Seeking a magician in Cyprus

Seeking a magician in Cyprus

On his maiden trip abroad, newly elected Turkish Cypriot leader Mustafa Akıncı and his Turkish counterpart and host Recep Tayyip Erdoğan left behind the “motherland” and “kinderland” squabble and declared jointly it was now time to concentrate on fast-tracking the Cyprus talks and finding a resolution in 2015. The visit demonstrated the existence, in both Turkey and the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus (TRNC), of the much-needed political will for a negotiated resolution on the island. Yet, it also underlined that two are needed to tango, and the Greek Cypriot side should also develop the political will and commit itself to a serious, settlement-oriented approach for the success of the talks slated to resume soon.

Akıncı’s visit also helped redefine the so-called “red lines,” even though lately there have been worries that Turkey’s and the Turkish Cypriots’ priorities have begun to differ. Even though Erdoğan and Akıncı appeared to have left behind their “mother” and “baby” row for now, and the Turkish president was rather careful to make his guest feel as comfortable as possible, he was to the point in stressing Turkey’s patience has run out with inconclusive rounds of Cyprus talks. Naturally, he was not complaining about Turkish Cypriot negotiators, but rather about the lack of interest for a Cyprus deal from the Greek Cypriot side. Similarly, Akıncı also underlined that Cyprus talks must have a timetable, cannot continue forever and his people cannot be left in limbo.

Thus, during the talks in Anakra, it was agreed that a settlement on Cyprus is long overdue and the target of the talks between the Turkish and Cypriot sides on Cyprus, slated to resume soon, cannot continue open-ended. Will that mean at the “social event” with Akıncı and Greek counterpart Nikos Anastasiades as guests of a dinner hosted by the U.N. secretary-general’s Special Cyprus Envoy Espen Barth Eide that the Turkish Cypriot leader will press for a tight timetable? Probably not, but he is expected to press for an undeclared understanding on the issue. Indeed, both Erdoğan and Akıncı did not spare their words. They said if the Greek Cypriots really wanted it, a deal was already discernible. They said that not only might a deal be reached within the next seven months, but simultaneous referenda on a new resolution might also be held before the end of the year.

Such a target appears to be even more than optimism for now, as Greek Cypriots do not appear willing at all to compromise and engage in power sharing or become partners with Turkish Cypriots in governance and sovereignty of the eastern Mediterranean island. That was why, perhaps, Akıncı felt the need to stress, “I am not a magician. I will work for a deal by the end of this year. But without Greeks committing themselves as well, no success is possible.”

These talks, which have been intermittently continuing since the first meeting in 1968 in Lebanon, did not leave any stone unturned. All tiny details of the problem are discussed to such an extent that they are known even by the man on the street. There is of course no need to reinvent the wheel now. Thus, Erdoğan and Akıncı agreed to flatly reject any attempt to resume the process right from scratch once again. Obviously all the convergences agreed to in the last many years of talks must constitute a basis for talks together with the Feb. 11, 2014, document between Anastasiades and former Turkish Cypriot president Derviş Eroğlu.

One serious concern was Akıncı’s pre-election promise to act on the thorny Varosha issue. Varosha, a once sprawling tourist resort suburb of Famagusta, has been a ghost city since the 1974 Turkish intervention and many governments of the past implied it would be given back to Greek Cypriots as part of a comprehensive peace deal. Varosha has been popping up in various forms over the past decades as part of confidence building measures. Now Ankara and Akıncı have established a new understanding: Varosha is in the cards, but its final status depends on an overall comprehensive resolution of the Cyprus problem. Yet, in exchange for the opening of the Famagusta Port and Ercan (Timbu) Airport to international traffic, the resettlement of Varosha by its former residents under an interim formula might be considered. This of course constitutes a radical change in Akıncı’s Varosha rhetoric from the election period.

Another “softening down” in Akıncı’s election statements was regarding the hydrocarbon issue. While he was still stressing that hydrocarbon riches must serve as a catalyst of a settlement, he agreed with Ankara’s position that unilateral Greek Cypriot hydrocarbon moves would be unacceptable and any such riches must serve both peoples of the island.

Akıncı was no magician. He was open in stressing that an appealing Greek Cypriot leadership should commit itself as well. Yet, he got Ankara’s firm reassertion that whatever deal Turkish Cypriots might make with Greek Cypriots, Ankara would support it.