Cypriot leader has now said if you go back it will be under Turkish Cypriot jurisdiction and authority; obviously, there will be individual rights, et cetera, but the day-to-day administration will have nothing to do with Greek Cypriot context. It is a substantive joint declaration and most sides are happy about it, even if it took a long time to agree on it. It is one of the most substantive joint declarations in the last 40 years.
Turkey is missing a point with Anastasiadis; in Ankara, every official will say, “He is a good man, we can work with him." But he cannot deliver a deal on his own. The key to getting a settlement is in Turkey’s hand because even if it is difficult for Turkish officials to believe that the Greek Cypriot community is listening to every word that [PM Recep Tayyip] Erdoğan and [President Abdullah] Gül say.
Just the fact that the Greek Cypriot negotiator came to Turkey [recently] is so important. As someone who goes to both sides, I believe completely that the Turkish side needs and wants a solution, but that is not understood on the Greek Cypriot side. To understand that, they need to talk to each other regularly.
Another new dynamic is natural gas.
Most of the natural gas is currently in Israel. The discoveries in Cyprus have proved disappointing. It is not clear whether it is commercial [grade]. It will take more years to see what to do on the Cypriot side. But the Israelis are in a hurry, they have finally understood that they cannot have a pipeline if there is no settlement on Cyprus. Because the owners of the leviathan field in Israel are in a hurry, they need to take a decision in the next several months. What they can do which is more expensive for them is build a floating natural gas platform. They will make less money. Israeli operators of that gas field need to take a decision soon. That is putting some pressure on the players to do something.
For instance, it is one reason Americans are interested. There is another reason why they are interested [and that is] possibly thanks to the fact that Turkey told them that it wants a settlement; the U.S. wants to see good relations between Turkey and Israel as the pipeline would cement that.
Also, there is this whole strategic idea of Israel, Turkey, Greece and Cyprus being a strategic anchor in this turbulent part of the world. But, in general, the Americans have seen this as an opportunity to do a deal.
So you think there is the right constellation of stars for a settlement.
Yes, the stars are aligned, but what kind of settlement do the two sides want?
What else is different this time?
Public opinion was very interested on the Turkish Cypriot side and very scared on the Greek Cypriot side in 2004. In 2008 there was a bounce but [the talks] went so slowly and so disappointingly that now public opinion is showing very little faith. There is some interest, but it is very cautious. There is a huge problem. We have two of the three sides, Turkey and America, in a hurry. People on the island are not really there for a federal settlement. Look at public opinion polls. We all know that federal reunification is the second choice for both sides. Theoretically, there is some support for a bi-zonal, bi-communal federation. But if you break it down to what it is – sharing power, political equality et cetera, you actually end up on the Greek Cypriot side with 20-25 percent support; three-quarters of the people are against the elements of a bi-zonal, bi-communal federation.
What has happened to make anybody believe that they want it? That’s the reason why we have to be cautious; what has changed in the actual parameters of a settlement? Almost nothing. A bi-communal, bi-zonal paradigm is looking very tired and broken.
Do we need a new paradigm?
That should be discussed. After 40 years of Greek Cypriot dreaming about reunification as a single state, there is a lot more flexibility on the system now. There are other ways they could unify the island. If both sides are part of Europe, both have the regulations of the EU; have the euro, have the same norms and values. That’s a reunification of the island far beyond.
Currently, the Greek Cypriot side is allergic, for instance, to the idea of recognition of Turkish Cypriot institutions; if it were on good terms with Turkey, would the Greek Cypriot side resist so much in recognizing the Turkish Cypriot side? Are there some other ways to reconfigure the parameters? This has to be done in private, of course.
For years, we have been told the parameters of a solution are known; there is no stone left unturned; it is a matter for the two sides to accept the bitter compromise.
I challenge that. Open up to a range of options but privately. Turkey cannot do that, but Turkey has to make it possible for Greek Cypriot to come out of their castle.
A bi-zonal, bi-federal solution has been like a castle for Greek Cypriots; it has kept them safe for 40 years against a Turkey far more powerful; because this castle is supported by the international community. Federal talks have been a security blanket. That security blanket has worn thin. I say explore all options and don’t rush.
Who is Hugh Pope?
Hugh Pope is the International Crisis Group’s Europe and Central Asia Program’s deputy director and director of its Turkey/Cyprus Project.
Before setting up the independent conflict-prevention organization’s Istanbul office in 2007, he was a foreign correspondent for 25 years, most recently for the Wall Street Journal.
Pope holds a degree in Oriental Studies from Oxford University, was awarded a Robert Bosch Fellowship in Washington D.C., and has lectured at the Royal Academy of Arts, the Smithsonian, and universities including Princeton, Columbia, Johns Hopkins, Seattle, Oxford, Cambridge, Leiden, Utrecht and Sciences Po.
He has written three books: “Turkey Unveiled: A History of Modern Turkey,” “Sons of the Conquerors: the Rise of the Turkic World” and “Dining with al-Qaeda: Three Decades Exploring the Many Worlds of the Middle East.”