The yogurt lake of Akşehir

The yogurt lake of Akşehir

Backstage diplomacy has been apparently intensified. Why? Will there be a resolution? Well, it is at least good there are some people around optimistic enough there might be a miracle. Can we indeed have a miracle? If the issue is how to convince Greek Cypriots to give up intransigence, accept the equality of Turks with them, share power and sovereignty with Turkish Cypriots, well perhaps Nasraddin Hodja has a higher likelihood of fermenting Akşehir Lake and make it yogurt.

Don’t you know the story? The famous folktale hero Nasraddin Hodja one day comes up with the great idea of fermenting the Akşehir Lake and making it a huge lake of yogurt. He starts fermenting the lake. Seeing Hodja fermenting the lake, a villager asked whether he believed the lake might become yogurt.

Hodja replies, “I know as well how impossible the mission I undertook indeed is, but for one second just think of the abundance of yogurt we will have should the ferment work and the lake become yogurt!”

Turkey is very much aware that it was not the absence (!) of Americans in Cyprus diplomacy that a deal could not be reached over the past half-century of negotiations. There were even times when we had impressive U.S. presidential envoys, special emissaries from various countries, including Britain. These special envoys and consecutive diplomatic initiatives did not help at all. Anyhow, the Americans, British, Russians and the rest have been very much aware of the grave mistake they were all in while discussing in March 1964 U.N. peace troops to the eastern Mediterranean island. Fearing of probable minority problems, the Cyprus example might trigger the smaller community of the island was made pray of the aggressive bigger community. After 50 years, why would the Greek Cypriots change their fundamental position, stop believing – while the entire world, but Turkey saying so – that they are the sole legitimate government of the island and share power with Turkish Cypriots?

Since March 1964, Turkish Cypriots have been acting very much like the Hodja trying to ferment Akşehir Lake and make it yogurt. If the required ingredients are not there, can it be possible to have a lake of yogurt?

For the past few weeks American diplomats are claimed to have been shuttling between Nicosia and Ankara, trying to achieve a Cyprus deal, by sidelining Turkish Cypriots bringing Turkish Cypriots under Turkish pressure to accept the preconditions of Greek Cypriots to sit through Cyprus talks (not for a settlement). For Turkish Cypriots, there are not quite as many red lines in Cyprus diplomacy. One is equality. Another is their right to self-determination – that is, sovereignty. The continuation of the 1960 security arrangements and thus Turkey’s effective guarantee is a fundamental one.

It is, of course, up to Turkey how to execute its Cyprus diplomacy. Should it want, it might abandon its established policy and get into direct or proxy talks with Greek Cypriots, abandoning or bypassing Turkish Cypriots. What would such an approach mean? Could Turkey accept to convert the Cyprus talk’s process into one between an occupying power and occupied country, discussing terms of withdrawal of the occupation forces? The British were just last week discussing their sovereign bases, for example, with the same government.

Is it possible to make the Akşehir Lake a lake of yogurt? If Akşehir Lake was one of milk not water, perhaps with a sufficient amount of yeast, the goal might have been achieved. In Cyprus, there is a similar situation. A basic ingredient of peace is missing. How can we have a deal if Greek Cypriots aim at getting everything and giving nothing and Turkish Cypriots are ready to die for their inalienable rights? Can Americans or some officious Turkish bureaucrats, politicians achieve converting the drying Akşehir into a lake of yogurt? Can they?