Global Analysis from the European Perspective. Preparing for the world of tomorrow

Blame Games in Cyprus: What About a Solution?

Guest author: Mirko Spasic

The political pain of Cyprus continues to this day, unabated. The island remains divided and the wounds of the Turkish invasion of 1974 and subsequent occupation are still very much yet to heal. So, in the midst of the Byzantine politics that define contemporary Cyprus, from time to time, a stand out name arises.

In this instance, we need to look at Mustafa Akinci, current Turkish Cypriot leader. Particularly so, as he remains a notable figure in the face of the latest political machinations and trickery being dreamt up between President Anastasiades, the President of Republic of Cyprus, and Ankara.

A long-time advocate of Cypriot reunification and avowed social democrat, Akinci brings a long and respected pedigree to the politics of Cyprus. He became Mayor of the Nicosia Turkish Municipality in 1976 at the age of just 28 and served in that role until 1990. Subsequent to that, among other things, Akinci served in the Assembly of the so called TRNC for 16 years and established the Peace and Democracy Movement political party. In April 2015, he took 60.38% of the vote to become leader of Turkish Cypriots, handsomely beating Dervis Eroglu’s 39.62%.1)Mustafa Akinci wins northern Cyprus presidential election, The Guardian 2015-04-27.

On assuming power, Akinci brought a breath of fresh air to the movement for the reunification of Cyprus. In doing so, he underscored the desire of the vast majority of Cypriots for normalcy to return to the island with an effective solution for Cyprus.

“Anastasiades was quick to congratulate Akinci, who spent years in the political wilderness, calling him personally on [just after the election]…The Republic of Cyprus welcomes the choice of Mustafa Akinci as the leader of the Turkish Cypriot community, a man who through his public discourse and declarations, has referred to the need for reunification of the country…”2)Mustafa Akinci wins northern Cyprus presidential election, The Guardian 2015-04-27.

While that held at least some semblance of promise for the future, one of course also needs to factor Turkey into the equation. Akinci has long had a precarious relationship with Ankara. This has, predictably, only worsened with the rise to power of President Erdoğan in recent years. Erdoğan’s strongman tactics and bullying emanate from Ankara and cover all points of the compass.

“Just a day after he was elected, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan attacked him for calling for “brotherly relations” with Turkey rather than one of a “mother” and her “child”. Erdoğan had warned Akinci to watch what he said and not forget that Ankara financed the Turkish Cypriots.”3)CYPRUS: Akinci left alone to face Ankara’s bullying, Financial Mirror 2019-02-09.

Still, Akinci is not afraid to go toe-toe with Ankara and advocate for what he knows to be right. His response to that verbal blast from Erdoğan?

“I am behind everything I have said,” responded Akinci on live Turkish TV. “Not only am I aware of what I am saying, but I say it with my conscience, my heart and my mind.”4)CYPRUS: Akinci left alone to face Ankara’s bullying, Financial Mirror 2019-02-09.

A federal solution for the island is still the preferred option of all the major players: the United Nations, the European Union, Greece, Turkey, the United States and the United Kingdom.5)Cyprus: Options for a Solution, International Policy Digest 2018-10-02.

A clear distinction needs to be drawn between a federal solution and a confederal or “loose federal” solution, as they are two very different things and hold very different ramifications for the people of Cyprus.

“The basic difference between a confederation and a federation is that the former does not constitute a state on its own. It is a union of sovereign states, members of the UN, with the purpose of formulating an agreement that cedes to common institutions the decision-making on certain specified issues such as defence, foreign trade etc.

In a federation, the exact opposite happens. The only state is the federation and not its component states, which in the case of Cyprus would be the two states as they are called in the US, or cantons as they are called in Switzerland or districts as they are called in Canada. It should be underlined that there is no text-book model of a federation that is uniformly implemented in the 20 federal states in which 40 per cent of the earth’s population lives.”6)A federation explained, Cyprus Mail 2016-11-06.

The result of a “loose federation” or confederation for Cyprus would be both seismic and deeply troubling. It would effectively drive the two parts of the island further apart than ever before. Northern Cyprus would gravitate ever closer to Ankara’s orbit. That of course would fit perfectly well with Turkeys’ self-styled regional “strongman”, President Erdoğan.

Let there be no doubt: a loose federation is effectively separation. It would allow for Turkey to intensify its occupation on the island. Since 1974, Ankara has already ensured the demographic morphing of Northern Cyprus. Pro-unification, modern, secular European Turkish-Cypriots have become a minority in the north because of Turkey’s aggressive post-invasion policy of effectively repopulating the area with Anatolian Turks. Consequently, many Turkish-Cypriots have been left with no option other than to leave the island for good. There are similar echoes here with the illegal Israeli occupation of the Palestinian territories, using settlers to be the vanguard of effective colonization by stealth. It is an old-school oppression tactic that has very few and sinful examples remained today in the modern world in places such as Tibet and Crimea.

Crucially, a federal solution was also the long-held position of Anastasiades – until recently. In a move that Machiavelli himself would have been proud of, Anastasiades has pulled the rug from under all of those looking for a federal solution by proposing the merits of a “loose” (con)federation for Cyprus. What made this so seemingly underhanded was that Anastasiades made overtures about this in a closed-door, private meeting with Turkish foreign minister Mevlut Cavusoglu.

“Recently Anastasiades had a meeting in private with Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu. What was discussed has been kept private. But in principal, Turkey is not against the idea of a confederation or partition.”7)Anastasiades Criticised on Idea of ‘Loose Federation’, LGC News 2018-11-29.

In October 2018, Anastasiades confirmed to party leaders that he now favored:

“…a loose federation or confederation, which meant a small central state with few authorities and most powers residing with the two constituent states.”8)Our View: So now we want the Denktash option after all, Cyprus Mail 2018-10-11.

This then becomes a historic moment in the history of Cyprus because a “loose federation”, “decentralized federation” or “confederation” or the same set-up by any other name has always been opposed by the vast majority of Cypriots and outside actors too – including crucially the United Nations. When longtime “puppet” of Ankara, so-called founding President of Northern Cyprus, Rauf Denktash, advocated for a confederal solution for Cyprus, he was roundly condemned. Tellingly, in his early years in power, even President Erdoğan put distance between him and Denktash and maintained, at least then, his support for reunification.

Further, Cavusoglu let it be known that in behind closed doors, Anastasiades had actually offered to legally separate the island if the Turks would remove their army from the island. It would seem that Anastasiades is now more than happy to talk with the Turkish “occupier” directly, to the detriment of all of Cyprus and the likes of Akinci.

Akinci has therefore now found himself effectively standing alone. Anastasiades is seemingly content to undermine Akinci and Turkey is moving to isolate him both politically and from future reunification talks. Regardless, Akinci has shown that he is prepared to stick to his guns.

“Contrary to popular belief, the communication between Akinci and Ankara was not a one-way channel where Ankara dictated and Akinci delivered. There were harsh, hours-long bargains behind closed doors with President Erdoğan especially in the territory and guarantees topics…He even threatened a couple of times to leave the negotiation table if Ankara would stick to maximalist positions.”9)Akinci: A lone fighter who won’t give up, Cyprus Mail 2019-02-03.

Akinci and Anastasiades’ relationship is now of course irreversibly altered for the worse. While some see Akinci as being politically naïve, that is hard to fathom given his political pedigree and the adroit balancing act he walks when representing Northern Cyprus while simultaneously working with a disapproving Ankara, something he has been doing for years.

Rather, this is more of a reflection of Anastasiades’ lack of scruples, principles and honor. Akinci put good faith into Anastasiades, only to find that the favor was not returned.

“Akinci puts a lot of faith in people he trusts, stressed Kahvecioglu [A confidant and friend of Akinci]. He trusted Anastasiades a lot. He first and foremost saw him as a friend, and then a political counterpart. He trusted that they could overcome any political differences through their friendship.”10)Akinci: A lone fighter who won’t give up, Cyprus Mail 2019-02-03.

The last thing that Cyprus needs now is more political duplicity and shifting sands. Anastasiades should really reflect long and hard on just exactly what he has seemingly unilaterally dreamt up here. Even more so given the current nature of government that sits in Ankara. The people of Cyprus deserve better.

Add to that the absence of anything remotely close to having a mandate for loose federation from the bulk of citizens in Cyprus, and one really begins to wonder if Anastasiades is looking for his place in Cypriot history books, but for all the wrong reasons.

Akinci on the other hand seems set to be remembered for his principles, courageousness and willingness, when necessary, to go it alone.

While we talk about all these federation, loose federation and confederation drama, we have to mention one more important side of this picture. They are the Cypriots who believe the “unitary” state. One of the biggest advocate movement for this view is the organization called “Union of Cypriots”. Union of Cypriots organization roots back to organizations called the World Union of Turkish-speaking Cypriots and an old youth organization called LINOBAMBAKI. Their argument is mostly based on the fact that Turkey’s oppression against Turkish-speaking Cypriots reached its peak and Ankara’s demographic change policy of Cyprus will cause fatal problems for any kind of solution in the near future. So they believe that demanding to turn back to what they already have, which is unitary Republic of Cyprus is the only way to end this tragedy.

President of the Union of Cypriots, Oz Karahan says “except a unitary state, all solutions including federal one just means continuity of Turkey’s influence on the island. Today, Turkish-Cypriots are just ten percent of the population in the occupied areas. Rest is illegal Turkish settlers who came from Anatolia after the occupation. Other than Turkish Army’s presence in the island, all this settlers are like freikorps of Turkey who are getting used as an instrument to socially, culturally and economically oppress Turkish-speaking Cypriots”.

When we asked Karahan what he thinks about this status-quo, his replied: “In five to ten years there will not be any Cypriot left in the north but there will be around two million of illegal Turkish settlers. Then, all Cypriots and politicians that they choose who are playing blame games and political tricks with thinking that they are earning time will realize that they lost everything. First the Turkish-speaking Cypriots will have to leave their homeland, then maybe in twenty-thirty years our Greek-speaking Cypriot brothers will have to leave. Trapping into a remote island with millions of Anatolians, how long they think that they can defend themselves, I do not know. But the only thing that I know is that if we do not turn back to the 1960 constitution and start from there again with demanding all illegal Turkish settlers and Turkish army to leave the island, Cyprus is not going to belong to Cypriots in near history(?). To prevent this from happening, both Cypriot communities have their obligations.”

When we even try to talk about Cypriot politics, it is complicated enough. Solving problems of a small community who is politically polarized even within itself, it is almost impossible. It’s been forty-five years since the onset of Turkish occupation. And today, what we have is a half EU country, a Cyprus issue puzzle and a Turkish-speaking Cypriot community which is trying to exist in its homeland against all the oppression of Turkey, which is almost like a bloodless genocide. We have to underline one more time this last factor, since all main actors in this game are trying to avoid it. We are talking about serious ethnic replacement activities by Turkey, which is and will be affecting destiny of the island forever, both in a social and a political way. This real subject does not come to the table often and everybody tries to ignore it while unreal “peace” negotiations go on for decades. But we have to think about what Europe loses from this ignorance. If everything continues how it is, the answer for this will be one of its territory and one of its community.

References   [ + ]

1, 2. Mustafa Akinci wins northern Cyprus presidential election, The Guardian 2015-04-27.
3, 4. CYPRUS: Akinci left alone to face Ankara’s bullying, Financial Mirror 2019-02-09.
5. Cyprus: Options for a Solution, International Policy Digest 2018-10-02.
6. A federation explained, Cyprus Mail 2016-11-06.
7. Anastasiades Criticised on Idea of ‘Loose Federation’, LGC News 2018-11-29.
8. Our View: So now we want the Denktash option after all, Cyprus Mail 2018-10-11.
9, 10. Akinci: A lone fighter who won’t give up, Cyprus Mail 2019-02-03.

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