Turkey’s secret agenda on the Cyprus deal

Turkey’s secret agenda on the Cyprus deal

“The visit has achieved the objectives we set at the outset … To meet the Turkish prime minister and foreign minister, who can take on board the positions of the Greek Cypriot side,” said Greek Cypriot Progressive Party of Working People (AKEL) head Andros Kyprianou on his return to the island after visiting Turkey over the weekend.

“The second objective was to hear from their side and possibly to try to diagnose what might be hidden behind their words,” Kyprianou added.

In other words, he was trying to decipher Turkey’s “secret agenda” for any possible Cyprus deal. 

If you ask me, the most evil secret agenda Ankara might have is to see the whole island become a huge construction site after a resolution. In fact, I was very concerned to read in daily Hürriyet that Turkish Cypriot contractors have already inked a deal with their Turkish counterparts to rebuild the “ghost town” of Varosha, as hopes of finding a peaceful solution to the Cyprus issue increase thanks to accelerated talks between the leaders of the Turkish and Greek communities on the island.  

Cyprus is known to Turks as the “green island.” But I’m not sure how green it will remain if TOKİ, Turkey’s notorious housing agency, made its entry to the island. If I were a Greek Cypriot, I would rather accept a limited number of Turkish soldiers on the island than accept a flood of Turkish construction companies.

But in all seriousness, if Turkey has any secret agenda, the only one I can think of would be satisfying its need to be part of an international success story. It badly needs one, which is why it is acting with utmost precaution on Cyprus and seems to have learned from past mistakes.

One of the lessons learned from the past is the need to leave the two sides alone at the negotiation table. That might sound to be too good to be true, and obviously nobody can expect Turkey to shut down its “radars” on Cyprus and simply tell both sides to call when they have reached an agreement. Indeed, I’m sure Turkey is keeping a close eye on the process and asking to be informed of all the details. But no doubt it is doing its utmost not to damage the perception that the process is a “local” one, not an “international one” (as was the case with the Annan process). It seems that even NGOs have been asked to stay away from the process.

Another lesson drawn by Turkey from the past is the need to reach out to all stakeholders on the island, especially on the Greek side. The Annan process showed that Greek Cypriots were not ready to accept any solution other than the one promised by their leaders. In that respect, inviting the Greek Cypriot opposition leader to Turkey could be seen as an effort to try to reach out to all stakeholders on the island.

Obviously, no matter what it does, Turkey cannot convince the Greek Cypriots on certain issues, such as the issue of “guarantees.” I was in Greek Cyprus ahead of the Annan referendum, and was surprised to hear some Greek Cypriots declare they would say “no” because 300 Turkish soldiers would have remained after the solution (though actually that number was supposed to decrease over time). “But even if you say ‘no’ you will end up living with thousands of Turkish soldiers on the island,” I had replied at the time.

Even on the guarantees issue, the Turkish side is now looking for a formula that can satisfy both sides. That was also conveyed to Kyprianou, as he said it was his impression that “Turkey wants to play a role in security matters, but in a different way than today under the system of guarantor powers. I hope to see whether the possibility of a different approach ‘accepted by both communities’ is possible,” he added, according to the Cyprus media.

It seems that a solution on Cyprus stands out as one of the rare instances where the Turkish government is not drawing “red lines.” As I have said, that likely stems from the need to have a “success story.” Indeed, this would be a rare thing, especially nowadays in the current international setting.