A “messenger” not a UN envoy!
The visit to Ankara last week by Alexander Downer, the Australian politician who has been playing the role of the U.N. secretary-general’s special envoy role on the island for quite some time, was not one by a U.N. envoy, but one of a messenger of the Greek Cypriot side. He brought Ankara the Varosha proposal of the Greek Cypriot leadership that I discussed in this column in the first week of July.
One fundamental difficulty obstructing a settlement on the island has been the spoiled attitudes of the Greek Cypriot leadership. An envoy of the secretary-general playing the role of the messenger of the Greek Cypriots is obviously nothing less than giving a pat on the back to a very spoiled child. Why did Downer travel to Ankara? Was it to discuss the tentatively scheduled October resumption of the Cyprus talks, or to promote efforts of the Greek Cypriot leadership that all aimed at finding a way to evade the talks? Why did Downer carry such proposals to Ankara rather than discussing them – if he really believed they might help confidence building – with the Turkish Cypriot leadership?
Downer must make up his mind. Does he want a place in the Australian Cabinet, the next U.N. secretary-general or to remain as a well-paid U.N. envoy until he retires or is fired? If he wants to become secretary-general or even a minister in the Australian Cabinet, past successes won’t suffice, he should do something better than being the messenger of the Greek Cypriot side or playing the role of a please-all servant nodding to everyone.
Confidence building measures (or CBMs) may help create an atmosphere that could make easier the resolution of a problem. They cannot be a substitute for the negotiations process. Over the past decades many CBM packages were discussed at various levels and on various platforms between the two sides on the island. Only a fraction of them – like withdrawing armed personnel from the Nicosia green line or buffer zone – could be implemented. The Varosha offer, for example, has been off and on the CBM agenda over the past 30 years or more. Accordingly Turkish Cypriots would hand back Varosha – a ghost town since 1974 but one upon a time a sprawling tourist resort – to its former Greek Cypriot owners within the scope of a package “balanced” with some meaningful offers to Turkish Cypriots. All such efforts – which ought to be tit-for-tat packages – failed because Greek Cypriots have been demanding a free ride, or getting Varosha without making any meaningful compromise. For example, a key demand of Turkish Cypriots has been the opening of Ercan (Timbou) Airport in the north to international air traffic and thus an end to the international isolation of Turkish Cypriot people. In this latest offer as well, Greek Cypriots categorically reject opening of Ercan to international traffic and in a way demand Varosha be handed back as a bona fide. Downer must have been aware that in the absence of the opening of Ercan to international traffic no Greek Cypriot offer would be worth considering.
If Greek Cypriots are so reluctant to start political dialogue for a compromise political resolution of the Cyprus problem, why should Turkish Cypriots make territorial concessions and erode their hand in talks? On the contrary, perhaps Turkish Cypriots should consider opening Varosha to settlement of those former Greek Cypriot settlers who might wish to live under the Turkish Cypriot flag. By the way, how many of those “first owners” of Varosha can come back and resettle?
There is no need for a messenger; Cyprus badly needs a game changer…