Keeping the dream alive or living in it
The presidential election in the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus (TRNC) in late April once again revitalized the hopes for finding an equitable, fair and comprehensive solution to the longest running unresolved international dispute in the eastern Mediterranean, the Cyprus imbroglio. Although it has become a sort of a long-neglected Cold War relic, the problem is also very much alive and current in the minds of the Turks and the Greeks sharing the island. Some of them dream of a united Cyprus, while others nurture hopes for a divided island. But the large majority seems to prefer a middle of the road solution, whatever it entails.
Thus, to make use of the good mood created by the election of a moderate politician to the presidency in the TRNC, the special adviser of the U.N. secretary general on Cyprus, Mr Espen Barth Eide, met with both presidents, Mustafa Akıncı and Nikos Anastasiades, individually, and also brought them together on May 11, to reinvigorate the stalled peace talks without delay. The meeting led him to announce the situation on the island presents “the best opportunity of the last 10 years.”
As expected, the first meeting of the two leaders took place in a positive atmosphere, at the end of which they emphasized their commitment to finding a solution for the problem and agreed to resume talks on May 15 after a seven-month interval on the basis of the Joint Declaration of Feb. 11, 2014. The negotiations broke off last October, when President Anastasiades announced he would not attend the scheduled meetings with his Turkish Cypriot counterpart to protest a Turkish patrolling mission in the disputed area of the eastern Mediterranean, where Greek Cypriots distributed oil and gas exploration rights to international companies.
While subsequent developments indicated his walk-out was more of a show towards his domestic audience and did not achieve the intended results, the withdrawal of Total, a French energy company, from explorations off the cost of Cyprus, thus leading to the departure of the Turkish Navy from the area, has eliminated Anastasiades’ excuse for blocking the talks.
The latest round of talks was started with goodwill gestures; While Anastasiades shared the coordinates of minefields, laid by the Greeks in the 1970s on the Beşparmak Mountains, Akıncı waived the requirement for Greek Cypriots crossing to the north to fill out visa forms. Signals are that there would be more confidence building measures before their second official meeting on May 28.
Despite the fact that the long and thorny negotiation process has a lengthy record of failures, the current goodwill and determination might also revive enthusiasm in civil societies on both sides of the dividing line.
So far, the role of civil society in the negotiation process has been overlooked. The new beginning might have a better chance if the leaders decide to actively engage their respective civil societies.
Thus, the leaders’ decision to take a stroll together on May 23 in the streets of Nicosia, on both sides of the dividing line, was an innovative start. It had a symbolic significance, designed to break prejudices on both sides and push back the hardliners. Of course, nobody knows to what extent these goodwill gestures will help negotiations, but they are sure to garner public support for their negotiated plan, should they are able to come up with one.
Even though the prospects are looking better for a possible solution, as Espen Barth Eide stated, the usual complications regarding security, power-sharing and property rights are still on the table and need innovative solutions as well. I hope the leaders will use the prevailing momentum to reach a compromise that we can all live with. Fingers crossed.