Even the hardiest optimists are gloomy on Cyprus talks

Even the hardiest optimists are gloomy on Cyprus talks

The Turkish government has endorsed a rather aggressive rhetoric on foreign policy over the past five or so years, but one issue stands out as an exception: Cyprus.

During various diplomatic crises, there has been a continuity to Ankara’s critical rhetoric against the EU, EU member states, European institutions, the U.S., Middle Eastern countries, Arab states, and even against Russia. 

But one has to say that such hostile statements are rare on the Cyprus issue when compared with other foreign policy items.

This perhaps shows that Ankara is still invested in a possible solution on the divided Mediterranean island, supporting the talks for a solution in relatively good faith. This is more noticeable because there is barely any international pressure on Ankara to work genuinely for a solution. 

The Turkish Cypriots have also shown time and again their good will, despite provocations from the Greek Cypriot side like the Greek Cypriot parliament’s recent decision to introduce 1950 “Enosis” (Union) Day celebrations in schools.

Back when it was suffering from the troubles of an economic crisis, Greek Cyprus had greater incentive to find a solution, even if it meant making some compromises. At that point it was up to the leadership to prepare society for a compromise solution, explaining that no settlement could come without compromise.

However, Greek Cypriot leader Nikos Anastasiadis failed to keep the prospect of a win-win solution alive, failing to inject the confidence into society that was required to alleviate the decades-long fears of his people. Instead he opted to drag his feet. The Greek government, meanwhile, came to his assistance in this endeavor. Instead of positively contributing to the process, the Greek foreign minister even harmed the talks with some of his proposals, which were essentially nonstarters.

Once again faced with elections, Anastasiadis seems to fear that a compromise solution would not work for him at the ballot box, so a solution will once again be sacrificed for domestic politics. 

Ankara’s democratic backsliding is not helping talks

While the Turkish government genuinely wants a compromise solution, the democratic backsliding and its controversial foreign policy moves in recent years have negatively contributed to peace efforts on the island. 

The “guarantor” security system and the presence of the Turkish military continues to stand out as one of the most challenging issue in front of a settlement. 

Think back to Ankara’s image 10 years ago. With democratic reforms underway, relations with the EU on track, and engaged in good dialogue with others countries, Turkey was respected as a benevolent medium-sized power in the region. Today, with democratic reforms backsliding, a foreign policy rhetoric seen as aggressive by the international community, and new military presence in Syria and Qatar, it will be hard to convince the Greek Cypriots to approve even a small Turkish military presence on the island. Whether we like it or not, the Turkish Cypriots see that presence as crucial, at least during the period when the success of a potential solution will be tested.

Even the hardiest optimists are gloomy about the talks that started this week in Switzerland. It is a real pity, as the region desperately needs to see that peace between different communities can be possible.