Greek Cypriot President Nikos Anastasiades is expected to travel to New York Nov. 29 for a “mitral cardiac valve operation.” Earlier, it was claimed that the Greek Cypriot president would undergo an operation only after his alcoholism-ridden physical situation was improved with a rigid medical course and strict dietary measures.
Greek Cypriot readers have been bombarding this writer with electronic mail complaining that mentioning Anastasiades’ alcoholism problem was hitting below the belt. Was it indeed? If Anastasiades’ physical health and mental situation is important is it possible to say “alcoholism is his private affair?” On the contrary, anyone following the Cyprus talks process should acknowledge at least two major mishaps over the past months because of his alcoholism problem. Even the houseflies of the Greek Cypriot presidency might testify to how aggressive Anastasiades might become when at his drinking time he had no access to his favorite blend of whiskey. Or, can anyone ask Lisa Buttenheim – the U.N. special envoy to Cyprus – why after an alleged request from Turkish Cypriot leader Derviş Eroğlu she decided to give a 30-minute break to talks at 12:00 and ordered her staff to offer whiskey “to the participants” in the small study room, adjacent to the dining room of her residence, where talks were being held?
Why did Eroğlu make that claimed request? Precisely because for the past many years, Anastasiades starts drinking at noon and he becomes angry and starts yelling if he cannot get hold of a glass full of whiskey. Why did he yell at his negotiation team and walk out of the meeting in July in anger, shoveling around chairs? Was that the only such incident or the only one that was leaked to the media? At that July session of the talks, the Turkish side did not say anything new other than reminding Anastasiades that convergences achieved during the previous Greek Cypriot leader Demetris Christofias term could not be brushed aside. He was furious at that statement. Now, the same Anastasiades is suggesting the gas issue should be within the federal competency, as agreed between former presidents Mehmet Ali Talat and Christofias. Why did he yell at others in July then? Many people claim not only in that incident, but often, that he has been losing his temper and control because of alcoholism. This cannot be a private affair.
Why just before he withdrew from talks his negotiator and top aides were stressing they would not withdraw from talks just because Turkey sent a seismological ship into the disputed exclusive economic zone (EEZ) of Cyprus? It could indeed be argued that it was a hostile act by the Turkish navy to chase a Norwegian seismological close to the same area just few months ago. Why did Greek Cypriots not withdraw from talks then, but now? Obviously someone lost his temper and now he cannot just step back from what he said, trying to build pressure on the Turks to step back. Can Turks do it? Of course, a ship is a ship, not a platform or an island. One cannot stay in a region forever. But, why should Turkey undertake such a step back, which might be taken as an indication-empty hullabaloo from Anastasiades paid back?
In private talks with Turkish Cypriot leaders, I witnessed a sincere wish in northern Cyprus for Anastasiades to recover his health soon and return to the negotiations table in good spirits, willing to seriously engage in a serious and painful give and take, which is a must if the two sides are indeed willing to reach a Cyprus accord. Talking on the island with Greek Cypriot and Turkish Cypriot friends, it was my impression that a sense of permanent separation and a two-state de facto reality becoming the “negotiated” de jure settlement has started to spread on both sides of the Cyprus divide. Greek Cypriots eye, of course, the “rich” natural gas resources and defend that if they “go away,” Turkish Cypriots should not have a share, while Turkish Cypriots demand a share, but appear willing to compromise for the sake of a recognized Turkish Cyprus state.
Anastasiades is expected to be operated on Dec. 4 and return to Cyprus – God willing – after Christmas. In the January-April period, Turkish Cypriots will be in presidential election campaigning, but talks can still continue as the incumbent Eroğlu has been saying he is committed to the process. Talks of American Vice President Joe Biden with Turkish leaders indicated that pressure will build on Anastasiades in the weeks ahead to return to the talks. Can he return to the talks immediately after a heart operation? During the Annan Plan negotiations within days after a similar surgery on him, late Rauf Denktaş was forced to sit talks.