Greece’s new prime minister should see the reality in Cyprus

Greece’s new prime minister should see the reality in Cyprus

What changes can Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras bring to Greece and Greek-Turkish relations?

What might his contribution be to reviving the Cyprus talks abandoned by Greek Cypriots?

Turkish-Greek problems, and unfortunately Cyprus is no exception, in essence are psychological and sociological problems, or some sort of perceptional abnormality, that have successfully managed to hold reason and common sense hostage for so long. Starting from the mid-1980s, Turkish efforts to open up to Greece and, despite its grotesque failures in many areas, the reciprocal, limited and rather shy gestures from the now almost-dead Pan Hellenic Socialist Party, as well as from the New Democracy, helped to improve the climate between the two countries.

On Cyprus, the Mehmet Ali Talat-Demetris Christofias term might have helped the creation of a better atmosphere, but it could not because of the Greek Cypriot leader’s timid approach on one hand, and Talat’s obsession to play it alone on the other. The anticipation, particularly among Turkish Cypriots, that the preceding Annan Plan period or the Talat-Christofias time would bring about a settlement turned into a huge disappointment. The end result, while they still cherish the idea of a federal resolution as a “utopia,” is most Turkish Cypriots believe Greek Cypriots will never ever agree to a power-sharing deal; the two de facto states on the island should come to a de jure resolution with a peace accord that would include some territorial and other arrangements, perhaps including individual property compensation.

On many trips to Greece and talks with Greek colleagues it has been great observing a perceptional improvement. The “minority obsession” that the big neighbor might attack and capture the land of the Helens has become a far right or even an exceptional detail of the present-day Greek reality. The economic interdependency – naturally at varying degrees – that developed over the past more than three decades helped improve not only the political climate between the two countries. Even if most of the old problems remained more or less the same, the two nations’ perception of the other changed so dramatically that Greeks were generous in extending a helping hand when an earthquake hit Turkey and likewise Turks were so when Greece was hit by an economic-financial catastrophe. Imagine what the situation between Turkey and Greece would be if there were governments in both countries really aimed at resolving the outstanding problems, rather than spending precious time with “exploratory talks” – which have become, indeed, nothing more than endless foreplay with no action.

In Cyprus, the main impediment to a resolution has been the Greek Cypriot obsessions: 1- The island is Greek land, Turks have been “guests for 500 years” and should accept minority status and sit down.

The maximum Turkish Cypriots might get is an advanced autonomy that might offer limited local governance, education and public order; 2- Turkey is a big country. Cyprus is under the threat of that gigantic neighbor. Turkey may invade Cyprus at any moment. It should be kicked out of Cyprus once and for all in any settlement. Cyprus should be provided with effective “international” security guarantees against Turkey.

Turkish Cypriots, on the other hand, consider the sizably larger Greek Cypriot community as a threat; they consider Turkish security guarantees and presence on the island of existential importance for them.

Almost identical, of course with different composition, perceptions used to exist between Greece and Turkey, with Greeks having the “minority obsession” and Turks having the “superiority complex.” Even if Turkey did not enter the EU, the EU process on the one hand and, more important than everything else, the efforts of the two governments, helped create an atmosphere of brotherhood. Greece is no longer the separatist terrorist campground, and many Turkish nationals now have vacation houses on the islands or in Greece proper.

On the island, however, despite “500 years of cohabitation,” background interdependency between the two communities of the island remained limited to Greek Cypriots limiting their access in the north with casinos and slot machines and Turkish Cypriots with buying groceries at cheaper prices. Not always, but there are many cases of attacks on Turkish Cypriots and their vehicles in southern Greek Cypriot territories, while in northern Turkish Cypriot  areas there appears to be no hatred attack on Greeks.

As has become a tradition for all Turkish and Greek premiers, Tsipras paid his maiden foreign trip as prime minister to Cyprus this week and among many empty talks, stressed the need for the Barbaros seismological ship to be withdrawn so that talks could begin.

The Cyprus problem is one of occupation. That is right. The occupied is the seat of government of Cyprus. The government in southern Nicosia is not the Cypriot government, but just the Greek Cypriot government. Thus, it cannot represent the entire island and the entire population. Only after this reality is accepted and the two sides are accorded equal standing, will there be a settlement. Come on Premier Tsipras, show some courage on Cyprus and push the island to peace and prosperity by acknowledging the reality of the land…