Have Greek and Turkish Cypriots become more mature?

Have Greek and Turkish Cypriots become more mature?

Kudret Özersay is a former Turkish Cypriot negotiator. He held the title of chief negotiator until last October when he was removed from duty after he announced he would run as a candidate in April’s presidential elections. Özersay, who had been involved in the negotiations since 2003, was replaced by Özdil Nami after Mustafa Akıncı won in the April elections.

Özersay shares his views about the ongoing negotiations on social media. One has to give him credit; although he voices criticism most of the time, he does not refrain from underlining what he sees as positive developments in the talks that have gained a speedy momentum following the election of Akıncı. Özersay recently shared on social media his views on one of the most intricate and thorny issues of the Cyprus problem: property. To my surprise I came across a short version of that long article on the website of the Turkish Cypriot Foreign Ministry. 

Can you imagine an article of an opposition party criticizing Turkey’s Syria policy for instance published on the Turkish Foreign Ministry’s website? It’s an interesting sign of maturity, I told Turkish Cyprus’ first female foreign minister. “It is a sign of being open-minded. He is a former negotiator and he has been involved in negotiations for such a long time. His views are definitely worth listening [to],” replied Emine Çolak.

I guess Çolak is more of a technocrat than a politician, and probably that explains the situation, otherwise you don’t see that type of “open-mindedness” anywhere in the world.

Properties, territories and guarantees are the three most challenging issues to be solved to reach a settlement on the island. Maturity or an open mind will be key to solving these issues.

From maturity I mean giving up on maximalist expectations. On the property issue, the Greek Cypriot side seems to have reached the understanding that getting back all their properties will not be the case. Coming to terms with that understanding must be all the more agonizing in the midst of an economic crisis, when you could pin your hopes to recover on the properties you left in the north. But looking from another perspective, some kind of compensation even if it falls short of a return is better than nothing.

The problem is that Greek Cypriots were made to believe they would get all their properties back even if they said no to the Annan plan in 2004. After all, Greek Cyprus was to become a European Union member and the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) had condemned Turkey to pay a high compensation (in the Loisidu case) to a Greek Cypriot woman for loss of property. This ruling was going to solve the whole issue in favor of the Greek Cypriots.

But things have not unfolded as the Greek Cypriots were told. The Turkish Cypriot side established a domestic remedy tool which was accepted by the ECHR as an effective mechanism and directed all other applications to the immovable property commission established in the north of the island. This has opened the door to the understanding that exchange and compensation are also acceptable ways to secure property rights in addition to return of properties. Thus the rights of the current users of the contested properties are also recognized. 

What Özdil Nami, the current Turkish Cypriot negotiator, said yesterday in a press conference on the island is important:

“For the first time the Greek side accepted to respect the right of the current user. It [also] accepted for the first time the necessary formula: It is not the individual applicant but the independent property commission that will be established on equal footing, and which will decide whether it will be exchange, compensation or return.”

This is an important sign of maturity for the ability to be realistic based on the analysis of the circumstances. 
A time will come when all relevant parties will sit at the table to finalize the deal and that will be the time all sides, including Turkey, will have to show signs of maturity.