Cyprus rising on Turkey’s agenda

Cyprus rising on Turkey’s agenda

On April 29, the same day that Alexander Downer, the special Cyprus envoy of the United Nations secretary-general, was in Ankara to talk to Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu, Turkish Deputy Prime Minister Beşir Atalay was in the Turkish half of Nicosia to have talks with İrsen Küçük, the prime minister of the Turkish Cypriot government of the divided island.

Almost at the same time that Davutoğlu was telling Downer that there were suitable conditions to restart talks between Turkish and Greek Cypriots, with the assistance of Turkey, Greece and the United Kingdom as the guarantors of the Republic of Cyprus in 1960, Atalay was telling Küçük that the status quo in the Turkish Cypriot Republic was no longer sustainable and that urgent reforms were needed.

Atalay based his remarks on a survey carried out by the Economic Policy Research Foundation of Turkey (TEPAV), an Ankara-based think tank, which showed that only a fifth of the population on the island are happy with the way that they are governed and that the trust in the system (symbolized in the trust in the courts) is also at the same level, according to official sources replying to Hürriyet Daily News questions. Atalay did not go as far as using a sentence which begins with the word “otherwise,” but considering the situation that Turkey is the unique supporter of the Turkish Cypriots, despite being blocked from entering the European Union because of that, Küçük probably took a message out of those remarks. Cemil Çiçek, the Turkish parliamentary speaker, recently said that if Turkey had to make a choice between the EU and the Turkish Cypriots’ rights, it would go for the Turkish Cypriots without any hesitation. Yet, it seems Ankara does not want to be played by the Turkish Cypriots either, while making plans to take new steps on the issue.

It is no coincidence that Atalay is also in charge of coordinating the Tayyip Erdoğan government’s efforts to reach a political settlement on Turkey’s Kurdish issue. Like the Kurdish issue (having links with the human rights situation in Turkey) Cyprus is one of the top obstacles blocking Turkey’s integration with Europe – at least as it is presented by the commission and some of its key members.

The issue has not been on Ankara’s priority list for some time, but when the eurozone economic crisis hit the economy of the Greek Cypriot government in the southern two-thirds of the island concurrently with the discovery of rich natural gas fields around the Mediterranean island, the whole situation changed. Davutoğlu recently told HDN that Cyprus was back on agenda along with Syria, Israel/Palestine and Iraq. Erdoğan asked his Greek counterpart, Andonis Samaras, during a meeting in Istanbul last March to work together. Davutoğlu sent letters to U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and leading members of the U.N. Security Council, helping Downer start his tour; he had been talking to both sides on the island and Greek Foreign Minister Dimitris Avramopoulos in Athens before flying to Ankara for Davutoğlu. He is expected to carry on more talks with both Cypriot parties this week.

Will the crisis in southern Cyprus bring a new opportunity for talks on reunification of the two people separated since the Greek coup and Turkish military intervention in 1974 or will it help them reach a peaceful divorce after having slept in separate beds since that year? No one has an answer to that question yet.