Election result boosts Turkey’s two-state plan for Cyprus
Incumbent Prime Minister Ersin Tatar was elected as the new president of Turkish Cyprus in a run-off election held last week. Tatar’s National Unity Party favors Turkish nationalism on the island.
Mustafa Akinci, the outgoing president, has had no official party affiliation since 2015. He is in favor of the establishment of a federal state on the basis of political equality of the Turkish and Greek Cypriots. During the election campaign, he publicly complained about Ankara’s direct intervention in backing Tatar. Turks from the motherland who are naturalized Turkish Cypriot citizens played an important role in the outcome of the election.
The Cyprus conflict has had several stages, but the present situation came about following a 1974 military coup carried out on the island by the junta that was in power in Greece. The junta ousted Archbishop Makarios III, the elected president, and aimed to annex Cyprus.
When Turkey failed to persuade the two other guarantor powers — the UK and Greece — to stop the annexation, it used its own guarantor power, which stemmed from the London and Zurich Agreements of 1959 and 1960, to carry out a military operation in Cyprus. This stopped the annexation of the island to Greece, but Cyprus has been divided ever since.
There is a strong interaction between the Turkish Cypriot elections and Turkey’s domestic politics.
In the early years of the 21st century, then-UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan drafted a plan for the resolution of the Cyprus conflict. The Turkish Cypriots were opposed to it because they thought it was making disproportionate concessions to the Greek Cypriots.
The EU strongly supported the Annan Plan and used it as an enticement for progress in Turkey’s accession process to the bloc. It asked President Recep Tayyip Erdogan to encourage the Turkish Cypriots to vote in favor of the plan. The opposition parties in Turkey disagreed with the EU suggestion and warned Erdogan not to lobby for its approval by the Turkish Cypriots. Erdogan thought that, instead of leading the Turkish Cypriot community from behind, he should take the lead and back the Annan Plan. He thus thought that he could contribute both to the resolution of the Cyprus problem and facilitate Turkey’s accession to the EU. So he turned a deaf ear to the suggestions of the opposition parties and lobbied in favor of the Annan Plan in the Turkish community of Cyprus.
The Annan Plan was put to a referendum on April 24, 2004: The Greek Cypriots rejected it, while the Turkish Cypriots, following Erdogan’s advice, voted in favor. The irony occurred when, just a week later, the EU admitted the Greek Cypriots who voted against the bloc’s suggestion as a full member state, while leaving out the Turkish Cypriots who voted in line with its advice. This was because northern Cyprus is not recognized as a state by the EU.
This caused devastating disillusionment for Erdogan and reconfirmed his belief that the EU was a “Christian club.” Ever since, he has believed that the Greek Cypriots, now that they are a member of the EU, have no incentive to recognize the Turkish Cypriots as politically equal partners on the island.
As a result of this background, two different approaches have emerged among the Turkish Cypriots: One is to make some additional concessions to the Greek Cypriots and reunite the island under a federal government, which would allow the Turkish Cypriots to become EU citizens; the other presumes that a federal structure would function against their interests, as it did in the past. Therefore, Tatar, together with mainland Turkey, believes it would be more realistic to work for a two-state solution.
In addition, there is a strong interaction between the Turkish Cypriot elections and Turkey’s domestic politics. Turkey’s ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) is in dire need of a success story to boost its popularity ahead of the next general election, which is scheduled for 2023. This support is important both for the ruling party and the far-right Nationalist Movement Party (MHP). The latter is not a coalition partner but, without its support, the AKP is unlikely to secure a parliamentary majority. Therefore, the government will do anything to promote a two-state solution for Cyprus, which would be very popular among the nationalistic segments of Turkey’s electorate and would benefit both the ruling party and the MHP.
The two-state solution would eventually aim at putting an end to the Republic of Cyprus as it stands today. The EU may oppose it but, with its leverage over Turkey reduced to almost zero, the process of estrangement is likely to follow its own course unless the Greek Cypriots reverse their policy regarding the Turkish Cypriots as citizens with restricted rights.
* Yasar Yakis is a former foreign minister of Turkey and founding member of the ruling AK Party. Twitter: @yakis_yasar