Erdogan’s two-state demand puts the jinx on planned UN-led Cyprus meeting

   A 2004 UN plan overseen by former secretary-general Kofi Annan to solve the Cyprus issue proved popular with Turkish Cypriots, but was rejected by most of their Greek neighbors. (AFP)
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A 2004 UN plan overseen by former secretary-general Kofi Annan to solve the Cyprus issue proved popular with Turkish Cypriots, but was rejected by most of their Greek neighbors. (AFP)
The status of the Cypriot National Guard is an issue for both of Cyprus’ ethnic groups. (AFP)
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The status of the Cypriot National Guard is an issue for both of Cyprus’ ethnic groups. (AFP)
Erdogan’s two-state demand puts the jinx on planned UN-led Cyprus meeting
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Erdogan’s two-state demand puts the jinx on planned UN-led Cyprus meeting
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Erdogan’s two-state demand puts the jinx on planned UN-led Cyprus meeting
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Erdogan’s two-state demand puts the jinx on planned UN-led Cyprus meeting
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Updated 14 February 2021

Erdogan’s two-state demand puts the jinx on planned UN-led Cyprus meeting

Erdogan’s two-state demand puts the jinx on planned UN-led Cyprus meeting
  • Diplomatic initiative on reunification of ethnically divided island faces hurdles before it can even take off
  • Cyprus government rejects discussion of two-state formula as it implies Turkish Cypriot sovereign authority

RIYADH/LONDON: Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s recent assertion that the only way to resolve the Cyprus dispute is a two-state solution may have just muddied the waters further, rather than helping resolve Europe’s longest-running frozen conflict.

By rejecting the reunification of Cyprus under a two-zone federal umbrella, long favored by Greece and the UN, the Turkish leader has purposely raised the stakes in the run-up to a UN-led meeting to assess the possibility of resuming talks.

Erdogan’s comments also came shortly after the leaders of Greece and Cyprus said they would only accept a peace deal based on UN resolutions, rejecting the two-state formula supported by his government and the Turkish Cypriot leadership.

Greek Cypriots, who make up the EU member’s internationally recognized government, refuse to discuss proposals for a two-state union as it implies Turkish Cypriot sovereign authority.

UN initiatives have failed to break the deadlock since the eastern Mediterranean island underwent a de-facto partition into Greek- and Turkish-speaking zones in 1974, when Turkey invaded and occupied its northern third in response to a coup in Nicosia engineered by the Greek junta.

The last UN-sponsored negotiations at the Swiss ski resort of Crans Montana came to naught in July 2017, going the way of the talks brokered by then UN chief Kofi Annan in 2004. For the March meeting, the UN is expected to invite Cyprus’ two communities as well as foreign ministers from the three guarantor nations – Greece, Turkey and Britain – to discuss how to move forward on the issue.

“Cyprus has been a quagmire for every UN secretary-general since the 1970s and (current UN Secretary-General Antonio) Guterres will be no exception,” Dimitris Tsarouhas, professor of international relations at Turkey's Bilkent University, told Arab News.

“The parameters of a solution are known to all parties involved: a bi-zonal, bi-communal state that will incorporate international law provisions for the protection of the rights of all, and be functional enough to make it all work. Maximalist positions on both sides meant that golden opportunities were lost at Crans Montana in 2017 and during the Annan Plan in 2004.”

But then again, the rivalry runs deep. Greek Cypriots reject granting veto powers to Turkish Cypriots, and oppose both permanent troop presence and the continuation of military intervention rights by Turkey.

For its part, Turkey not only rejects suggestions of a federation between the two zones, it is also asking for hydrocarbon resources in the eastern Mediterranean to be shared. Last month, Greek and Turkish officials met in Istanbul after a five-year gap for exploratory talks on a raft of long-standing issues, including the status of Cyprus.

Conflicting claims to Cyprus’ political status and natural resources go back more than a century. Cyprus was annexed by Britain in 1914 at the conclusion of the First World War, following more than 300 years of Ottoman rule, and officially became a British colony in 1925.

Then, in the mid-1950s, Greek Cypriots launched a guerrilla war against British rule, demanding unification with Greece.

Independence was won in 1960 and a constitution agreed on by the island’s Greek and Turkish communities. Under the Treaty of Guarantee, the UK, Greece and Turkey each retained the right to intervene in Cypriot affairs, while Britain kept hold of two military bases.

IN NUMBERS

1.28 million Total population of Cyprus.

$35 billion GDP (purchasing power parity).

Harmony was short-lived, however. Inter-communal violence erupted in 1963 when the president, the clergyman cum politician Archbishop Makarios, suggested changes to the island’s power-sharing arrangements. The following year, a UN peace-keeping force arrived and delineated the “Green Line.”

Events moved quickly in 1974 when Greece’s military junta orchestrated a coup against Makarios in an attempt to annex Cyprus. The consequent deployment of Turkish troops on the island’s north effectively partitioned the island along the UN-policed Green Line.

While an estimated 165,000 Greek Cypriots fled south, about 45,000 Turkish Cypriots relocated to the north, where they established their own independent administration with Rauf Denktash as president. Despite a unanimous UN Security Council resolution, Turkey has refused to withdraw its troops from Cyprus.

Fresh attempts at UN-sponsored talks in the early 1980s were dashed when Denktash proclaimed an independent “Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus” — an entity recognized only by Turkey to date.

Open conflict loomed in the 1990s when the Greek Cypriot government considered purchasing a Russian-made S-300 missile defense system — a move quickly dropped when Turkey threatened military action.

Repeated failures of diplomacy and the accompanying rhetoric of ethnic nationalism have taught political analysts to manage their expectations.

“Recent electoral results in northern Cyprus have strengthened hardliners there — and they are themselves benefiting from Erdogan’s material and ideological support,” Tsarouhas told Arab News. “For the first time, Turkish Cypriots now claim that a two-state solution is the only way forward, and Erdogan echoes that. This means the partition of the island.

“On the other hand, it is equally true that Greek Cypriots have missed their opportunities to push for a successful resolution of the problem in the past, so they are not in a hurry. They have never been, since 1974.”

Stavros Avgoustides, ambassador of Cyprus to Saudi Arabia, rejects the claim that the Greek Cypriot side has also mishandled the issue and places the blame squarely on Turkey.




Turkey has been carrying out exploration and drilling operations for oil and gas in the Mediterranean Sea despite protests from Cyprus and Greece. (AFP)

“The failure of successive efforts to achieve a solution was fundamentally due to Turkey’s insistence to maintain Cyprus as a protectorate through the obsolete post-colonial system of guarantees and the presence of Turkish troops on Cyprus’ soil,” Avgoustides told Arab News.

“Cyprus has ended up being ‘ethnically divided’ as a result of the 1974 Turkish military invasion and occupation and the policy of ethnic cleansing executed by Turkey against the people of Cyprus.”

Judging by the statements coming from Ankara, it is obvious that ruling party politicians have nothing to lose by adopting a harder line ahead of the UN-led meeting. “There is no longer any solution but a two-state solution,” Erdogan told a meeting of his Justice and Development Party (AKP) last week. “Whether you accept it or not, there is no federation anymore.”

A day later, in an interview with TRT Haber, Ibrahim Kalin, the presidential spokesman, expanded on his boss’s statement. “We cannot discuss the things we discussed for 40 years for another 40 years,” he said.

“Now, this issue will be discussed under the UN’s roof. It will be discussed at the 5+1 talks. We will now be discussing a two-state solution.”

The remarks by Erdogan and Kalin came shortly after Kyriakos Mitsotakis, the Greek prime minister of Greece, said that “significant” talks to reunify Cyprus could not be resumed if Turkey insists on a two-state accord that disregards the UN and EU framework for a peace deal.

Even if next month’s meeting goes ahead as planned, a successful outcome is far from guaranteed. After all, with the new millennium had come renewed impetus to resolve the dispute, led by Annan. The 2002 road map — known as the Annan Plan — envisaged a federation with two constituent parts, presided over by a rotating presidency.

If the Greek and Turkish Cypriot sides agreed to the plan, Cyprus was to be offered EU membership. If they failed, only the internationally recognized Greek Cypriot south would be permitted to join.

The Annan Plan was put to the Cypriot public in twin referendums in 2004. Although it won support among Turkish Cypriots, it was overwhelmingly rejected by Greek Cypriots, thus compounding the situation.

Animosity between the two sides deepened in 2011 when Cyprus began exploratory drilling for oil and gas. Turkey responded the following year with its own drilling onshore in northern Cyprus despite protests from the Cypriot government. In a parallel development, UN-sponsored reunification talks launched in 2015 again ended inconclusively in July 2017.




The election last year of the staunchly pro-Ankara anti-reunification nationalist Ersin Tatar as the new Turkish Cyprus president has made the UN-backed peace vision seem ever more unrealistic. (AFP)

Then, in Oct. 2020, anti-reunification nationalist Ersin Tatar narrowly won the Turkish Cypriot presidency, making the UN-backed vision for peace seem even more unviable. With the Turkish side backing Ankara’s demand for a two-state formula, expectations of a deal based on the UN resolutions being reached are low.

As far as the Greek Cypriots are concerned, the terms have not changed, according to Ambassador Avgoustides. “We are committed to the continuation of negotiations with the aim of achieving a solution of a bi-zonal, bi-communal federation as provided in the relevant UN resolutions,” he told Arab News.

“We earnestly hope that the same level of commitment will be displayed by all involved.”

A solution must “fully respect the basic rights and fundamental freedoms of all Cypriots, that will free Cyprus from foreign guarantors and from the presence of foreign troops, and will render it fully able to exercise its role as a beacon of peace and stability in the eastern Mediterranean.”

As things stand, whether the two competing visions for the future of Cyprus can be reconciled in the near future is an open question.

___________

Twitter: @NoorNugali

@RobertPEdwards

 


Turkish lawyer held for ‘insulting the president’ with tweet

Turkish lawyer held for ‘insulting the president’ with tweet
Updated 2 min 16 sec ago

Turkish lawyer held for ‘insulting the president’ with tweet

Turkish lawyer held for ‘insulting the president’ with tweet
  • Police raided Mert Yasar’s house on Tuesday and detained the lawyer after an investigation by the Istanbul chief public prosecutor’s office

ISTANBUL: A Turkish lawyer has been arrested and charged with “insulting the president” over a controversial tweet that included sexist remarks directed at ruling Justice and Development Party MP Ozlem Zengin. 

Police raided Mert Yasar’s house on Tuesday and detained the lawyer after an investigation by the Istanbul chief public prosecutor’s office.  

Zengin sparked widespread anger recently with dismissive comments on alleged human rights violations and strip searches in Turkish prisons, ridiculing the claims of dozens of conservative women who said they had been subjected to intrusive searches in recent years. 

“An honorable woman, a woman with morals, wouldn’t wait a year (before complaining). This is an imaginary narrative,” Zengin said on Feb. 19. 

Amid public debate on the topic, Zengin said that women were falling pregnant on orders from various “illegal” groups seeking to trigger public anger over babies growing up in prisons.

“These people are having babies upon directives so that they can assert ‘there are pregnant women or women with babies in jails’,” she said on Feb. 21.

Yasar responded to this latest statement with a furious tweet, targeting the MP: “If the presidential cabinet is given the right of the first night, will Ozlem Zengin close her mouth?” he tweeted, sparking anger among women’s rights activists from all sides of politics. 

Fahrettin Altun, presidential communications director, immediately issued a statement urging the “independent Turkish judiciary to punish this creature named Mert Yaşar in the severest way possible.”

“What will the opposition do in the face of this dishonor? They will, most probably, hide their heads in the sand. We will follow it up,” he said. 

Yasar was arrested on charges of insulting the president according to Article 299 of the Turkish penal code — which critics say points to the disproportionate use of this clause since his tweet targeted an MP, not the president himself. 

Article 299 stipulates that the person who insults the president shall be punished by imprisonment from one to four years, and if the crime is committed publicly, the punishment will be increased by one to six years.

Between 2014 and 2019, about 128,872 investigations were carried out into alleged insults against President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, with prosecutors launching about 27,700 criminal cases.

A total of 9,556 defendants were sentenced by Turkish courts, while about 900 minors aged between 12 and 17 also appeared before the court on the same charge. 

“The politicization of the judiciary continues with unlawful arrest and false accusation,” rights activist Nesibe Kiris said. 

Several female politicians and right activists offered examples of their personal experiences with insults that failed to lead to criminal proceedings, sparking debate about the “politically motivated” implementation of such penal clauses. 

“All kinds of insults, threats, sexist attacks on me and all opposing women are free and even they provide a reason for a decision of non-prosecutions. But when it comes to an AKP politician, it becomes a reason for his arrest. It is a tailor-made judiciary. The people’s scales of conscience will weigh all of you when the day comes,” Canan Kaftancioglu, Istanbul head of the opposition Republican People’s Party tweeted. 

A group of lawyers issued a message in support of Yasar, saying that his arrest “is the continuation of the judicial practice that makes decisions under the pressure of social media and political power.”

The arrest was also attacked as being a warning against any vocal criticisms on social media.


Egypt pledges commitment to war on terror in call with US Secretary of State

Egypt pledges commitment to war on terror in call with US Secretary of State
Updated 13 min 57 sec ago

Egypt pledges commitment to war on terror in call with US Secretary of State

Egypt pledges commitment to war on terror in call with US Secretary of State
  • The call from Blinken was the first official contact Egypt had received from the new American administration of President Joe Biden

CAIRO: Egyptian Minister of Foreign Affairs Sameh Shoukry on Wednesday pledged his country’s commitment to the war on terror during a phone conversation with US Secretary of State Antony Blinken.

The call from Blinken was the first official contact Egypt had received from the new American administration of President Joe Biden.

Shoukry told Blinken that Egypt was keen to build on the progress made over recent decades to develop cooperation between the two countries.

According to an official statement, their talks focused on regional and international issues of joint interest. They also discussed the latest developments in Libya and Palestine, and the need to continue working together to combat terrorism and other challenges and security threats facing the region.

Highlighting the historic partnership between the US and Egypt, the officials agreed to further develop political, economic, and cultural ties while promoting issues related to human rights.

US State Department spokesman, Ned Price, said that Blinken’s call to Shoukry showed the importance that America attached to its strategic partnership with Egypt, especially in the areas of security, combating terrorism, and the exchange of views on regional matters.

However, the statement said that Blinken had raised US concerns over Egypt’s potential procurement of Russian Sukhoi Su-35 fighter aircraft.

During the call, they also discussed support for UN-led Libyan peace negotiations, the Middle East peace process, and cooperation in fighting terrorism in Sinai.


Qatar, Egypt to appoint envoys, resume work of embassies

Qatar, Egypt to appoint envoys, resume work of embassies
Updated 21 min 48 sec ago

Qatar, Egypt to appoint envoys, resume work of embassies

Qatar, Egypt to appoint envoys, resume work of embassies
  • Cairo and Doha thanked Kuwait for hosting the first round of talks between them

CAIRO: Qatar and Egypt have agreed to appointment envoys and reopen their embassies in the wake of the AlUla agreement to mend relations with Doha.

The resolve came after delegations from both countries held talks in Kuwait to plan the normalization of links between the nations.

“The two parties agreed to resume the work of their diplomatic missions … followed by the appointment of an Egyptian ambassador in Doha and a Qatari ambassador in Cairo,” an Egyptian diplomatic source said.

Qatar’s permanent representative to the Arab League, Ibrahim Abdul Aziz Al-Sahlawi, was expected to become Doha’s envoy in Cairo, the source added.

During the meeting in Kuwait, Egypt was said to have set out its conditions for settling relations with Qatar, which included strict demands for Doha not to interfere in Egyptian internal affairs.

The AlUla agreement, signed on Jan. 5 during the Gulf Cooperation Council summit held in the ancient city, saw Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Bahrain, and Egypt restore ties with Qatar, ending a dispute which started in 2017.

A statement from the Egyptian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, said: “The two sides welcomed the measures taken by both countries after signing the AlUla agreement as a step toward building confidence between the two brotherly countries.”

The meeting discussed ways to enhance joint work and bilateral relations in areas including security, stability, and economic development.

Cairo and Doha thanked Kuwait for hosting the first round of talks between them and for its efforts to heal the rift and promote Arab unity.

Egypt’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs recently announced that Cairo and Doha had exchanged two official memoranda agreeing to restore diplomatic relations and on Jan. 18 flights between Egypt and Qatar resumed after having been suspended for more than three years.


Syrian war being forgotten in UK as poll shows growing apathy

The results of a YouGov survey, released on Wednesday, showed only a little more than half (58 percent) of British people were aware the war in Syria was still going on. (Reuters/File Photo)
The results of a YouGov survey, released on Wednesday, showed only a little more than half (58 percent) of British people were aware the war in Syria was still going on. (Reuters/File Photo)
Updated 24 February 2021

Syrian war being forgotten in UK as poll shows growing apathy

The results of a YouGov survey, released on Wednesday, showed only a little more than half (58 percent) of British people were aware the war in Syria was still going on. (Reuters/File Photo)
  • Brits have ‘turned off their minds’ to what is happening in Syria amid increasingly scarce media coverage

LONDON: The civil war in Syria is being forgotten by the British people as apathy toward the decade-long conflict grows, according to a UK-based charity.

The results of a YouGov survey, released on Wednesday, showed only a little more than half (58 percent) of those polled were aware the war was still going on. A spokesman for Syria Relief said Britons have “turned off their minds” to what is happening in the country.

The poll, which marks the upcoming 10th anniversary of the start of the conflict, found 38 percent of 1,753 people questioned in the UK were not sure of the current status of the war, while four percent believed it had ended.

Public awareness of the conflict was higher in August 2019, when a survey found that 77 percent people knew about the conflict, according to Syria Relief.

“I believe that after 10 years the UK has become fatigued about the Syrian crisis because of its protracted nature,” Charles Lawley, head of communications and advocacy at Syria Relief, told Arab News. “They are accepting that this is a place where tragedies happen on a daily basis, so they turn their minds off to it — and this is a great tragedy.

“I think it is a symptom of British society becoming less concerned about issues beyond our own borders and, to be frank, it is almost as if the suffering of Syrians is boring them.”

This year also marks 10 years since the regime of Syrian President Bashar Assad targeted 10 schools and a hospital in attacks that claimed the lives of more than 20 people, more than half of them children, something that would not be tolerated in the UK, Lawley said.

“If this would have happened in Britain it would have been treated akin to our 9/11: a national tragedy that would be remembered for generations,” he said. “Yet because it happened in Syria, no one knows about it.

“We wouldn’t tolerate children being bombed as they sit in the classrooms of British schools so why on earth do we tolerate it in Syria or anywhere else in the world?”

Extensive media coverage of the COVID-19 pandemic and Brexit negotiations has meant that UK national news updates on the Syrian conflict have been increasingly rare in the past few years, which makes the efforts of charities to help the victims of the conflict much harder, Lawley said.

“It is so difficult for organizations like Syria Relief to get the UK or the world to care about suffering and death in Syria,” he said. “When we just allow Syria to be a place where bombs can be dropped on schools or hospitals, we devalue the lives of Syrians.

“But, tragically, our apathy to the plight of the Syrian people compounds their suffering as there is no pressure on governments to act to stop warring parties in the conflict from committing crimes against humanity.

“Ultimately, the British people need to remember that Syrians are people too. Their lives are just as valuable as any human life; the only different between them and (us) is where they were born. They didn’t ask for this.”

While the UK has pledged billions of pounds in aid for Syria since 2012, politicians and the media in the UK need to do more to shine a light on the conflict and the suffering of ordinary Syrians, Lawley said, especially after the government’s recent announcement of cuts to the aid budget.

“The UK government is the third-biggest donor to the Syrian humanitarian aid response and should be proud about the enormous amount of good it is doing to help the people impacted by the conflict,” he said.

“However, with the recent announcement of the government about plans to cut the aid budget, this is making us at Syria Relief, and many of our colleagues in the (nongovernmental organization) community very concerned about what this could mean to the Syrian people — many of whom are some of the most vulnerable people on the globe.

“I think the government should be shouting from the rooftops about the incredible things that the UK aid budget has achieved. If it had, I think there would have been more opposition from the public about the announcement to cut the budget.

“Being a global leader in helping the world’s poorest and most vulnerable people should be worn as a badge of national pride, not treated like a dirty little secret.”

The war in Syria began in 2011 amid pro-democracy protests in Deraa. Tensions escalated after the Assad regime crushed dissenters who staged a “day of rage” on March 15, which ultimately led to more people flooding city streets demanding the president step down.


US patience with Iran on nuclear deal ‘not unlimited’: State Department

US patience with Iran on nuclear deal ‘not unlimited’: State Department
Updated 25 February 2021

US patience with Iran on nuclear deal ‘not unlimited’: State Department

US patience with Iran on nuclear deal ‘not unlimited’: State Department
  • Iran has not formally responded to a US offer last week to talk with Iran in a joint meeting with the countries that negotiated the deal

WASHINGTON: The United States' patience with Iran on returning to discussions over the 2015 nuclear deal is "not unlimited," State Department spokesman Ned Price said on Wednesday.
Iran has not formally responded to a US offer last week to talk with Iran in a joint meeting with the countries that negotiated the deal.
Asked at a news briefing whether there was an expiration date on the offer, Price said Iran's moves away from compliance with the 2015 agreement's restrictions on its nuclear activities made the issue an "urgent challenge" for the United States.
"Our patience is not unlimited, but we do believe, and the president has been clear on this ... that the most effective way to ensure Iran could never acquire a nuclear weapon was through diplomacy," Price said.