Hope against hope in Cyprus
After the failure of the Crans-Montana negotiations in July 2017 to finally find an equitable solution to the Cyprus problem and reunify the long-divided island with the support of the United Nations, it was widely thought that a new round of negotiations could not be considered for some time, as repeatedly emphasized by the two communities’ leaders on the island. The general public on both sides, as well as in Turkey and Greece, were also rather disappointed for the failure of the two like-minded leaders to reach a common ground.
As a result, it was rather surprising for many when Mustafa Akıncı, the president of the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus (TRNC), made an unexpected statement on April 30 on Twitter, announcing his readiness to accept the Guterres framework as a “strategic package agreement” for the settlement of the Cyprus dispute and daring the Greek Cypriot leader Nicos Anastasiades to agree.
Akıncı’s message startled not only the Greek Cypriot side, but also many in the Turkish Cypriot part as well as in Turkey as the Turkish side, in conjunction with Turkey, as it had been arguing since Crans-Montana for a “new roadmap” for the talks to restart, even outside the U.N. framework.
On the Greek Cypriot side, while Anastasiades had to announce his lukewarm acquiescence for Akıncı’s statement “as a positive development,” he kept his skepticism by reminding that the main reason for failing to reach an agreement in Crans-Montana was the diametrically opposite positions of the parties on the issues of security and guarantees within the Guterres framework.
To recap, U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres had invited the parties on July 4, 2017, to discuss five major topics including security and guarantees, territory, property, equal treatment, and power sharing. While ending the guarantee system and the withdrawal of Turkish troops from Cyprus was part of the proposed framework, drawing reaction from Turkey, it also included important clauses for equal treatment and a 2:1 ratio system for power sharing. While the existing system on the island with the international recognition of the Republic of Cyprus, essentially governed unilaterally by the Greeks since the 1960s, creating inequalities, makes the issue of power-sharing as the top priority for the Turks, ending the guarantee system and achieving early withdrawal of Turkish troops from the island were top demands from the Greeks. The latter issues however have long been associated by the Turkish Cypriots with their survival as an ethnic group on the island.
Although Akıncı’s démarche remained inconclusive, it prompted Guterres to start thinking of the appointment of a new special advisor for Cyprus peace negotiations, which he had no intention of just few weeks earlier.
Despite their disagreements, all the parties of the Cyprus problem acknowledge the unsustainability of the status quo. The solution has particularly gained urgency after tension has risen recently as Turkish Naval forces had intervened in Greek Cypriot sanctioned gas exploration activities in the disputed areas around the island of Cyprus. Under such conditions, finding a solution for the Cyprus problem gains importance and becomes more complex at the same time. In case of failure, what is at stake now is not only achieving sustainable peace on the island, but also enjoying mutual benefits of the island’s potential energy reaches, which also attracts international attention that in the end might force both sides to try their hands in negotiations once again, though neither Akıncı nor Anastasiades has concrete intention as yet to do so. As Akıncı said on April 1, “the hope dies last.”