Greek Cypriot politicians staged a very heated verbal exchange in the House of Representatives over reports that ruling Democratic Rally Party (DISI) Chairman Averof Neophytou visited the presidential office in northern Cyprus to discuss ways of overcoming the deadlock in the Cyprus talks during a BBQ with President Mustafa Akıncı.
What’s wrong in that? According to inner party critics, and naturally rival party leaders, visiting Akıncı and enjoying a working dinner with him at the presidential office was a “treacherous act” because such developments provided a degree of recognition to Turkish Cyprus, which is recognized only by Turkey.
Democratic Party (DIKO) leader Nicholas Papadopoulos argued during parliamentary discussions that elevating the status of the Turkish Cypriot presidency by Neophytou attending a supper there was unacceptable. But was it only Neophytou who attended a social event at the Turkish Cypriot presidency? Wasn’t Andros Kyprianou, the leader of the socialist Progressive Party of Working People (AKEL), a guest of Akıncı just five nights before Neophytou? Apparently, Kyprianou managed to hide his working dinner with Akıncı from the Greek Cypriot media and has so far escaped a grilling as well.
These obsessions about “elevating the north to the level of the Cyprus Republic” by Greek Cypriots have marred many prospects so far. On Feb. 1, 2010, a visit to the Turkish Cypriot presidential office by then-U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon was protested by all Greek Cypriot parties, including President Nicos Anastasiades’ DISI and Kyprianou’s AKEL.
The dinner Neophytou had with Akıncı in the Turkish Cypriot presidential office as well as rumors about probable topics discussed at that dinner infuriated Papadopoulos, as well as a web of smaller parties, whose support might be absolutely crucial in the upcoming presidential election. But what did Neophytou discuss with Akıncı? An angry Neophytou declared that those wishing to learn what was discussed should ask Anastasiades, since “anyone following politics in this country knows my excellent relationship with the president… We have complete cooperation on all issues, and I couldn’t keep him in the dark on the most important of all.” Furthermore, he stressed that his dinner with Akıncı was not the only discussions he had had with the Turkish Cypriots. He said his actions were undertaken with the awareness that “We need to “talk with and listen to each other, rather than speak publicly about each other. This was not the only contact or dinner I have had [with Turkish Cypriots].”
Obviously, Neophytou and Akıncı discussed the conditions by which the Turkish Cypriot president would agree to return to talks. Transferring the power to decide which days are marked at schools from the House of Representatives to the Education Ministry, “constitutes a step in the right direction” but “is not enough for the resumption of talks,” the Turkish Cypriot side said. Talks might resume only after the education minister signs an executive decision to remove the commemoration of a plebiscite in 1950 supporting “enosis” (unification with Greece) from a list of days to be marked at schools.
Under the 1960 founding agreements of the Cyprus Republic, the island was to have a two-layer governance system. While the government would have control on all affairs, education, religious affairs and some other social issues were to be within the remit of the Greek and Turkish communal chambers. Turkish Cypriots immediately established their communal chamber which evolved and became today’s Republican Assembly, while Greek Cypriots never formed a communal chamber. In 1965, the powers that were supposed to be vested in the communal chamber – which was never established anyhow – were all transferred to the House of Representatives from which Turkish Cypriot members were expelled by force in 1964.
Papadopoulos said succumbing to Turkish Cypriot demands and transferring the power to decide on educational matters from the House to the education minister in order to overcome an earlier decision to commemorate the plebiscite “will be one of the darkest moments in Cypriot Hellenism.” Papadopoulos, the son of the former President Tassos Papadopoulos, said he expected Anastasiades would not endorse the draft expected to be voted into law on Friday but would send it back to the House for reconsideration.
Will Friday’s vote help clear the way for the resumption of talks? The April 2 “social event” hosted by the U.N. special adviser for the two leaders in a splendid restaurant in the Nicosia buffer zone will show. Yet, on April 1 there will be massive ceremonies in the Greek Cypriot side commemorating the “heroes” of the “National Organisation of Cypriot Fighters” or EOKA, considered by Turkish Cypriots as a terrorist gang responsible for the cold-blooded murder of hundreds of Turkish Cypriot from 1963 to 1974.
Furthermore, the Turkish Cypriot side is said to be preparing to suggest a major precondition: A demand for the conclusion of the process no later than within two months. Would Akıncı be wrong in saying that since everything has been discussed and that even the cartographic suggestions of the two sides have been exchanged, the time must have come for a grand give-and-take bargain to finish the Cyprus talks process either with success and the establishment of a bi-zonal and bi-communal federation with the two sides enjoying political equality, or throw in the towel and admit the process has failed?