Resolution within months, fingers crossed
Buoyed with the “success” of the New York talks, Turkish Cypriot President Mustafa Akıncı shyly declared that even if it would be overoptimistic to expect a resolution to the over-50-years-old Cyprus problem by the end of the year, he could say that a resolution might be achieved within months. If Akıncı is no “magician” – and he says he is not – and if apart his election as president of northern Cyprus nothing has changed from last year, what merits this new found optimism?
Reports from “people with insight” about the process underline that, indeed, negotiators of the two sides have completed writing “seven papers of convergences.” What is more, the same sources underline that most of the convergences were on the thorny governance and power sharing related issues. Apparently, the frequent “social” efforts of the two leaders, be it strolling in the streets, attending a Turkish play with Greek subtitles at a Limassol theater and having some liqueur at a Nicosia café, helped the creation of a better atmosphere, facilitating progress of the works of the two negotiators.
As the two sides surprisingly play the negotiations game, this time holding the cards close to their chests, it is yet quite difficult to decide whether there was reason to celebrate and, similarly, whether there were reason to feel anxious. If those seven papers of convergences, for example, included something as odd as the cross-voting scheme that buried the presidential reelection hopes of Mehmet Ali Talat, than there might be a sound reason to get worried over the future of the peace process. If, however, Greek Cypriots have agreed to the five-to-five political equality of the two founding states at the senate and seven-to-ten representation at the lower house of the future federation, state organs, police and such, it might be argued that there is a tilt towards a resolution.
Obviously, changing the tenant’s name of the Turkish Cypriot modest presidential office cannot provide enough hope to see an end within months to half-a-century-old problem of power sharing between the island’s two peoples. There is a need for affirmative and encouraging answers to a set of questions, obviously not limited to the matter of political equality. For example, have Greek Cypriots agreed to presidency rotation or will there be Turkish Cypriot veto power? How will the problem resolution mechanism work? Territorial aspects, property issue and such dimensions of the Cyprus problem are all very important but a painful compromise might be achieved this way or the other if there is an intention to make an agreement. Yet, how will the security issue be resolved? Can Greek Cypriots agree to the continuation of the 1960 guarantee system, under which Turkey, Greece and Britain were guarantors of Cyprus, or have Turkish Cypriots dropped their key demand and agreed for the full withdrawal of Turkish troops and an end to Turkey’s guarantee? Has there been any change in the mentality of Nikos Anastasiades? For example, did he change his position on the Varosha-Ercan trade? Has he agreed to the reopening of Varosha to the settlement of its pre-1974 inhabitants under Turkish rule, with U.N. guarantees, in exchange for opening of the Ercan airport to international flights? No, on the contrary, he said he would not take any move that might imply the slightest degree of recognition of Turkish Cypriot statehood.
Opening new border crossings, taking measures to increase social contacts, making arrangements for a roaming cooperation between mobile networks of the two sides, and, although not yet in the cards, the linking of the electricity and water grids of the island as well, quality of life for both Turkish and Greek Cypriots will increase. Perhaps if there will ever be a “political resolution,” this time Greek Cypriots might not cast a very high two-third “no” vote and kill it. Really? With no intention of being a pessimist, will Greek Cypriots ever agree to share the sovereignty and administration of the island on the basis of equality with Turkish Cypriots?
There are no problems between Turkish Cypriots and Greek Cypriots on an individual level. The problem is at the communal level, particularly on the issue of the equality of the two communities. At the individual level, with a one-man-one-vote understanding, the Cyprus problem might be solved immediately. That is what Greek Cypriots want to achieve anyhow: Turkish Cypriot individuals joining in and melting into the Cyprus nation as a peculiar minority, with some added individual rights.
Of course, there is no place for romanticism in the Cyprus talks, even if such romantic overtures like strolling hand in hand and posing for cameras might be good for the tribunes. Once discussions start on Varosha, the entire Cyprus process will be buried in that barren, once sprawling tourism resort area where it will be impossible to move for years, never mind within a few months. For example, how will the reconstruction of that region be completed? Who will pay for the massive cost of the area to be returned? Can Akıncı make Anastasiades agree to get back – provisionally, without prejudicing overall settlement – Varosha without making Turkey pay huge repair payments? Mind you, the cost of Varosha being repaired stands at more than 4 billion euros. Will Europe pay for it or does anyone expect that cost to be paid by Turkey? Furthermore, who will pay for the “operational loses” of the hotels that have been closed since 1974?
There has to be an overall and comprehensive settlement to the Cyprus issue. Is there hope for it? Yes, when Greek Cypriots have political will and when an international donors’ conference provides some hard cash to finance such a settlement.