Resolving the Cyprus conundrum

Resolving the Cyprus conundrum

The former Turkish Cypriot leader, Mehmet Ali Talat, was attacked by a group of nationalist Greek Cypriots on March 26 while attending a meeting in Limassol on a solution of the Cyprus problem. This was a clear reminder of the difficulties ahead. Since the latest attempt at resolving the Cyprus challenge began on Feb. 11 this year with U.S. involvement, the world around the island has changed fundamentally. A political transition of sorts has taken place in Ukraine while its president fled to Russia, and the latter annexed Crimea without a shot being fired in defiance of international law.

Part of the reasoning to start afresh in Cyprus can be found in the discovery of potentially big offshore natural gas and oil reserves, which might contribute to untangling the recently emerged energy knot in the Eastern Mediterranean with the involvement of international actors, as well as contributing to the diversification of the European energy markets, thereby lowering Europe’s dependence on Russia.

Of course, there is more to the recent flurry of activity in Cyprus from all sides. First, there is the valuable discourse of Nikos Anastasiadis, the Greek Cypriot leader, who was in favor of a logical solution even in the days when his own party opposed the 2004 Annan Plan. The support of AKEL, the main opposition party, as well as the Church, in favor of the dialogue process are encouraging signs.

Second, the twin economic depressions on both sides of the island, albeit for different reasons, suggest that the expected pay offs from the offshore energy resources and close cooperation in other sectors of the economy could put the entire island back on track. Thus, the Chambers of Commerce from both sides, among others, have been champions of a speedy solution that would afford economic benefits to the whole island.

Third, there is a growing civil society front, as more and more Greek and Turkish Cypriots interact with each other and refuse to further demonize the other. They are also pressuring their leaders for a solution.

Coupled with these is the heightened U.S. interest in resolving the gridlock, as it sees a resolution as an important element in anchoring its policy on the Middle East and Eastern Mediterranean chessboard, which has been constantly shifting since the beginning of the Arab Spring. Russia’s Crimean adventure further strengthens the American steadfastness to stabilize the region. The successful exploitation of the Eastern Mediterranean deep-sea treasures is now seen as the key to European energy diversification, as well as to revitalizing Turkish-Israeli relations and further normalizing relations between Greece and Turkey. This is where finding a solution to the Cyprus conundrum becomes imperative.

For Greece and Turkey, a solution in Cyprus makes sense as both seek to escape their different estrangement from international politics. For Athens, the financial and economic crisis has brought with it a proportionate decline in its diplomacy. As the light begins to appear at the end of a long tunnel of recession, Greece seeks to reassert itself within the EU and enhance its role as a conduit of energy pipelines from Turkey and elsewhere to the rest of Europe. Turkey also has much to gain from untying the Cyprus knot, both as a potential channel of Cypriot gas as well as for movement in its accession process with the EU. After all, 2014 was supposed to be the “Year of Europe” for Turkey. Like Greece, Turkey is directly implicated and affected by developments in the Middle East and the Black Sea region, and a step forward in Cyprus would allow it to regain some of its lost political and diplomatic mileage as well as some of the allied support it needs.

The potential negotiating quid pro quos aside, while the Cypriots lead the process this time, Greece and Turkey as guarantor powers have much to offer, including the gradual withdrawal of their troops from the island, and the eventuality of Cypriot membership in NATO. The benefits accrued would be substantial, including a further enhancement of Turkey’s European aspirations, greater economic cooperation in the energy sector and beyond, and political goodwill all around.

The time to move toward a fair and equitable resolution is now, as is the moment for all the sides to seriously challenge our comfort zones, in order to resolve the Cyprus conundrum once and for all.

Mustafa Aydin is the rector of Kadir Has University, Istanbul. Dimitrios Triantaphyllou is the Director of the Center for International and European Studies (CIES) at Kadir Has University. Both are members of the Greek-Turkish Forum.