When I first wrote about the decision of the Greek Cypriot government to establish a 3,000-strong professional army, separate from the around 9,000-strong National Guard, I was accused of speaking out against a settlement. My mailbox was filled with e-mails from Greek Cypriot and Greek friends, mostly accusing me of being an “anti-settlement fascist Turk.”
Obviously, talking with the Turkish Cypriot elected leader about establishing a bi-zonal and bi-communal federation and appealing for a demilitarized island, while at the same time engaging in efforts to enroll a new 3,000-strong professional army was awkward. The Cyprus Mail agreed last week that negotiations for a Cyprus settlement and the creation of a new army were incompatible. Indeed, is it not self-damaging for Greek Cypriots to engage in such an effort? Would not observers doubt the sincerity of President Nikos Anastasiades’ “settlement resolution.” Can anyone establish peace by keeping a gun pointed at the head of his negotiating partner? Can a deal reached through that hostage-taking approach be an honorable peace?
Now, Greek Cypriot friends will probably point at the Turkish military presence in northern Cyprus and ask whether it is holding the Greek Cypriot side hostage? But there has been one important contribution of the Turkish military to Cyprus since the 1974 intervention: Unlike the 1963-1974 period there have been no Greek Cypriot attacks on Turkish Cypriots, not one single disappearance on the roads, no mass murders.
Furthermore, the number of troops deployed on the island has been pulled down to around 13,000, and not only because of the needs in Turkey. If there ever is a Cyprus settlement excluding a negligible “agreed figure,” the entire Turkish military presence will disappear from the island “within an agreed timetable.”
The Greek Cypriot leadership, on the other hand, has been buying new war machines and creating a new military unit while claiming to be discussing peace with the Turkish Cypriots. The overall strength of the Turkish Cypriot Security Forces is about 4,000, or perhaps lower. Leave aside the 9,000 already under arms and the 3,000-strong professional army that is wanted to be created, the most recent poll showed that at least 3.8 percent of Greek Cypriots, or some 13,500 of them, support the fascist Elam organization (that has two seats in the House of Representatives).
Last week, Anastasiades boycotted a scheduled meeting of the two leaders in protest at the Turkish Cypriot leader attending a dinner hosted by the Turkish president for the participants of a U.N. meeting in Istanbul. According to his spokesman, he received assurances that the U.N. would not repeat such a situation. What kind of a situation? Strengthening the “statehood claims” of the Turkish Cypriots.
What’s more, efforts are underway to start gas exploration activities in the disputed economic zone of the island by September. Did not Anastasiades and his Turkish Cypriot counterpart Mustafa Akıncı agree back in May 2015, when they started the latest round of talks, to a moratorium on such activities? What would the Greek Cypriots do if tomorrow a Turkish seismic ship is dispatched to the same waters at the request of Akıncı?
For the past 42 years Greek Cypriots have portrayed themselves to the world as the “victims of Turkish aggression.” Indeed, they have been quite successful in that effort. Why? Do the British, the Americans, the Germans, the Russians or the Chinese not know the Cyprus realities? Sure they know better than anyone else, but they pretend to be alien to the Cyprus problem. Its evolution fits well to their interests, and when interests are at stake in international relations there is no place for friendship, the notion of justice, righteousness, or the famous dictum that agreements must be kept, “pacta sund servanda.”
Mind you, the dinner incident was just one episode in a bigger game. The more Greek Cypriots are cornered in the Cyprus talks and forced to accept a resolution on the basis of power sharing with politically equal Turkish Cypriots, further episodes will continue to unfold. The public declaration of a decision to form a new professional army is just a gimmick to open up a discussion aimed at terminating Turkey’s guarantor status. The Greek Cypriots are not at all interested in a settlement, they want the Turkish Cypriots to be satisfied with some minority rights given to the republic they usurped back in 1964.
What to do now? Regardless of whether talks continue or not, the structural reform foreseen in the latest Turkey-Turkish Cyprus protocol must be speedily put into action. The much discussed “Public Sector Personnel Reform” must be urgently legislated. Thus, the Turkish Cypriot state should consolidate itself. If there is a settlement, such arrangements are needed for effective governance. If talks falter again, the Turkish Cypriot state should be able to offer good governance to its people.
In any way, as Akıncı rightly said, Turkish Cypriot political equality cannot be limited to the Cyprus buffer zone, pubs and cafes. If Anastasiades disagrees, he may go wherever he likes.