March syndrome

March syndrome

Expectations are again building for a probable conclusion within a month or so of the talks aimed at creating a “bi-zonal and bi-communal federation” on the eastern Mediterranean island of Cyprus. Accordingly, not only would the leaders of the two peoples of the island miraculously iron out all of their daunting differences and seal an agreement “very shortly,” but also the Turkish and Greek Cypriot peoples of the island would endorse that deal in separate referenda in March 2016 and usher in a new era not only on Cyprus but also in Turkish-European Union relations.

Has Greek Cypriot leader Nikos Anastasiades agreed to simultaneous March 2016 referenda on a peace deal, less than two months before the scheduled May 2016 elections in the Greek Cypriot sector of the island? Why then, in the last National Council meeting, at his suggestion, did a discussion take place (and was rejected) over the possibility of postponing the May 2016 elections?

Already people have started spreading jokes about cats and Cypriots. What is the relevance? Naturally, the sooner there is a Cyprus settlement the better, but is there sufficient progress in the talks that might merit an expectation that all differences might be ironed out within a month or the next six to seven weeks? Espen Barth Eide, the United Nations special envoy for Cyprus, has been delivering very promising statements all along the discussions. But, is there any progress in any of the major sources of discontent between the two sides on Cyprus?

Greece might agree to the termination of the 1960 guarantee system. No problem. Was it not Greece that in collaboration with Athens-fed fascist and bloodthirsty National Organization of Cypriot Fighters (EOKA) hordes tried repeatedly between December 1963 and July 1974 to annihilate all Turkish Cypriots and unite the island with Greece? Who would mind if Greece terminated its guarantor status for Cyprus? Britain has its two sovereign bases on Cyprus. Besides, all through the 1963-1974 period and even after in July 1974 with Athens’ backing Greek Cypriots overthrew the government - unilaterally taken over in 1964 by Greek Cypriots in full violation of the Cyprus founding treaties and the constitution - was it not Britain that remained a spectator to all atrocities committed against Turkish Cypriots? Who would mind if Britain terminated its guarantor status? Britain should pack up and leave its two bases on the island, the use of which has been a burden on Cypriot conscience anyhow.

Can Turkey end its guarantor status? Can Turkish Cypriots agree to a deal without Turkey’s guarantor status? No way. Can Greek Cypriots forget how their union with Greece dashed hopes and how Turkey saved Turkish Cypriots? Can they forget the 1974 Turkish intervention, with which they tasted a bit of the sufferings Turkish Cypriots went through for 11 years from 1963 to 1974? No. They cannot accept a continuation of Turkish guarantee status. How can this problem be solved? Through NATO, U.N., or EU guarantees? No way. Turkish Cypriots have not forgotten how U.N. peace troops watched and indeed helped Greek Cypriots consolidate their illegal rule over Turkish Cypriot cantons.

Has there been any progress on this issue? Well, with Greece willing to drop out and Britain up to today not officially clarifying a position, a wrong hope is building that at a multi-party meeting on the issue Turkey can be forced to agree to abandon the guarantee system as well. In part the alleged “if everything is sorted out an agreement will not be allowed to collapse because of the guarantee issue” remarks claimed to have been delivered by Foreign Ministry Undersecretary Feridun Sinirlioğlu - that I just cannot believe might ever happened - behind closed doors might lead to such raw expectations. Neither Sinirlioğlu, nor his minister, the premier or the tall, bald and bold president can consider such a compromise.

There are many very serious contentious issues. For example, shall we take the property issue? Since the July declaration that Turkish Cypriots have agreed on the priority of the “first user” in determining the fate of the property issue, the political ship of Turkish Cypriot leader Mustafa Akıncı is maneuvering to get out of that rocky area.

There are of course Turkish Cypriot properties in the southern Greek Cypriot held areas of the island as well but at question is who will decide the fate of property ownership in northern Turkish Cypriot territory. Not only will the to-be-established “bi-zonality” and “bi-communality” characteristics of the federation require northern Cyprus to be property-wise and population-wise predominantly Turkish Cypriot, for the sustainability of any deal that is a must. Yet, how can the Greek Cypriot demand for the restoration of rights of all refugees and unhindered exercise of the three freedoms (freedom to settle, own property and do business) and the Turkish Cypriot demand to be predominant in the Turkish Cypriot state of the federal Cyprus be reconciled?

Particularly, if it is to be considered that of the overall 2.4 million acres of territory of northern Cyprus, only 380,000 acres are originally Turkish Cypriot owned, 1.550 million acres before 1974 belonged to Greek Cypriots, 470,000 acres are public-owned, how this problem be solved? Through exchange? The Turkish Cypriot territory in the south is only 450,000 acres. Compensation is a must to get out of this mess. Greek Cypriots say no way? What magic wand does Eide have to solve these two issues, and mind you there are many others as tricky as these…

Settlement in March might be possible, but in which year of which century?