With the latest round of long-running UN-backed talks for the reunification of Cyprus nearing the end of their third year, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan's visit to the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus (KKTC) will be an opportunity to convey Ankara's messages of solidarity with the Turkish Cypriot people, as well as deliver messages of warning to the international community, as the Greek Cypriot side has been continuing to drag its feet on reunification talks.
Erdoğan, together with an accompanying delegation from his cabinet, are expected to arrive in the KKTC on Tuesday. This trip to the KKTC will be Erdoğan first visit abroad as head of the new government, in line with Ankara's diplomatic conventions. On Wednesday, in addition to a meeting with the KKTC leadership, Erdoğan will attend ceremonies to mark the 37th anniversary of the 1974 military intervention, known as “Peace and Freedom Holiday” in the KKTC.
Erdoğan is expected to send a strongly worded message declaring Ankara's full support of the ongoing UN-backed negotiation process between Greek and Turkish Cypriot leaders, which is aimed at reunification; however, it is highly probable that he will also bring the international community's attention to the stubbornness of the Greek Cypriot side during the negotiations.
The prime minister's visit comes days after Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu warned last week that Turkey will not recognize Greek Cyprus' presidency of the European Union, which it will assume in the middle of 2012, unless a deal to reunify the divided island is reached by that time.
Ankara does not recognize the Greek Cypriot Administration of Southern Cyprus (GKRY) to represent the entire island and refuses to even sit down at the same table with officials from the Greek Cypriot administration. The six-month rotating presidency of the EU will be held by Denmark in the first half of 2012 and then by Greek Cyprus for the second half of the year.
The Greek Cypriot side assuming the EU presidency has made the reaching of a resolution on Cyprus more urgent and vital for Ankara, since it does not accept the Greek Cypriot administration on the island.
Greek and Turkish Cypriots are engaged in the latest round of UN-backed talks for a reunification that has defied a solution for decades. Former Turkish Cypriot President Mehmet Ali Talat and Greek Cypriot leader Dimitris Christofias first initiated negotiations in September 2008 to find a peaceful settlement to the decades-long conflict.
However, no significant progress has been achieved thus far. Turkey and Turkish Cypriots want a quick end to the talks, while Greek Cypriots reject the setting of a deadline. Cyprus was divided when Turkey intervened after Greece tried to take over the island in 1974. Greek Cypriots represent the island internationally and in the EU, while Turkey is the only country to recognize the KKTC, which unilaterally declared its independence in 1983.
Although priority for Ankara is finding of a solution that will lead to a reunified Cyprus which will take over the rotating presidency of the EU in mid-2012; the Turkish capital, on the other hand, is also implementing assistance programs which will help the KKTC to stand on its own feet.
In Ankara on Monday, following a meeting with his Turkish Cypriot counterpart Sunat Atun, Energy Minister Taner Yıldız told reporters that his ministry had prepared a master plan and designed a program that could meet the energy needs of the whole of Cyprus by 2023.
Remarking that KKTC started to supply electricity to Greek Cypriot side this week, Yıldız said that it should be considered like humanitarian assistance.
Yıldız said that they recommended the setting up of a “joint transmission center” for the two sides of Cyprus regarding electricity energy in the master plan, adding that if such a center had been established to date, the Greek Cypriot side would not be experiencing this current electricity shortage.
Meanwhile, Atun said that KKTC was providing 16 megawatts of electricity at night and 20 megawatts in the daytime for the Greek Cypriot people.
Greek Cypriots have faced rolling blackouts since Monday, following the massive detonation of dozens of seized gunpowder-filled containers from Iran, which were being stored at a Cyprus naval base, killed 13 people and knocked out a key power station.
Protest and enthusiasm
In January, the Turkish Cypriot government imposed 40 percent salary cuts on its bloated civil service and announced plans to sell off its telecommunications and electricity providers and privatize a university.
Relations between Turkey and the KKTC became strained after an anti-Turkey protest in the KKTC. “Ankara, take your hands off us; this land is ours, we will run it” and “Ankara, we don’t want your money or [austerity] package” were some of the messages the protesters displayed on placards on Jan. 28. Protests by labor unions, supported by opposition parties in the KKTC, were against an austerity package that included plans to cut entry-level salaries by 40 percent and raise taxes. Turkish Cypriot and Turkish officials have said Turkish Cyprus spends 84 percent of its budget on government payroll and pensions and warned it could go bankrupt by the end of the year if austerity measures aren’t implemented.
While a preparation committee has been formed for coordinating the greeting of Erdoğan at Ercan Airport, a counter move came from a union which said it would stage a three-hour protest at Ercan Airport Traffic Control Center on Tuesday.
“We are very glad that the prime minister will pay his first official visit abroad to KKTC. We are preparing to welcome a world leader,” Adem Koç, the head of the preparation committee was quoted as saying by the Anatolia news agency on Monday. He stressed that Erdoğan would be welcomed with Turkish Cypriot hospitality.
Also Monday, Ahmet Kaptan, head of the Cyprus Turkish Public Servants’ Union, announced that they will stage a strike from 4 p.m. to 7 p.m on Tuesday, during which they would only provide services for ambulances and military planes.
“[Erdoğan] insulted the Turkish Cypriot people and considers Turkish Cypriot people second class,” Kaptan was quoted as saying, as he underlined that the strike is “aimed at protesting” Erdoğan.
Speaking to reporters after a Cabinet meeting on Monday, government spokesperson and Deputy Prime Minister Bülent Arınç said Erdoğan’s visit to Turkish Cyprus is an important trip, recalling Turkish Cypriot President Derviş Eroğlu’s visit to Turkey, when he briefed the government on ongoing talks with Greek Cyprus to reunify the long-divided island.