Don’t hold your breath for a deal on Cyprus
An unofficial meeting is to be held this week in Geneva to determine where we stand on the potential solution of the Cyprus question. It will be held from Tuesday to Thursday on a 5+1 basis, with the participation of the Turkish Cypriots and Greek Cypriots as the main stakeholders, along with the three guarantor states — Turkey, the UK and Greece — and the UN secretary-general.
The Turkish Cypriots will go to Geneva with the strong support of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. After last year’s election of Ersin Tatar as the president of northern Cyprus, the positions of the Turkish Cypriots and mainland Turkey have drawn closer.
Former UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan in 2004 drafted a plan for the solution of the Cyprus question. It was the most comprehensive plan prepared so far, consisting of about 9,000 pages together with annexes, attachments, maps and referenced documents. The EU earnestly asked Erdogan to use his leverage over the Turkish Cypriots to persuade them to vote in favor of the Annan Plan. Opposition parties in Turkey were against the plan as they thought it favored the Greek Cypriots. However, Erdogan turned a deaf ear to such criticisms and decided to encourage the Turkish Cypriots to back it.
After several rounds of negotiations, the finishing touches were completed on March 24, 2004, in the Swiss resort of Buergenstock. The following month, the plan was submitted to simultaneous referendums in both parts of Cyprus. On the eve of the referendum, Greek Cypriot President Tassos Papadopoulos pleaded with his electorate not to vote in favor of the plan that he had agreed in Buergenstock. The Greek side of the island rejected the plan, with 76 percent voting against it, while the north voted 64 percent in favor.
Ironically, the EU admitted Cyprus as a full member just days later, while it left out the Turkish Cypriots who had voted in line with the EU’s wishes. This outcome became the turning point in Erdogan’s attitude toward the EU. He felt duped by the bloc.
There are two aspects of the Cyprus question that may come to the forefront in Geneva. According to the London and Zurich Agreements of 1960 that founded the Republic of Cyprus, the constitution recognized the Turkish and Greek Cypriots as two politically equal partners of the state. The Greek Cypriots now want to set up a bicommunal, bizonal federal republic and reduce the Turkish community to a simple minority.
The major bone of contention will probably be the issue of two states versus a federal structure.
President Tatar is opposed to this and is strongly supported by Erdogan. They support a two-state solution. The major bone of contention will probably be the issue of two states versus a federal structure. There are several examples of two states successfully coexisting on the same island; some are nations of the same faith, but the two Cypriot communities embrace different religions.
The Geneva meeting is designated as an unofficial gathering. No substantive negotiations are expected to take place. It will probably be a stock-taking exercise to determine in which direction the negotiations will continue. One thing seems certain: As long as the Tatar-Erdogan cooperation continues, the Turkish side will try to push aside the federal solution for Cyprus and focus as much as possible on a two-state solution. This has to be considered a major paradigm shift in the Cyprus negotiations.
The second critical issue that may be raised in Geneva is that of Varosha. This seaside resort was once the most attractive tourist destination in Cyprus, but it was declared a military zone by the Turkish Cypriot authorities in 1974 and has been deserted ever since. There is a UN Security Council resolution that considers any attempt to settle the area by people other than its most recent Greek Cypriot inhabitants as inadmissible. Tatar declared when he was prime minister that he would open the beach area to the public and Erdogan said Turkey fully supported this decision. If this question comes on to the agenda in Geneva, the Turkish Cypriot side may repeat its already stated position that the area is within Turkish Cypriot sovereignty, that the real estate belongs to an Ottoman pious foundation, and that Cyprus may rent it if it wishes.
With dwindling support for the Erdogan government, it would be difficult to accept a solution to the Cyprus problem that would be perceived as a failure by the electorate in mainland Turkey.
The Geneva meeting will also be shadowed by the less-than-cordial atmosphere that prevailed during the press conference held after the meeting of Turkish and Greek foreign ministers last week in Ankara.
This background suggests that a miracle cannot be expected in this week’s meeting in Geneva.
• Yasar Yakis is a former foreign minister of Turkey and founding member of the ruling AK Party. Twitter: @yakis_yasar