Rosette on the lapel…
Semantic symbolism and body language are very important particularly in this part of the world. How one sits at a meeting, why he holds a baseball baton in his hand while talking on the phone, or why he removes the flag of his country from the reception room before meeting with a foreign dignitary are all indicative of not only the mood of the people involved but more so the color of relations between the countries participating in any such event.
When out of blue one day former Turkish Cypriot President Derviş Eroğlu was told by the American Embassy that Vice President Joe Biden would be visiting the island soon and he would make a stopover at the Turkish Cypriot leader’s office if the Turkish Cypriot flag was removed from the office, the request was turned down. Instead, the Turkish Cypriot leader said he might meet with Biden at his official residence, just meters away from his residence, where flags might not be placed at all. The vice president did not enter the front official entrance of the Turkish Cypriot presidency but proceeded in the garden right to the entrance of the residence. Thus, the sensitivity not to anger Greek Cypriots by “elevating the status” of the Turkish Cypriot state was achieved as well as a gentle “we take you seriously as well” message was successfully given to the Turkish Cypriots. That was in May 2014.
A socialist, Mustafa Akıncı, who became the Turkish Cypriot leader in 2015, started a rather awkward practice. Not only he never was visited with a vice president or a United Nations secretary-general, but for much lower-level meetings, he ordered the removal of the Turkish and Turkish Cypriot flags from the official reception room as well as the emblem of his office. A president was so shy about his state that in order not to “hurt the feelings” of the Greek Cypriots or “not to create problems between his visitors and the Greek Cypriots” he ordered the removal of all symbols and flags that demonstrated the statehood of the Turkish Cypriot state.
Though in the 2015 vote some nationalists voted for him, and he won the vote with 60.5 percent support at the time, the attitude of Akıncı was indeed one of the major reasons that in the 2020 vote his reelection aspirations were buried in the ballot box and Ersin Tatar climbed to the presidency. During the past five years, the National Unity Party (UBP) of Tatar was particularly critical of the “empathy with the Greek Cypriots” policy of Akıncı, repeatedly reminding him that he was elected not to support Greek Cypriots achieve their political goals but to defend the interests of the Turkish Cypriot people.
All eyes were looking at semantics, symbols, and the body language at the first encounter of the Turkish Cypriot and Greek Cypriot leaders at a social event at the residence of U.N. envoy Elizabeth Spehar. Yes, the two leaders emerged declaring their approval of a five+one non-official summit of three guarantor countries, Greece, Turkey and Britain, leaders of the two communities and U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres to describe the goal and modality of a new Cyprus exercise should there be one at all.
In the photograph clicked at the entrance of the U.N. envoy, it was noted that there was a smiling Tatar, a rather dull-faced and apparently frustrated Nikos Anastasiades, Greek Cyprus’ president, and then the U.N. envoy who seemed to be trying her best to play the role of a successful host. There was nothing on the lapel of a tense Anastasiades, but on the lapel of a smiling Tatar, there was a rosette depicting the flag of the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus.
If it was Akıncı in that photo, would there be any such pin on his lapel? Out of question. If nothing has changed from the previous encounter of the two leaders, this photograph was the shouting evidence of the start of a new era, which is described by Tatar, very much like the founding president of TRNC, late Rauf Denktaş, that nothing can be achieved through ignoring the reality on land. On the island of Cyprus, there are two ethnically, linguistically, and religion-wise two different peoples with their separate states. Any settlement must be one signed by these two states. If for the past so many decades a formula for co-existence in one state be it be unitary, federal, or whatever could not be achieved, then it is time to talk of side-by-side co-existence of two friendly states on the same island.