Equality cannot be limited to Cyprus buffer zone

Equality cannot be limited to Cyprus buffer zone

Outsiders to the Cyprus problem might feel puzzled, but people who have been following the Cyprus problem for decades must have considered it par for the course when the Greek Cypriot leader canceled his scheduled May 27 meeting with Turkish Cypriot leader Mustafa Akıncı. 

Any lecturer on the basics of the Cyprus problem must know that if Turkish Cypriots are ever treated in a decent manner by anyone, Greek Cypriots will get mad. It’s true, Greek Cypriots have improved a lot over the years. But even a meeting with Turkish Cypriot officials in northern Cyprus at buildings where flags and other signs of statehood are all removed has been sufficient to anger Greek Cypriot leadership.

Turkish Cypriot participation at a dinner thrown in honor of the dignitaries participating in the U.N.’s World Humanitarian Summit co-chaired by Turkey and Germany was blown out of proportion. First, the dinner was hosted by the Turkish president, not by the United Nations. The Turkish president not only invited Akıncı, he sent his presidential private jet to pick him up from Nicosia. The U.N. secretary-general was just one of the honorable guests at the dinner. On the sidelines of the dinner, the secretary-general considered it useful and met briefly with Akıncı. Wouldn’t it have been great if Greek Cypriot leader Nicos Anastasiades hadn’t gotten mad over the presence of Akıncı at the dinner and instead considered it an opportunity to demonstrate to friend and foe alike how determined the two leaders are to overcome all biases, prejudices and obstructions and move ahead to forge a compromise deal on Cyprus?

Under the shade of the Hagia Sophia Church or the Selimiye Mosque – as it has been known since the Turkish conquest – there is an oasis, “Saraba,” a nice restaurant run by Ms. Sare Sevtap Şah and her family. Previously it was known as the restaurant of the “Museum Lovers Association” of northern Cyprus. Because it is in close proximity to the Ledra crossing to the cultural heart of the Greek side of the island, Saraba often becomes my office when I am on the island. By the way, if anyone is interested in original Cypriot food, it is a great place. 

Sitting on comfortable old traditional chairs and served delicacies of Cypriot cuisine I so desperately miss when I am off the island, I spent two full days, discussing, gossiping and of course arguing with both Turkish and Greek Cypriot colleagues not only what has been happening behind closed doors at the Cyprus talks but also the prospects and what one might expect in the days and weeks ahead.

I must say there was pessimism, indeed rather dark pessimism. The Greek Cypriot Church was believed to have given blessing to the ELAM terrorist group which scored a “surprising” victory by entering parliament with two seats. A friend close to Archbishop Chrisostomos, however, explained what big difficulties the surge in ELAM and other far-right groups and personalities had produced amid a pro-settlement and anti-settlement cliffhanger in the House of Representatives. He said he expected Anastasiades to become even more hardline taking into account that if he wanted re-election in 2018, he would badly need those “fascist votes.” As it is, the Democratic Rally Party (Disi) of Anastasiades was the political successor to the former far-right EOKA terrorist group.

Why did Anastasiades boycott the Istanbul dinner, protest at the U.N. and decide to stay away from the May 27 session of the Cyprus talks? Was he trying to woo the “fascists?” Politics is of course a matter of perception. But Anastasiades did not need to demonstrate how hardline he might be because he has successfully showed so far that he would never ever agree to any sort of overseas contact with the Turkish Cypriot leader in the presence of third parties. Why? Because he would never accept “the elevation of the status of the Turkish Cypriot state.”

Was Akıncı wrong in recalling that the principle of the political equality of the two peoples of the island cannot be limited to the Nicosia buffer zone premises of the United Nations or “social areas” elsewhere on the island? Would it be possible to have a Cyprus deal with such a clique-like mentality that refuses to accept the equality of Turkish Cypriots? Could Turkish Cypriots agree to be considered the “underclass” community of the island?

When such questions are asked, friends who are Greek Cypriot journalists and academics, as well as pro-settlement leftist Turkish Cypriots, raise their eyebrows and say that with such a mentality, there could be no settlement on the island. Well, if for the sake of a settlement we are to consider such legitimate questions as some sort of taboo, could a Cyprus deal imposed with such mentality be a sustainable one?

A Greek Cypriot friend said that at the time of the Annan Plan, then-Greek Cypriot leader Tassos Papadopoulos called the army commander, showed him a fingerlike pulp of Greek territory near Kyrenia and asked how long and what size of a force it would take to reach the Kyrenia coastline if there was a peace deal and the Turkish military was reduced to a negligible amount.

Equality cannot be limited to the buffer zone, to negotiation rooms… If a settlement on Cyprus is desired, Greek Cypriots must be given a course of what it is and what it means for Turkish Cypriots.