Towards new horizons in Cyprus
The presidential election held on April 26, 2015, in the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus (TRNC) brought a moderate leftist politician to the presidency. Mustafa Akıncı, who ran as an independent, became the fourth president of the TRNC with 60.5 percent of the votes in the runoff while his rival Derviş Eroğlu, the incumbent president, got only 39.5 percent.
Akıncı is a well-known figure in Turkish Cypriot politics. He was deputy prime minister and minister of tourism between 1999 and 2001, but he is still remembered as the mayor of Lefkosia, the Turkish part of Nicosia, between 1976 and 1990. He was elected when he was 29 and showed his spirit of collaboration by working closely with his Greek Cypriot counterparts on several important projects, such as a sewage project and a master plan of Nicosia.
More recently, he supported the Annan Plan, as did Greek Cypriot leader Nikos Anastasiades. This raised the hopes for a solution to the ages-long Cyprus problem in the eastern Mediterranean, perhaps leading to the reunification of the divided island. Akıncı had pledged he would focus on finding a solution to the deadlock on the island during his election campaign. And the initial signals coming from both communities on the island and the international actors have been positive so far.
While Anastasiades, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and European Commission President Jean Claude Junker congratulated Akıncı on his victory, Special Adviser of the UN Secretary General on Cyprus Espen Barth Eide immediately scheduled to meet with both leaders. He is visiting Cyprus May 4-12 and is planning to bring the two leaders together in a dinner on May 11. The leaders, too, have already declared their intentions to start stalled peace talks soon.
During his inauguration speech, President Akıncı proposed, yet again, to open Varosha in exchange for the opening of the Magosa seaport to direct trade and the Ercan airport to direct flights from the TRNC. This is a much-discussed proposal and might boost trade and tourism for both sides. Yet, both sides have so far refrained from such an agreement, with their various suspicions and self-inflated fears.
Even though this was a risky proposal for a starting point, it will be a good test to understand Anastasiades’ approach for quid pro quo concessions in the future. Kerry, during his visit to the island last year, suggested the return of Varosha to the Greeks as a confidence-building measure, but this was found unacceptable by his Turkish interlocutors and the proposal was one-sided. This time, Akıncı’s proposal would necessitate two-sided concessions.
The fact that, a day before Akıncı’s inauguration, Greek Cypriot Foreign Minister Yoannis Kasulidis said a formula that could pave the way for direct international flights to the TRNC could be possible after a mutual agreement raise hopes. Though Greek Foreign Minister Nikos Kotzias surprised observers by calling for the end of the Zurich Treaty and the role of guarantor powers on the island, the Turkish side would most likely see this just as a ploy and would not think twice before rejecting.
Despite the expectations to the contrary, energy findings in the region have become an obstacle rather than an incentive for a solution. Yet, both the domestic and international atmosphere is still in favor of a negotiated solution on the island. Two solution-minded leaders holding power on both sides of the island for the first time in a long time might do the trick and contribute to a solution for this long-lasting international problem.