Geneva: Any hope for a Cyprus solution?
This is a crucial week for the Cyprus issue. Both the Turkish and Greek sides seem to think that the talks in Geneva are “a last window of opportunity for a solution,” but each party is still putting forward terms that the other side obviously cannot accept. Nevertheless, for some time now there has been strong optimism that this “last chance” will bring a solution.
However, many who have for years been closely following the ups and downs of this long and inconclusive problem have been telling me they are not optimistic about the outcome of the Geneva talks. They interpret the accelerated pace of these latest talks as something that will eventually work against the Greek south of the island. They remember previous turbulent times during Klerides-Dentash talks for the Annan Plan, which eventually led to the dramatic rejection of the plan by the Greek Cypriots in April 2004, prompted by the late Greek Cypriot leader Tassos Papadopoulos, who famously had stated that he had “received a state, so he did not want to deliver a community.”
But 13 years later, there have been huge changes in the region, in Europe, and in the domestic situation of the guarantor powers. What’s more, the EU no longer has the same attraction as it used to have. The deep cracks that have appeared in the EU structure, starting from the economic crisis of 2008, have led to tough austerity programs that pushed voters to the extremes of the political spectrum. The refugee crisis has also aggravated the centrifugal forces that made European countries turn inward, leading to developments like the U.K.’s Brexit vote.
With so many disillusioned with Europe, the vision for full EU membership in Turkey is not nearly as attractive as it was back in 2003.
After meeting his Greek counterpart Nikos Kotzias in New York last week, Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Çavuşoglu put the Cyprus issue on a different basis, talking about energy as a priority.
Çavuşoglu said Cyprus faces “threats due to the general situation of war in the wider Middle East, at a time when everyone is focused on the natural gas reserves discovered in the waters around Cyprus.”
He also underlined that the Turkish Cypriots “want to feel safe.” On the issue of the presence of the Turkish army in the north - the withdrawal of which is one of the conditions put forward by the Greek side - Çavuşoglu chose to decline diplomatically. “If in the future there is no hostile stance in your mind, you should not worry about the presence of the Turkish army there,” he said, repeating a phrase that then Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan had said during the Annan Plan talks: “We are always one step ahead of anybody else.”
Çavuşoglu also cited all the new parameters affecting the situation in the region including “the Syrian war, terrorist organizations, and the new wave of refugees.”
The people I have spoken to about the present Cyprus talks are also aware of the opinions expressed by several Turkish analysts that an annexation of Turkish Cyprus to Turkey would be a preferable solution for Ankara. In that “worst-case scenario,” they also suggest that Greek Cyprus could be united with Greece.
But in such a complicated scenario I would also like to add what I heard from a Greek Cypriot colleague who actually is going to cover the talks in Geneva next week. She told me that she is very optimistic. “At last we are going for a proper solution,” she said. “Do not listen to the ones who have never genuinely even wanted it.”