Reunion passes Cypriots by

Reunion passes Cypriots by

The latest round of Cyprus talks collapsed once again due to what Turkish Cypriots claimed were the “maximalist demands” of the Greek Cypriot side, and Greek Cypriots lamented the uncompromising position of the Turks. Turkish Cypriot leader Mustafa Akıncı has most probably earned the title of being “the saddest Cypriot.” 

His spokesman was unable to hide the tears pouring down his face during the disclosure early on Nov. 22 that 18 months of talks with the Greek Cypriot side for a federal reunion on the island had failed, like all other similar efforts over the past 48 years. Would the late Turkish Cypriot leader Rauf Denktaş and the late Greek Cypriot leader Glafcos Klerides believe that when they first started the Cyprus intercommunal talks in 1968 at a Beirut hotel, the power-sharing problem between their two people would not be solved over the next 50 years?

The talks apparently collapsed over a set of last-minute hurdles headed by Greece conditioning its participation in a five-party international conference – the representatives of the people of the two sides of the island and leaders of three guarantor powers, Turkey, Greece and Britain – to immediate Turkish Cypriot acceptance that the international conference convene to scrap the 1960 guarantee scheme completely. A second major obstacle was the “maximalist territorial demands” of the Greek Cypriot side, according to Barış Burcu, the spokesman of Akıncı. According to Burcu, the Greek Cypriots sat in weekend talks demanding “as their first and last offer” the return of a piece of territory where they could relocate 78,000 to 92,000 refugees, stuck to that position and did not move an inch even while fully aware that every increase would mean rendering more Turkish Cypriots refugees. All through, the Turkish Cypriot side “generously” walked the extra mile and presented unprecedented and courageous territorial concessions.

Whatever reason the Turkish or Greek Cypriot delegates might cite as the probable reason for the collapse of the talks, however, the real reason was something more chronic: The failure of the Greek Cypriot side to indigenize the political equality demands of the Turkish Cypriot side and agree to a Turkish Cypriot “effective participation” on the basis of “political equality” in the decision-making mechanism, that is, power sharing.

It was natural for the Greek Cypriot side to be obsessed with the refugee and territory aspects of the Cyprus problem to concentrate on the amount of territory the Turkish side would hand back in a settlement possibility and how many refugees might be settled on that land. However, right from the start of the process, it was agreed that the two sides would only talk about “criteria” to be applied in solving the territorial aspect of the problem and that no discussion would be held on maps until a decision was taken on the date of the international conference. Why? Because the Turkish Cypriot side was scared that once territorial issues were finalized, the Greek Cypriot side would be even more adamant on the security and guarantees heading that would be discussed at the international conference.

Statements from Athens suggesting that Greece could attend an international conference only to scrap the 1960 guarantee scheme, further alarmed Turkish Cypriots. Thus at the start of the second Mont Pelerin round of talks, the Turkish Cypriot side insisted on clarifying whether the modalities of the process remained intact. Greek Cypriot leader Nicos Anastasiades delivering a different answer each time the issue was discussed, creating a crisis of confidence between the two leaders.

The security and guarantees heading of the Cyprus talks process could not be solved with the suggestion of bringing Turkey and Greek senior officials together on the sidelines of the Mont Pelerin talks. Instead, Greece preferred to negotiate directly with Turkey, and there were rampant claims in the Greek and Greek Cypriot media that apart from a pre-Mont Pelerin phone conversation, Turkey’s strongman Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras decided to continue the telephone diplomacy, or would come together only if required.

The crisis at the Cyprus negotiating table, however, appears to be bigger than even the grandiose guarantee issue. As Burcu said with tears in his eyes, Greek Cypriots’ refusal to disclose their position on the rotating presidency issue and their choice to withhold it as a bargaining chip at the international conference was a frustrating development for Akıncı. In any case, Turkey’s guarantee is of existential importance for Turkish Cypriots, but the demand for effective participation in governance, or the issue of partnership in governance, was the root cause of the Cyprus problem on which compromise for Turkish Cypriots has become almost impossible.

Now, have the talks collapsed completely and is no hope left for another push? If the Cyprus problem is not resolved, efforts to resolve it will naturally continue… Yet, it must have become clear for everyone that a push for a federation might not yield any result, as the two sides are unwilling to compromise on governance, as well as security and to a lesser extent, on territory. Perhaps the time has come to talk about a two-state or confederation options. The annexation of the north by Turkey, on the other hand, might not be a wise option, but with a Turkey parting fast from the West, that might as well be on the cards tomorrow.