Need for ‘mutual empathy’

Need for ‘mutual empathy’

It is a fact that many people, including this writer, have been attacking Turkish Cypriot President Mustafa Akıncı for speaking with a more pro-Greek tone than what ought to be a pro-Turkish Cypriot rights focus. In his own words, Akıncı has been preoccupied with trying to empathize with Greek Cypriots so much that he often presents an image of a Turkish Cypriot president who doesn’t care much about the sentiments, expectations and hopes of his people in a settlement to the Cyprus quagmire. It is indeed unjust to make such straightforward accusations and often this writer as well has been rather merciless in criticizing Akıncı even though he knew rather well about how respectful a relationship even Akıncı’s ardent opponents within his community have with him. Also, it is no secret to anyone about how committed he has been to both “Cypriotness” and “peace on Cyprus.” The “motherland-kinderland standoff” between Akıncı and Turkey’s absolute-power-seeking leader, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, ended with Akıncı getting himself elevated to the leader status from the president level. It was not at all easy to publicly challenge the Turkish strongmen on such a sensitive issue. 

Akıncı has always been pro-settlement. It was no secret when he was elected in April 2015 to the presidency that there would be some radical changes in the Turkish Cypriot position at the intercommunal talks. It was no secret that Akıncı would mean what he said at the talks, in contrast to the “they are just playing with words, they do not really mean what they say” accusation he often made against former Turkish Cypriot negotiators. The “leader” prestige of Akıncı, however, was tarnished by his hasty, “settlement now, today” approach because in total contrast to his honest, humble and earnest effort to make a compromise deal, there is no leader of such caliber sitting in the chair of the Greek Cypriot leader. 

According to Akıncı, he has been thinking of his people and their expectations from a settlement while trying to preserve the outstanding “yes” vote declared in the 2004 referendum while at the same time fully understanding the need to improve the Greek Cypriot side’s 35 percent acceptance level in the 2004 referendum to over 50 percent. How will that be done? Akıncı has been stressing that he was trying to empathize with the Greek Cypriot people without forgetting his own people’s positions.

That was the first big mistake of Akıncı. Empathizing with the opponent was right, but it was none of his business to adjust his positions in accordance with Greek Cypriot expectations or hopes. The Greek Cypriot expectations have been clear right from the first day they brought down the partnership state of Cyprus Republic with violent attacks on Turkish Cypriots in December 1963. Unless Greek Cypriots accept and confess what great mistakes they committed against Turkish Cypriots and how they made the partnership state collapse because of their Pan-Hellenic dream of union with Greece, it will be impossible to build a new partnership based on mutual confidence. Greek Cypriot counterclaims that Turkish Cypriots and Turkey committed many similar wrongs were all perhaps right, but no one should forget that they were all byproducts of a problem Greek greed set off in the first place. However, both sides must confess what great mistakes and crimes they committed against each other.

I bet Akıncı would say yes to this suggestion. But, what will the Greek Cypriot side say? The Cypriot Church already made it clear last month in Christmas messages when Archbishop Chrisostomos repeatedly underlined that Cyprus was in a peaceful state until the 1974 Turkish intervention and that his prayers were for a resolution that would bring the island back to pre-1974 conditions when “Greeks and Turks of the island lived in peace.” The archbishop must have been living somewhere else before 1974 because in the pre-1974 Cyprus, Greek Cypriots were hunting Turkish Cypriots under the watchful eyes of United Nations peacekeeping troops.

The bi-zonality, bi-communality of the federation to be established, as well as the continued guarantee of Turkey for the security and well-being of Turkish Cypriots (until at least Turkey’s EU membership), have been the dictates of the pre-1974 living conditions of Turkish Cypriots. Can anyone turn a blind eye to this existential issue and just for the sake of empathizing with Greek Cypriots, agree to end the guarantee system because the 1974 Turkish intervention created trauma for Greek Cypriots. No… If Greek Cypriots have no intention of attacking Turkish Cypriots again, there will not be a need for Turkish intervention, that’s all. Why doesn’t the Greek Cypriot side try to empathize as well?

Similarly, a Turkish Cypriot state in the north and a Greek Cypriot state in the south, that is, a bi-zonal and bi-communal federation, is also a requirement for sustainability. If the “first owners” are to be given the “first right of choice” in resolving the property issue, how will bi-zonality and bi-communality be maintained, particularly in light of the fact that pre-1974 land ownership in the north was 80 percent Greek Cypriot? While Greek Cypriots are still obsessed with refraining from everything that might consolidate the Turkish Cypriot state, can it be reasonable to expect any Greek Cypriot leader to develop some degree of empathy for Turkish Cypriots?

The answer to that question is also the answer as to whether 2016 could be the year of “federation” on Cyprus.