Cyprus talks and refreshed hopes for solution by Mehmet Hasgüler*
Illustration: Cem Kızıltuğ
Cyprus talks seem to have been reheated with the new proposals made during the opening of the United Nations General Assembly in the third week of September.
Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus (KKTC) President Derviş Eroğlu and the KKTC's new foreign minister, Özdil Nami, who was accompanying him, made some remarks that evoked hope. The secretary-general's special adviser on Cyprus, Alexander Downer, paid a visit to Cyprus this week. He will meet both presidents and special representatives of both sides, trying to delineate the new roadmap for the next meeting between the two presidents. Will Cyprus see a new and accelerated solution process that will be bound to a schedule (settlement) this fall season? It is quite expected for those who closely study and monitor the Cyprus issue to see these developments as signs of an extremely familiar and ordinary process.
In or near the region, civil wars are devastating the Arab world, and Syria is suffering from a deplorable tragedy. But many years have passed since the sectarian wars in Cyprus. In particular, after the border gates were opened in April 2003 and passage through these gates started, a number of peace talks were held and even a UN plan was referred to a referendum. About 10 years have passed since this plan, known as the Annan plan. Yet the possibility of holding another referendum on the 10th anniversary of this plan has recently come to the agenda. Let us wait and see.
The novel aspect of the Cyprus talks is that the representatives of both sides have agreed to meet representatives of Athens and Ankara. Both Ankara and Athens have been enjoying a continued, albeit limited, interest in their kin in Cyprus since December 1963. In this regard, the Cyprus issue now faces a novelty. Both countries are actually the guarantors for two communities and states. But the negative role Greece had assumed in connection with the developments during the "civil war" has not been pardoned in the consciousness of Turkish Cypriots, and it must be noted that the long partition process that started in 1974 has not been condoned by Greek Cypriots.
In this respect, the inclusion of both "motherlands" in the talks is of special importance. Ankara and Athens have played a constructive role in paving the way for this opportunity. For a win-win situation, Ankara and Athens must act with extreme care. In addition, while it is an oft-touted claim that the settlement of the Cyprus issue will help boost Turkish-Greek relations, the reverse is true. That is, a serious change of the paradigm in Turkish-Greek ties will make a positive impact on the solution of the Cyprus issue, accelerating the settlement. In this context, the involvement of Ankara and Athens in the process will help Turkish and Greek leaderships in Lefkoşa (Nicosia) feel more secure and the issue will be discussed on firmer ground.
Cyprus has both positive and negative examples for a new settlement process in the fall. One reason is that the extremely serious financial crisis in South Cyprus is increasingly dealing a heavy blow to the daily lives of the people. Small businesses are continually going out of business. Small businesses in Northern Cyprus are suffering from similar problems, though not as serious as in South Cyprus. Those businessmen who have been imprisoned due to the ban on the use of checks are currently on the country's agenda.
Northern Cyprus' new government
Meanwhile, a new government has been established in Northern Cyprus. The most distinguishing characteristic of the new government is that two parties that were in office during the period between 2003 and 2005 have assumed office once again. It would be an interesting coincidence if the recent talks lead to a second referendum.
The role Deputy Prime Minister Serdar Denktaş plays within the government is important in that he closely knows the past process. There is one difference: Eroğlu, who is influential over all the right-wing voters, is now president. For the time being, it seems, the new prime minister, Özkan Yorgancıoğlu, and Denktaş are enjoying friendly relations both inside the government and with the president, and they have agreed to act in concert for settlement.
This positive climate implies that the domestic political scene in the KKTC will soon be normalized. While many reforms need to be made in the political scene in the KKTC, this positive atmosphere concerning the stances adopted by the government and president will certainly be an advantage for Turkish Cypriots. It can be safely argued in light of these facts that a strong political willpower for settlement will soon emerge in the KKTC. We can further suggest that if Eroğlu manages the settlement process and the government effectively backs this process, the public will lend strong support to a referendum.
The question here is whether Nicos Anastasiades will choose to adopt a new role, as the solution cannot be attained due to the "maximalist" policies pursued for many years despite economic problems in South Cyprus. This is actually an important point for the sake of the success of negotiations. One reason why the peace talks have failed since 1968 is that one of the sides is always unwilling to jettison their "macro" expectations in the "micro" island. There is an explanatory link between "der Narzißmus der kleinen Differenzen” (the narcissism of small differences) as Sigmund Freud put it and the Church's "sphere of influence" over Greek Cypriot leaders. As a matter of fact, this narcissism is a major departure point for maximalist leaderships.
Let us hope that leaders will take into consideration the future of the island as they formulate a new dynamic and efficient political process for the peace talks. The solution, of course, may not come solely in the form of a federalist integration. In this context, it should be noted that Anastasiades is more flexible and creative with respect to other leaders. Of course, both sides may not be eager to show the cards at the beginning of the negotiations, but it is obvious that a delay in the settlement process will invite new risks concerning the fate of this small island. The fact that Anastasiades has recently indicated that the Republic of Cyprus has grown older and it must be renewed is an important attitude. For him to have waged a pro-“yes" campaign in the referendum held on April 24, 2004 lends him positive legitimacy.
Greek Cypriots may be more eager to share state power
Greek Cypriot political elites should have come to the point of agreeing to share the state power with Turkish Cypriots through a power-sharing mechanism in the establishment of the country's future. Another advantage for the new round of talks is, having shared power with EU institutions for the last 10 years, Greek Cypriots may be more eager to share state power with Turkish Cypriots.
The search for conciliation in Cyprus cannot be pursued with the Munich syndrome. As leaders who are guided by this syndrome, Nikolaou Papadopoulos and Dimitris Christofias always adopted a negative stance toward settlement and conciliation. At the root of this syndrome is the prerequisite or thesis that all sorts of conciliation will be rotten. A closer look at Greek Cypriot leaders will reveal that all of them, except Georgios Vasos Vassiliou, suffer from this syndrome. In Northern Cyprus, the late Rauf Denktaş had come under the influence of this syndrome during the 2004 settlement process and in his later years. I think it would not be wrong to say that Greek Cypriot leaderships are further governed by an urge to take revenge for the tragedy of 1974 through negotiations.
When these vengeful attitudes and perceptions take hold of political leaderships, this actually paves the way for deadlock and deterioration. Any attempt for settlement will breed a lack of solution if it is governed by sentiments of revenge.
As Avishai Margalit noted, it is best for the success of talks if parties adopt the second best approach for the sake of conciliation. Of course, if conciliation is attained with an anything-goes approach, this may be worse than the status quo. A fair and livable solution in Cyprus can be attained if these two theses are read with a stereoscopic perspective.
*Mehmet Hasgüler is an associate professor at Çanakkale Onsekiz Mart University.