Questions lingering over Cyprus

Questions lingering over Cyprus

After the (unsurprisingly not so successful) recent trilateral meeting in New York, we should ask whether the current process will be able to produce a resolution of the Cyprus problem before the end of this year. We might also ask how the few remaining weeks of 2016 will be able to bring about a resolution that negotiators and an army of international mediators have not been able to deliver despite over almost half a century of negotiations, first starting in 1968?

The remaining three-month period before the end of the year may indeed suffice to resolve the Cyprus problem in a mutually acceptable framework. The precondition for this, of course, is the two peoples on the island having a strong resolution for a settlement. They must be willing to walk a bitter road of reconciliation based on political equality and power sharing. The recent history of the island has been very traumatic. The two sides should frankly accept their share in the sufferings, apologize and - most important of all - see the need for the consolidation of the 1960 security system, taking additional measures to instill a sense of security and mutual confidence.

Greek Cypriots are unable to accept Turkish Cypriots’ insistence on the preservation of the 1960 security system and the maintenance of the guarantor status of Turkey, Greece and Britain. That is because Turkey used its guarantor power status to intervene in Cyprus in 1974, aiming to prevent Greek Cypriot attacks on Turkish Cypriots after a Greece-engineered coup in Cyprus. On the other hand, Turkish Cypriots cannot compromise on the guarantee system or Turkey’s effective and actual right to intervene. Limiting Turkey’s guarantee to the Turkish Cypriot constituent entity of the federation – as Turkish Cypriot leader Mustafa Akıncı reportedly suggested – cannot be a wise or acceptable idea. Neither the interests of Turkish Cyprus or Turkey can be limited to the north of the island.

But Greek Cypriot sensitivities cannot be ignored either. A compromise might therefore be found, perhaps by introducing further and more rigid conditions to the use of the right to intervene. However, a pro-settlement Greek Cypriot leader must not say “we will not accept the presence of even one Turkish soldier in Cyprus after a settlement.” They should know that this is not an argument conducive to any settlement.

The recent history of the island clearly shows that the “common home” of Turkish and Greek Cypriots cannot usher in a new era of cohabitation without accepting the need for a global exchange and compensation system to solve the property quagmire. Neither the 1963-1974 sufferings of the Turkish Cypriots nor the 1974 suffering of the Greek Cypriots can be forgotten. Demanding a return of all or most pre-1974 Greek Cypriot property, insisting on the “right to return” to the Turkish Cypriot state for as many as 50,000 Greek Cypriots, and demanding the creation of almost-sovereign cantons within the Turkish zone cannot be conducive to a settlement. 

Greek Cypriots have long demanded that a Cyprus settlement is a European one, and that all Cypriots from either community enjoy certain freedoms unhindered and unrestricted: Free movement of goods, free movement of labor, the right of establishment, the right to own property, and the right to settle. There is nothing wrong in this, but how will those principles be reconciled with the fundamental bi-zonality and bi-communality principles of the federation? Northern Cyprus must always be predominantly Turkish in terms of population and property. There is thus a need for some permanent derogations. Such derogations must be made EU primary law so they cannot be walked over with a court decision tomorrow. Can the Greek Cypriots walk such a road? So far, unfortunately, they have demonstrated no such intention.

If living together is impossible, the two sides should try side-by-side cohabitation instead - a loose federation. The two constituent entities of this federation, however, must not have the right to secede or be given powers that compromise the “integrity” of the federation. For that, the two constituent states must have full local powers and limited sovereign rights - particularly in sports, education, cultural and of course commercial matters.

Political equality is the magical word. The Greek Cypriots believe that giving some autonomous rights to the Turkish Cypriots amounts to political equality. They insist on applying cross voting as a mechanism to produce a new Cypriot nation, but reject any rotation of the presidency. Why? As Cyprus Archbishop Hrisostomos declared a while ago, “It is better to have two states than to see a Turk heading the Cypriot state.” How could there be political equality if two component states of a federation cannot rotate the presidency?

Obviously, no one should buy the argument that 2016 is the last chance for a Cyprus settlement. If there is a problem and if a settlement to it is desired, there can be new efforts tomorrow. After all, that is the way it has been since the start of the Cyprus intercommunal talks process back in 1968.