An important week in Cyprus diplomacy
The government is about to collapse in southern Cyprus. In the north, Foreign Minister Özdil Nami is unhappy - if not with Kudret Özersay, then with himself, who has the very title of negotiator. The character of the problems on the two sides of Nicosia’s Green Line, which divides the island into two democracies with different languages, religions and ethnicities, is not at all identical. On the Greek side, one coalition partner is against the process and is trying to torpedo it. On the Turkish side, the foreign minister wants to play an even more active role in the process and is unhappy with the prospect of being sidelined by a respected new negotiator.
Semantics have always been very important for Cypriots. Excluding a brief period in late 1970s when the late Ümit Süleyman Onan was named as negotiator, or when Prime Minister Mehmet Ali Talat was appointed for a brief period in 2004 during the Burgenstock process, there has never been an “authorized negotiator” for the Turkish Cypriot people other than its elected leader.
What’s in a title? If that title means the negotiator is “fully authorized to negotiate” with the Greek Cypriot side, and if the U.N., the U.S. and others trying to mediate a resolution find in him a partner willing to negotiate, then there is a problem. So far in Turkish Cyprus there has been a presidential representative to the talks who managed to develop an image of being rigid, who used his diplomatic skills to antagonize his opponents, and who is far more hardline than the president. That was an image haunting Osman Ertuğ, though in his professional and private life he was known as an exemplary diplomat, a perfect gentleman, and a truly gentle friend. As is always said, sometimes perceptions are more important than the reality.
Özersay, on the other hand, particularly since he was forced to quit the post of representative of President Derviş Eroğlu at the talks two years ago, shined as a man of integrity. Though he was forced to step down because of his social media activity and his “we’re getting organized” clean politics campaign, he returned with a presidential promise that he could continue his clean politics push and social media activity.
When he was absent he was not out of the picture altogether. Both in the country and outside, Özersay was meeting with eminent personalities involved in Cyprus peacemaking diplomacy and contributing in a modest manner to the process. Yet over the past two years, for obvious reasons, the pro-resolution Foreign Minister Nami has become a sort of “alternate” or “parallel” negotiator, frustrating the conservative presidency.
This week will be crucial to Cyprus peacemaking. Firstly, Özersay will be in Ankara, while on Thursday in he will be in Athens for the first-ever official reception of a Turkish Cypriot at the Greek Foreign Ministry, though only at the secretary-general level. The same day in Ankara, for the first time since the 1962 visit of Archbishop Makarios, a Greek Cypriot, Foreign Ministry Secretary-General and negotiator Andreas Mavroyannis, will be received at the Foreign Ministry by Undersecretary Feridun Sinirlioğlu. On the island of Cyprus, meanwhile, talks will most likely start for a coalition government between Disi and the socialist Akel, as anti-settlement Diko will be leaving the coalition.
Of course, the cross visits to Ankara and Athens by Mavroyannis and Özersay will not bring about a resolution immediately, but they will constitute important steps to eroding the mutual psychological barriers that impede progress to a resolution.