The most expensive photo

The most expensive photo

Will there finally be a Cyprus settlement? Can the two communal leaders of the divided eastern Mediterranean island manage to come forward before the end of the year with a deal mutually acceptable for the two people sharing Cyprus as their common homeland?

According to the latest remarks of U.N. Special Adviser Espen Barth Eide, the international community no longer perceives the Cyprus issue as an intractable problem that cannot be solved. Late last month, the same Eide was warning the two sides that failure this time to reach a deal might produce “very serious concerns” because this time, a failure would have meanings further than an “ordinary failure.”

Can anyone describe the difference between an “ordinary” and “non-ordinary” failure? Indeed, there is a difference. What Eide tried to say was that so much hope has been attached to the negotiations process this time that if the talks collapse or there is an inconclusive end despite such “good chemistry” between the two leaders and a “really committed political will on both sides,” it might indeed be the kiss of death for the settlement efforts under the aegis of the United Nations.

Speculation is rampant on the island on almost every detail of the negotiations. The Greek Cypriot side has been constantly violating the principle of a news blackout. Thus, up until very recently, information regarding the process was available from one side and unfortunately all the information provided was intentionally tainted to serve the interests of the Greek Cypriot leadership. Worse, Turkish Cypriot President Mustafa Akıncı was not only playing cards close to his chest, but talking only with those journalists who were ideologically close or professionally successful in flattery. Now, as he was starting a trip to New York to have “sideline talks” during the U.N. General Assembly – where he has no seat as the head of an unrecognized state – Akıncı finally came up some fleshy details in a critical interview with Cansu Çamlıbel of Hürriyet about the status of the discussions.

From what Greek Cypriot sources have been whispering into the ears of reporters and what Akıncı has publicly revealed, there are some very serious contradictions and differences. Also, in some areas, Akıncı indeed confirmed the huge fiasco in terms of his team’s performance, particularly as regards the security dimension, the rotation of the presidency and territorial adjustments.

Indeed, in the simplest way to describe the Cyprus problem, I could say that for Greek Cypriots, it has been a matter of property, territory, withdrawal of Turkish troops and the end of the guarantee system. Similarly, for Turkish Cypriots, the Cyprus problem has been security – necessitating the full continuation of the 1960 guarantee system with Turkey’s “effective and efficient right to intervene,” economic viability as regards territory, political equality in governance and, of course, a bi-zonal and bi-communal character of the prospective federation.

For reasons I could appreciate in none of the Hürriyet interview, remarks to the Cyprus News Agency or a hastily arranged Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan-style “talk with allegiant journalists” on the Turkish Cypriot state channel, Akıncı did not talk extensively on territorial arrangements or discussions about whether there would be autonomous Greek Cypriot cantons in Turkish territory. He could not explain either how he agreed to a numerical limitation of the Turkish Cypriot population at 220,000 while in the last census the population was 285,000 people. Instead, he preferred to go into a rhetorical discussion that such figures should not be taken seriously at all since no one would be the guardian of bedrooms. Why, then, did he agree to make such a reference to the size of the population?

Akıncı could not understand either that the federation to be established will be bi-zonal and bi-communal but that Turks and Greeks will have a say on the entirety of Cyprus. They will be signing a federation accord, not a document of partition. Akıncı said that before the 1974 Turkish intervention, Turks were scattered all around the island and that Turkey’s guarantee (along with the other two guarantors, Greece and Britain) was needed for the entirety of Cyprus, but that now, since Turks were only living in the north, it limited Turkey’s guarantee to the north. Such comments were nothing less than an abandonment of Turkish Cypriots and thus Turkey’s rights in the entirety of Cyprus.

Similarly, political equality is a must. Political equality cannot be downgraded to the ratio of high judges or prosecutors and how top bureaucratic offices are filled. The rotation of the presidency and key government positions is a must, as Akıncı also underlined. However, the rotation of the presidency was “bought” previously with a heavy price, cross voting. Now, cross voting is still in the plans, but Greek Cypriots refuse to agree to a rotation of the presidency.

Greek Cypriots say there are “very serious” contradictions in the positions of the two sides on at least 53 topics. Akıncı has been saying that those 53 topics were all related to technical issues. What are they? Was the rotation of presidency, for example, among them?

The meeting of the two leaders with U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon at the U.N. building on Sept. 25 will be very important. As Eide said, failure might produce “non-ordinary” results this time, which might be perceived by many people as a blessing. In any case, in view of the data at hand, a success story requires more than a miracle. Thus, if the trilateral meeting is achieved because Akıncı agreed to open up discussions on the guarantees, Turkish Cypriots should look at that photo very carefully. That might be the most expensive photograph they see.