Stubble burning in Cyprus

Stubble burning in Cyprus

Cleaning the field is a must after the harvest so that it can be prepared for the new season and new harvest. Like in most countries, burning stubble is prohibited in both the Turkish Cypriot north and the Greek Cypriot south of the island. Yet, every summer, a few fires break out because some farmers ignorantly try to clear their fields by getting rid of the remains of the harvest by setting their fields on fire.

Nowadays there is a big fire in northern Cyprus. Some “ignorant” new executives – now celebrating 100 days in office – premeditatedly stepped into such a difficult situation, effectively praying that the metaphorical fire would not destroy the forest. I must admit, even if I had some reservations, since the Turkish Cypriot people are willing to swallow some very pungent pills to end the nearly half-century of isolation from the international community, I believed I and everyone should respect the will of the Turkish Cypriot people. Alas, things apparently went awry, as new Turkish Cypriot leader Mustafa Akıncı and his property issue negotiator walked into a minefield and devastated the pro-settlement atmosphere in northern Cyprus. Who is this property issue negotiator?

The support of the Greek Cypriot church, remarks by political figures from the Greek Cypriot political side and the “progress” in the Cyprus negotiations have likely provided a death knell to the trust in the ability of the new Turkish Cypriot negotiating team. It was not only the U.N. special envoy that heralded the miraculous step back by the Turkish Cypriot side on the individual property quagmire; explanations from senior Greek Cypriot executives following closed-door meetings that “our demands on property were all met, individual property rights will be restored, Akıncı has accepted that” must have been sufficient enough to alarm many of some nasty developments. However, the pro-settlement resolve dominated everything.

Now, Hasan Kahvecioğlu, a very senior and indeed staunch supporter of the new Turkish Cypriot president, helped me – and perhaps many other people also – to wake up from a resolute, deep sleep, if not a coma. What did Kahvecioğlu write in “Gazete 360” on Aug. 10? In summary, he said it was wrong, untimely and immature to plunge into the property issue amateurishly…

Even though Kahvecioğlu apparently maintains his support for his friend Akıncı, he underlined that the negotiating team could not “comprehend” that on the property issue the Turkish Cypriot side had the “upper hand,” and by accepting that “individual rights” dominate over “communal rights” in resolving the issue as Greek Cypriots have been demanding, even the diehard pro-settlement people have become rather skeptical.

Right, Kahvecioğlu was not sorry that such a step was taken but still condemned the property retreat by the Turkish Cypriot side as an “amateurish, novice approach” which turned the entire process into something difficult… Why?

Turkish Cypriot people were forced to migrate by the Greek Cypriot hordes and state forces at least three times in their lifetime. Their property was repeatedly destroyed and homes were ransacked while they were deprived of economic activity of all sorts except farming. They were killed, disappeared and forced to live in fear of survival for more than a decade. After 1974 the Turkish Cypriot people were rehabilitated on lands and property left by Greek Cypriots in northern Cyprus. Right, apart from Turkish Cypriots, thousands of mainland settlers were settled on such properties. The size of those properties is believed to be around 150,000 hectares. 

Now, if someone like the Turkish Cypriot leadership is telling the Turkish Cypriot people a deal will be made with Greek Cypriots, the previous approaches will be abandoned and an individual rights-based approach will be adopted, what does that mean? Of the 150,000 hectares of land on which Turkish Cypriots were rehabilitated, merely 1,500 hectares will be left to Turkish Cypriots, while the rest will be given back to Greek Cypriots. 

Even Kahvecioğlu, who apparently has been supportive of the resolution of the property issue on the basis of the respect for individual rights, conceded that putting that issue ahead of other contentious issues and, worst, making statements naively worrying people that in a settlement, they will be forced to abandon their life-time achievements in northern Cyprus, was a self-defeating, suicidal attempt on the part of the Turkish Cypriot negotiating team. 

However, the right to own cannot be restricted to just the former owner; the rights of the people living on those lands for almost half a century must be acknowledged and respected as well. That is why a “global exchange, compensation and restoration” principle was a valid and humane approach to solve that contentious issue.

Put aside the individual rights of the Turkish Cypriots (and mainland settlers) who have been living on those properties or earning a living on those lands for the past half-century; what will happen to the bi-zonality and bi-communality principles on which a federation was to be established?

The negotiating team tried to burn stubble, clean the land, and plant a new state on it… They wanted to trade land for peace, but apparently set the forest on fire instead.