Nailing jelly to the wall

Nailing jelly to the wall

Last weekend I was at a rather interesting Cyprus seminar. The meeting itself was a very important one as the Strategic Research Institute (USAK), in cooperation with the Cyprus Academic Dialogue brought together Turkish, Turkish Cypriot and Greek Cypriot academics, journalists, and of course some senior politicians in Ankara. Particularly for Greek Cypriots being in Ankara and sitting around a table with some key Turkish Cyprus pundits and top bureaucrats was precious. “Look at the invitation to this conference! ‘Turkey and Cyprus Regional Peace & Stability.’ Turkey and Cyprus in one sentence. That in itself is the biggest accomplishment of this seminar,” Nicos Anastasiou, President of Cyprus Academic Dialogue said. Of course when looked at from Ankara, there was nothing important in that sentence, but for Greek Cypriots who have been aspiring for decades to bypass Turkish Cypriots and directly talk with Turkey, it was an emotional success.

For ages, Greek Cypriot leaders have been stressing that they should directly talk with Turkey, rather than Turkish Cypriots because it was Ankara that makes the decisions. That assumption was not, unfortunately, wrong all together and indeed reflects the bigger and the lesser threats the Turkish Cypriots indeed have been facing. Turkey must accommodate itself to the reality of the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus (TRNC) and start state-to-state relations with Turkish Cypriots. The Turkish Cypriot state is recognized only by Ankara, but that Ankara has become some sort of a colony power as well.
Which is the bigger threat, Greek Cypriots who deny the existence and equal rights of Turkish Cypriots in the governance and sovereignty of Cyprus or Turkey, a country so affectionate and embracing the Turkish Cypriots so strongly that breathing has become almost impossible?

Well, there is even a third threat. Defeatist leftist or liberal Turkish Cypriots… Can there be lasting peace with a defeatist or self-defeating mentality? Can surrender and altogether submission to the demands of the “other side” manage to bring a sustainable resolution to an intractable problem, at the core of which lies in one of the two sides’ refusal of political equality and share in governance, as well as in the sovereignty of the other partner.

Her eyes wide open in anger, a young female colleague was yelling at me the other day that as someone who supported the TRNC was not expected to be a supporter of a federal solution on Cyprus. Strange. A Greek Cypriot friend, attending the same event, was talking about how Turkish Cypriots might patch up the unitary state of the Cyprus Republic, enjoying full individual rights like Greek Cypriots, and thus transforming the state into a functional federation. He was all together rejecting any settlement prospect other than the federal one, but his description of the federation was nothing further than changing the name of a unitary state. The Greek Cypriot friend was definitely sure that by transforming the republic into a federation buy adding to it the “Turkish Cypriot element” and re-writing the Constitution with a federal approach, the Cyprus problem could become history.

A Turkish Cypriot professor, presenting an awesome confidence building package that indeed was calling to approach the Cyprus issue through a compartmentation approach, suggested the Turkish side demonstrate its goodwill and will for settlement by taking some unilateral moves. What kind of moves? Transferring the ownership of some key religious institutions – such as the Apostolos Andreas Monastery and the Hala Sultan Tekke (Islamic monastery) – to their rightful owners. He also suggested that Turkish Cypriots could as well stop customs applications at border crossings, as if those gates are customs gates of “another state.” Why? All sorts of consolidation of TRNC must be avoided while moves demonstrating the will to recognize, at least tacitly, the Cyprus government must be undertaken.

Greek Cypriots, to show goodwill as well, might retaliate to Turkish Cypriot “confidence building” steps by allowing the Ercan (Timbou) Airport open to international flights. How? Under Turkish Cypriot rule, but subject to Greek Cypriot FIR and regulations. To show goodwill it was of course advisable for Turkey to open its ports and airports to Greek Cypriot planes and vessels and, of course, there is no merit in holding the deserted Varosha suburb of Famagusta a hostage of the deadlocked peace talks, and it must be handed over to Greek Cypriots bona fide at once. What else?

No one spoke about the need for Greek Cypriots to take unilateral steps, or to start acknowledging, if not recognizing, the existence of a functioning – indeed better functioning – democracy in the north. Cyprus talks of all sorts have become something like trying to nail jelly to the wall.