Can the Cyprus talks be revived?

Can the Cyprus talks be revived?

Turkish Cypriot leader Mustafa Akıncı was on front pages and TV screens last week with his continuing optimism. He was stressing that he believed it was still possible to resume the Cyprus talks and strike a deal by the end of April or May provided the Greek Cypriot side steps back from a law to mark the anniversary of the 1950 “enosis” (union with Greece) plebiscite. He was confident that if Greek Cypriot leader Nikos Anastasiades came to the point of publicly acknowledging that it was wrong for the House of Representatives to pass a law on the enosis plebiscite commemoration, he could as well take moves to kill such a move considered by Turkish Cypriots as hostile and incompatible with talks aimed at reaching a federal resolution.

There are reports that Anastasiades’ Democratic Rally Party (DISI) has proposed a draft for the authorization of the Education Ministry to decide on the days to mark in schools rather than leaving such issues to the parliament. When the DISI proposal will be handled by the parliamentary committee, when it will reach the plenary are issues that are not known yet. The education committee chairman has reportedly declared that the committee has a very busy agenda. Is there anything more important than contributing to a resolution of the Cyprus problem? Why waste time if by legislating such a law, Anastasiades might grab a face-saving formula of killing the enosis commemoration, while at the same time remain loyal to the “Ethniki Organosis Kyprion Agoniston” or the “Ethnic Organization of Cypriot Fighters [EOKA]” terrorist background of the DISI.

From his statements, it has become apparent however that the Greek Cypriot leader does not believe the talks skipped into a deadlock just because of the enosis commemoration law. He indeed was right in such an assessment that the enosis commemoration law was not the only reason behind the current crisis. Yet, he was wrong in the conclusion that he was reaching from that assessment. Anastasiades and his propaganda machine have been trying to make the world believe that Akıncı was looking for an alibi to abandon the talks and use the enosis law as a pretext. Enosis law was the last drop to spill the glass, but the glass was filled over the past months with lots of sufficient nasty undertakings of the Greek Cypriot leadership, any of which could be used as a legitimate reason to kill the talks if that was the aim.

An accurate diagnosis is a must for a successful cure. Is there any meaning in pretending as if the talks were continuing while the two sides lost confidence in each other? It was a very important and psychological blow to the process. But the glass was already full. This must be acknowledged first if a way is wanted to be found and the current crisis is wanted to be left behind. Is there any benefit to anyone to pretend as if nothing has happened and the talks were continuing in a “business as usual” format?

For the past six months, at least, the Greek Cypriot side was busy trying to kill the achieved convergences rather than adding new ones, while the exhausted Turkish Cypriot side was trying to find a magical formula to salvage the talks, or better reach a surprise resolution. At what cost? It was documented in many articles all through the past months written by this writer and many others closely following the Cyprus talks process.

Instead of negotiating a resolution, Akıncı and his team started begging for peace, or at least to maintain the negotiations table intact. Was there sufficient progress in all other chapters to merit convening a five-party international conference? Was there not an understanding between the two sides, shared by the U.N. as well, that only after negotiations completed in all other chapters the five-party international conference (the two sides on the island, and the three guarantor powers; Turkey, Greece and Britain) would convene to discuss the security and guarantees heading and finish off the process with a grand give-and-take process on territorial aspects?

Seeing that Anastasiades and his team were preparing to run away, Akıncı compromised in a defeatist manner, even gave a territorial map for the first time in the history of the Cyprus talks and forced convening of the first the Mont Pelerin rounds of talks and later the five party conference in Geneva. What happened in Switzerland? Greece was unprepared and wanted some time to prepare. It was given time but came back as unprepared as ever. It forced the process into a crisis. The five-party conference ended with sending the Cyprus file to a technical committee.

We all know from the most frequent tactic of parliamentary legislation in this part of the world. If something is sent back to the committee, or worse sub-committee, that means the issue is dead. The decision to send the Cyprus issue to a five-party technical committee was a declaration that the process collapsed.

The talks that continued on the island presumably to finish off the remaining aspects and prepare for a new round of five-party conference in Geneva were a shy refusal to see the collapse of the talks. Otherwise, why Anastasiades continued exhausting Akıncı’s remaining self-confidence by constantly trying to kill the agreed convergences? Worse, why at the latest meeting, knowing Akıncı’s sensitivity on manners, banged on the doors of Akıncı and U.N. Secretary General’s special envoy Espen Barth Eide and left the negotiations room saying “I have nothing else to say.” Did Anastasiades not know that unless he adequately apologized, Akıncı would not meet him again?

Now, Anastasiades must know that he has only two options. He may either continue to play the blame game and insist on arguing it was not him but Akıncı who left the meeting. Or, he might realize what he has done, apologize to Akıncı, accept the rotation of presidency, effective participation of Turkish Cypriots in governance and return to talks with an intention to finish off with a grand give-and-take.

What will Anastasiades’ decision be? Some people say the crisis can be turned into an advantage. Well, why not. But, do we have someone in the Greek Cypriot side in such caliber? Perhaps everyone must concede the reality that the Cyprus talks table might be revisited at the earliest in March 2018.