Can an authoritarian Turkey help Cyprus?
I remember my eyes welling up with tears, as I watched Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan walk among the crowd at the Ledra Palace crossing point in early May 2003[*], and greet the Greek Cypriots, who had just crossed over to visit the north for the first time in almost 30 years.
The charismatic leader, who had shattered decades-old taboos about Cyprus, was chatting with the Greek Cypriots and telling them that he desires to see peace in Cyprus as soon as possible.
The Justice and Development Party (AKP), which won a landslide victory in the 2002 elections, was the first party ever in Turkey to declare that the status-quo in Cyprus is unacceptable and vowed to work for a federal solution. The Turkish establishment had for decades insisted that “non-solution in Cyprus is the solution itself.”
In 2004, AKP strongly threw its support behind the Annan Plan. Whether we like it or not, whether we think it was sincere or not, AKP played a big role in getting the people in the northern part of Cyprus vote in favour of the Annan Plan. In the years that followed, the party officials continuously stated that the Turkish side would be one step ahead as regards the solution of the Cyprus problem.
More recently, Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu’s role in the finalisation and acceptance of the joint statement is common knowledge. He personally came to the island to ‘convince’ Turkish Cypriot leader Derviş Eroğlu to accept the joint statement, which lay out the framework of a solution in Cyprus.
On Wednesday April 2, Davutoğlu, on the sidelines of a meeting of NATO foreign ministers in Brussels reiterated support for a solution. “We want the negotiations to speed up,” said Davutoğlu. “The momentum is very positive. However it is important that this process is results-oriented.”
I am in no way trying to praise the AKP or defend it. I am just laying down the facts. In fact, I am watching in pure amazement as Erdoğan, who initially gained great internal and international support by wowing equality, making human rights reforms, significantly reducing the Turkish military’s role in politics, and initiating a negotiations process with the Kurds, besides supporting a solution in Cyprus, has gradually turned into an authoritarian figure with no respect for rights and freedoms. He silenced the media, favoured police violence on various occasions, banned Twitter and You Tube, passed a law that gives the government more control over the courts, and is involved in corruption allegations.
So, the question is, how can an increasingly authoritarian and intolerant regime, which is much more than a neighbour to Cyprus, contribute to a federal solution in Cyprus? Or can it?
Many pro-solution Turkish Cypriot officials as well as foreign officials and diplomats are assured that Turkey, under the rule of Erdoğan, will continue to sincerely support and seek a solution in Cyprus.
The question remains to be answered…