Piri Reis, Barbaros and Selim II
It was Turkey’s Piri Reis seismic ship that was, until recent times, reasserting the country’s partnership with Turkish Cyprus over sovereignty and natural resources on and off Cyprus. For decades, the foundation of Ankara’s Cyprus policy has been tit for tat, sometimes proactive but most of the time reactive. If and when the Greek Cypriots did anything to consolidate or reassert their claim of being the “sole legitimate owner” of everything related to Cyprus, Turkish Cypriots, naturally in the absence of their means to retaliate through Turkey’s capabilities, took moves to reaffirm their “partnership status” under the founding agreements, as well as the Constitution of the 1960 partnership state.
There is a fundamental discord. The Greek Cypriots continue to believe that the state and government effectively recognized by the United Nations in March 1964 - even though the Turkish element was expelled at gunpoint by the Greek element - is still the 1960 partnership state, even though the constitution was unilaterally amended and all rights and privileges of Turkish Cypriots were removed. For the Turkish Cypriots, the state might still be the 1960 joint state, but since 1964 the expulsion of the Turkish element from government offices, municipalities and all executive positions has made the administration illegitimate, ensuring that it cannot be the government of the entire island.
Enjoying international recognition, EU membership and, of course, the “sole legitimate government” title, the Greek Cypriot state over the past half century has been attempting to achieve some sort of an osmosis resolution on Cyprus through which Turkish Cypriots would integrate and vanish into the “Cyprus nation.” Turkish Cypriots, however, have been in a struggle to win back their usurped partnership rights in the sovereignty, territory and resources of Cyprus. Thus, since the 1968 start of Cyprus intercommunal talks, there has been no success. Will there ever be success? Unfortunately, there will not be any success as long as these talks are held on the assumption of the “equality” of the two sides at the negotiating table. In essence, one is sitting as the government and the other is sitting as a minority demanding some concessions.
Espen Barth Eide, the special Cyprus envoy of the U.N. secretary-general, was recently in Ankara, exploring how to resume the Cyprus talks that were halted when Greek Cypriot leader Nicos Anastasiades withdrew last month in protest at Turkey sending the Barbaros, a seismic ship escorted by a navy vessel, close to an area where the Greek Cypriots were drilling for natural gas.
Why did he withdraw from the talks? Obviously, he was trying to find a pretext, and a decision to withdraw had long before been made. Was it the first time Turkey was undertaking moves to reassert Turkish Cypriot rights in the Mediterranean? No. Each time the Greeks had done something for the Greek Cypriots, Turkey did something for the Turkish Cypriots. Was the Turkish Navy’s chasing of a Norwegian seismic ship off Cyprus a few months ago not a strong enough action to demonstrate Turkey’s resolute position? Why did Anastasiades not withdraw from the talks at that time? Because the talks were not progressing well, the two sides were under pressure to accelerate the process. What’s different now? Under duress, Anastasiades agreed to carry the talks to an important give-and-take phase, but he was coy and scared enough not to describe it as such. Why? He did not want to give the image that the Cyprus problem might be resolved through mutual compromise.
Compromise… That is a word hated by Anastasiades. He believes he will only take Turkish compromises because Greeks compromised enough by agreeing to share the government with them.
It could be the Piri Reis, the Barbaros or perhaps tomorrow the Selim II (the Ottoman sultan who conquered Cyprus) that raises ire; if Greek Cypriots continue to claim to be the sole owner of the island and - instead of compromising for peace - insist on forging anti-Turkey and anti-Turkish Cypriot alliances with Greece, Egypt or Israel, the politics of tension in the Mediterranean will continue. Greek Cypriots now expect U.S. Vice President Joe Biden, who is set to make a visit to the region, to put pressure on the Turks to step back and withdraw their ships so that Anastasiades can return to talks.
Going to bed with a full stomach can be hazardous for one’s health.