From Syria to Cyprus

From Syria to Cyprus

The “Operation Peace Spring” that Turkey launched in northern Syria against the PYD and its armed wing, the YPG, that Turkey and many countries recognize as the Syrian wing of the PKK separatist terrorist gang, produced a new controversy between the Turkish Cypriot presidency and Ankara.

The Turkish operation is primarily aimed at annihilating the terrorist threat to Turkish security emanating from that geography. Preventing northern Syria from transforming into an independent Kurdish state with access to sea, without a doubt, is the secondary, but equally important, reason, as such an eventuality would also be a major threat to Turkish security. Approaching the issue from a different perspective might produce a rather explosive situation, and that’s what Turkish Cypriot President Mustafa Akıncı did.

Akıncı was under attack at home by nationalist groups for his silence regarding the Turkish operation. On the fourth day of the operation, answering critics through his social media accounts, Akıncı landed himself in a fresh controversy with Turkey when he said the 1974 Turkish operation was named “Peace Operation” but was indeed a “war,” and even if the Turkish incursion into Syria was named “Operation Peace Spring,” what’s flowing was blood. The Turkish Cypriot leader did not wish success to the Turkish operation but said he would support a diplomatic resolution to the problems.

Of course, what he said was reflecting the opinion of the Turkish Cypriot leader, but there was no such mood in Turkey, a country that lost over 40,000 lives to PKK-related violence since its start in August 1984. While Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan accused Akıncı of “exceeding his limits,” Vice President Fuat Oktay tweeted “I condemn Akıncı who ignores the fact that Operation Peace Spring is taking place against the bloody terrorist organization PKK/PYD for the stability of region.” In a second message, the vice president added: “Our struggle in the 1974 Cyprus Peace Operation, which was carried out with the aim of bringing peace and prosperity to the region, and the struggle for Operation Peace Spring in Syria today are being carried out with the same spirit.”

The “unfortunate remarks” of Akıncı were indeed aimed at a domestic audience, and probably, he miscalculated the reaction from Ankara. The anti-Turkey leftist opposition at home were unhappy with the socialist Republican Turks’ Party (CTP) leader Tufan Erhürman’s neither endorsement nor approval of the Turkish operation. By coming out with a strongly worded message criticizing the operation and advising Turkey to negotiate with the PYD-YPG, Akıncı won much praise from the anti-Turkey groups and probably their much-needed support for the upcoming April presidential vote. While Akıncı’s move appeasing anti-Turkey sentiments of the leftist groups might be detrimental for the electoral performance of Erhürman, also a potential presidential candidate, the development might be detrimental for Akıncı as well as the much-needed conservative defection vote might prefer not to support a candidate at odds with Turkey. The last time, Akıncı was elected president with the support of conservatives unhappy with the conservative incumbent of the time, Derviş Eroğlu.

The two potential center-right presidential candidates, Prime Minister Ersin Tatar and Foreign Minister Kudret Özersay, not only extended full support to the Turkish operation but were quick as well to condemn President Akıncı of delivering an irresponsible statement that could not reflect the view of most Turkish Cypriots regarding the Turkish operation. Speculations are abundant that the governing parties, together with the conservative opposition parties in parliament, might move to terminate the president’s “negotiator” capacity in Cyprus talks.

It was Akıncı and other leftist leaders who attempted to take such a move against late Turkish Cypriot President Rauf Denktaş in 2003 during the so-called Annan Plan negotiations. At the time, Denktaş himself gave up his negotiator position and with a presidential degree, assigned the premier and deputy premier as negotiators.

Whatever the outcome of the northern Syria operation debacle in northern Cyprus might be, the demonstrated vigilance of Turkey in the eastern Mediterranean in defending its and Turkish Cypriot rights, as well as its determination to fight terrorism directed at its national and territorial integrity, might produce an increased nationalist climate in Turkey, which might be helpful to distract attention from the worsening economic/financial conditions.