What is the special meaning behind Erdoğan’s Cyprus visit?
While the reconciliation process continues in Turkey’s relations with the EU and Greece, eyes are now turned to how much this de-escalation will reflect on the Cyprus problem, especially ahead of President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s scheduled visit to the island on July 20.
Ömer Çelik, the spokesman of Erdoğan’s Justice and Development Party (AKP), described Erdoğan’s visit to the island as bearing a special meaning because it happens at a time when the rights and interests of the Turkish Cypriots are under a propaganda attack. He informed that all the members of the party’s central decision-making body would join Erdoğan’s trip in a bid to display Turkey’s and the ruling party’s full support to Turkish Cyprus.
On July 2, in an address during a visit to an important armory in the province of Sakarya, Erdoğan also mentioned his trip to the island. Disclosing his conversation with a senior EU official who requested him not to convey harsh messages during his visit to Cyprus, Erdoğan vowed that Turkey never abandoned and would never abandon its rights in the eastern Mediterranean and Cyprus.
In the meantime, Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu, who visited the island on July 1, held meetings with Turkish Cypriot President Ersin Tatar and other high-level officials for the preparations of Erdoğan’s visit. His statements at a joint press conference with Tatar reflect Ankara’s position on the Cyprus-related issues after the U.N.-led 5+1 meeting of late April.
Describing the Geneva meeting as a “turning point” in the decades-old Cyprus question, Çavuşoğlu said, “An era has ended, and a new era has begun. The Turkish Cypriots have tabled a realistic, new and goal-oriented proposal in Geneva. They demanded the recognition of sovereign equality and equal status they had gained in 1960.”
One of the messages he conveyed was that the Greek Cypriots’ policy to make the Turkish Cypriots a minority under the Republic of Cyprus would never be accepted, and the Turkish side would not negotiate with the Greek Cypriot if they don’t abandon this understanding.
The negotiations for the resettlement of the Cypriot problem can only begin if sovereign equality and equal status of the Turkish Cypriots are recognized, he stated.
Çavuşoğlu and Tatar also discussed the ongoing Varosha opening and the sharing of hydrocarbon reserves of the island. On Varosha, which was partially opened in 2020, Çavuşoğlu underlined that the process would be transparent and legal, saying, “The steps to be taken will not violate the U.N. Security Council resolutions. Our support to the [Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus] TRNC on this issue is ultimate.”
On energy reserves, Çavuşoğlu recalled that the Greek Cypriot government has never accepted to share the revenues with the Turkish Cypriots. On reports that the Greek Cypriot administration is planning to resume its hydrocarbon activities by the end of this year, the Turkish minister was clear that such actions would be retaliated, and Turkey would launch its work in the areas licensed by Turkish Cyprus. To avoid it, he called on the European Union and the U.N. to impose pressure on the Greek Cypriot.
“What needs to be done here is fair share [of the revenues],” he added. “Our president’s proposal for a regional conference on the eastern Mediterranean is on the table. The TRNC’s proposal for a fair distribution of revenues is also on the table. The required flexibility is also demonstrated. If steps are taken within this framework, there will be no problems. Otherwise, we will do what is necessary,” he stated.
In the light of all these messages, it will be no surprise to see Erdoğan in Varosha conveying the Turkish commitment to protecting Turkey’s and Turkish Cyprus’ rights and interests in the region. But these messages also include how to avoid fresh tension in the region.
Accepting to share the hydrocarbon revenues with the Turkish Cyprus and recognizing them as equal owners of the island could be a good start. The international community should quit its one-sided approach to the Cyprus problem and remember that it has always been the Greek Cypriot who rejected the reunification of the island.