Is the psychological wall down?
Talking on the phone last week Kudret Özersay, the Turkish Cypriot chief negotiator, asserted that his trip to Athens and Andreas Mavroyannis’ trip to Ankara would not achieve anything tangible other than bringing down a “psychological barrier” handicapping the diplomatic skills of both sides of Cyprus.
I asked Özersay the same question moments before he entered a first-ever official reception at the Greek Foreign Ministry – at least since the October 1959 trip to Athens by the late Rauf Denktaş. “We are taking down the wall … For half a century, it was as if time was frozen, now we are trying to activate it again … Still what’s important is to get a result, and we will try for that,” he said.
Özersay was correct. Over the past half century, the Greeks did not have direct contact with the Turkish Cypriots and the Turks did not have contact – at least officially – with the Greek Cypriots, of course apart from impromptu encounters on the sidelines of international events. However, the Cyprus problem has always been bigger than Cyprus. This is not just because of the interests around the island of two of the three guarantor powers - together with Britain - or because of the Greek Cypriots or Turkish Cypriots. Rather, Cyprus has always been very important for both Greece and Turkey.
Would there be a Cyprus problem if the island was in a negligible spot, thousands of kilometers away from both Turkey and Greece? Knowing the Turkish and Greek Cypriots, I would say that Cypriots would still be fighting for something, but in such a case it would perhaps be for fisheries or something similar.
Would there be a problem if we miraculously rewind time and erase the British colonial period and jump to today from the Ottoman rule? Probably yes, in view of the fact that most of the current mistrust and lack of confidence in each other are direct byproducts of imperial Britain’s “divide and rule” policy. If the Turkish Cypriots were not recruited as gendarmes to hunt rebelling Greek Cypriots, would we today have such a high level of communal animosity, despite all the friendly ties on an individual basis? Such a perspective is, of course, not the correct or objective angle to view the Cyprus issue.
If the Greek Cypriots did not massacre Turkish Cypriots to clear the way to achieve union with Greece (enosis); if they did not kick their compatriot Turks from the joint government and clamp them in an inhumane blockade and embargo for 11 years from 1963 to 1974, would we have a Cyprus problem?
However, even this fails to portray the full dimensions, as no one should neglect the Turkish economic and political aspirations regarding Cyprus and the strategic importance of the island for Turkish security.
Yes, the frozen time might be reactivated with yesterday’s first reciprocal encounters with Turkey and Greece, but as Özersay, as well as Turkish Cypriot Foreign Minister Özdil Nami, recently underlined in talks with this writer, this contact is just an attempt to eradicate the psychological wall. Particularly in Northern Cyprus today, a new psychological wall is speedily coming up, as a conviction is spreading that the embattled Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan might sell out Cyprus to save his political future.