Cyprus talks continue in unaccustomed fashion

Cyprus talks continue in unaccustomed fashion

Defying all skeptics, pulling down old taboos one after the other and with an unaccustomed absence of leaks and public mudslinging, the Cyprus talks appear to be gearing up to yet another twin referenda in March-April 2016. Yet, perhaps because of an effort to disguise what was indeed discussed or what some novice negotiators have interpreted as developments in some unaccustomed wishful thinking, the public statements of the two sides appear to be very contradictive.

With a heavy accent my friend, an apogee of Greek Cypriot politics, questioned the validity of the remarks made by Turkish Cypriot leader Mustafa Akıncı. “We have just had a meeting with Niko [Greek Cypriot leader Nikos Anastasiades] and what he told us and what we read from you and other Turkish newspapers are two different tales,” my friend said.

Akıncı had said talks were progressing well, they were building brick-by-brick a new Cyprus Federal State and for that reason the current two states of the two communities would become the “federated states.” My friend said no such thing was discussed. Not only was the name of the state to be established not discussed, all that was said so far was that through a constitutional arrangement, the Cyprus Republic would be converted into a federal state. “That’s all.”

Apparently either Anastasiades was not adequately briefing the Greek Cypriot party leaders and other apogees of policy making or Akıncı “is not experienced enough to understand what he is told,” my friend complained. Indeed, there were widespread criticisms against Anastasiades from the Greek Cypriot political leaders that what Akıncı said did not correspond to what the Greek Cypriot leader explained at either the National Council or at the Holy Synod of the Church of Cyprus.

Anyhow, at the Holy Synod Anastasiades secured the full support of the church, as after the meeting Archbishop Chrisostomos declared, “I can say that all members of the Holy Synod are delighted with the analysis and the explanations and answers given by the president.”

Greek Cypriot government spokesman Nikos Christodoulides as well confirmed that considerable advances were achieved “in over 40 convergence documents.” Yet, contrary to the remarks of Akıncı that “bi-zonality and bi-communality” of the future federation would be secured and the “majority” citizens of the Turkish constituent state would always be Turkish Cypriots, Christodoulides said Akıncı as well agreed that the EU acquis communautaire regarding freedom of movement, freedom of settlement and freedom of owning property would be applied in full and there shall not be any permanent derogations. Akıncı, however, had said the Cyprus accord must be approved by the EU member parliaments and become primary law because Turkish Cypriots wanted to secure the derogations by making them EU’s primary law.

There is of course will on both sides of the Cyprus divide and this is reflected in the atmosphere of this new round of talks that kicked off in May, soon after Akıncı was elected as the Turkish Cypriot leader. For example, the Turkish Cypriot side has publicly acknowledged that the 1960 guarantee scheme was not a taboo and can be renegotiated when the time comes. The full retention of the 1960 Treaty of Guarantee and of Alliance, which gives unilateral rights of intervention to Turkey, Greece and the U.K., has traditionally been one of Turkey’s red lines.

Besides, even if it was not handled either at the leaders’ meetings or at the chief negotiators’ level, in public remarks the Turkish Cypriot side has made it clear that there was need to set up a team of experts to conduct a feasibility study on Varosha, the abandoned resort suburb of Famagusta. Over the past decades such demands by Greek Cypriots were all turned down by the Turkish Cypriot leadership. Varosha opening to Greek Cypriot resettlement has been traditionally considered by the Turkish Cypriots as part of an overall settlement as such a move would mean “compartmentalization” of the Cyprus issue.

Even though who says what and who is speaking honestly appears to be very difficult to understand, the two sides have some common points as well: The governance issue is almost completed; there will be a two-house legislation, one to represent the two communities and one to represent the two equal federated states; Cyprus will not have an army; and a bi-communal federal police force will be established (with the composition ratio under discussion).

Now, with the media trying to figure out in twilight what indeed is happening, the two sides have apparently started focusing on territory and property issues according to people with insight. Chief negotiators will continue meeting three times a week.