Hugh Pope - International Crisis Group
Interview by Esra Aygin
Was there a particular experience or experiences that convinced you that partition could be a better option for Cyprus?
Pope: No. Partition is not the “better option” – it is an imperfect situation that is unfortunately the reality today. If you look at the titles of our earlier reports (“the drift towards partition”, “reunification or partition”), we were not in favour of the idea but judged non-negotiated partition was becoming inevitable if a federal settlement was not reached in the 2008-2012 process. What we are now saying is that if Cyprus is going to end up with partition anyway, it would be far better to have a negotiated partition than the current status quo.
The International Crisis Group has advocated a federal solution in Cyprus for many years. What made you change your mind almost suddenly and argue that federation is not suitable for Cyprus?
Pope: International Crisis Group has published seven reports on Cyprus since 2006, all in support of a federal settlement; this is the eighth. We are still supporting a federal settlement if the two sides can actually reach a deal, but in the meantime we are urging them to see if there is another possible settlement they could both live with.
This change was not sudden. We started looking into ways forward when the 2008-2012 process broke down, and, as we spoke to all sides in Nicosia, Ankara, Athens, Brussels, London and Washington, we gradually came to the conclusion that a sixth round of talks on exactly the same basis was going to produce the same failed result. The reasons are many and fully explained in the report, but just a few examples would be: the lack of a common language or any real bilingualism, the complete lack of infrastructure integration and the lack of any sign that open front lines since 2003 had brought any knitting back together of Greek Cypriot and Turkish Cypriot communities.
Why partition and not a unitary state then, if we are talking about alternatives?
Pope: Indeed, a unitary state is a possible option, and would certainly have strong support from the Greek Cypriot side. But the differences and suspicions between the two communities seem too great to make it seem feasible. Polls show 40 per cent of Turkish Cypriots may be able to accept it or find it tolerable, but the reality is that 60 per cent reject it entirely. They voted in a leader in 2010 who makes no secret of his preference for a two-state option. They and Turkey would certainly insist on powerful guarantees if this route to a settlement was to be chosen, and this is something that Greek Cypriots would not want to accept. It also strongly goes against the realities on the ground -- imperfect as they may be -- over the past four decades.
Do you really believe that the Turkish Cypriots are living under desirable conditions and that the status quo is ‘peaceful and viable’ as you state in your report?
Pope: No, not at all! That’s one of the reasons we have written eight reports trying to find ways to a settlement. The first thing that most Turkish Cypriots say to me is that they want an end to the uncertainty, and that they want to live in a normal country. The status quo is peaceful and viable – as long as Turkey is ready to pay for it, and Turkish Cypriots are ready to continue becoming more and more like Anatolia – but it is a sub-optimal situation for both Turkey, Greece, Turkish Cypriots and Greek Cypriots.
Your report comes at a time of a high level of determination by the two sides on the island to reach a federal solution and almost an unprecedented international interest and support for the process. Don’t you think your report is completely contrary to the present atmosphere, and process that seems so promising?
Pope: No. This is the sixth major round of talks in five decades on a bizonal, bicommunal federation, and the atmosphere seems even less promising than in 2008-12 or 2002-2004. Officials on all sides tell us they are “hearing nothing new”. The international interest is relatively subdued and certainly not unprecedented. The U.S. has shown a new interest, possibly due to a combination of the Israeli connection, the idea of promoting peace in the east Mediterranean and to help a U.S. company involved in natural gas exploration. But Washington has not appointed a special envoy.
The presence of a pragmatic Greek Cypriot leader is very helpful, but we must remember that the banking crisis has gravely weakened him.
The crosstalks with Mr. Mavroyiannis going to Ankara and Mr. Ozersay going to Athens were very positive, an idea that Crisis Group has actively supported since February 2011, and it could be the beginning of something very important. But there is no sign yet that this is going to become the regular exchange that it should.
Your report mentions that negotiations have been carried out for decades for a federal solution. However, the Turkish side, until the early 2000s advocated a confederal solution. Don’t you think we should give more chance to the negotiations aimed at a federation?
Pope: A federation has been the goal of five rounds of talks over four decades – thousands of meetings, every combination of negotiators, all kinds of settings -- how much more of a chance can it be given?
There are basically two kinds of federation that are talked about: there is the bizonal, bicommunal federation (i.e. a variety of Belgium), the ‘normal’ federation which has not worked out for Cyprus for the reasons outlined above. Then there is a confederation, or a “light federation”, which sometimes seems to be what the government of Nicos Anastasiades may be aiming for, and what Turkey and Turkish Cypriots have aimed for in the past (when not seeking an independent Turkish Cypriot state). The light federation or confederal systems seem to mean roughly the same thing. The problem with them is that no other example exists anywhere in the world (the Swiss one is really a federation), and it is almost impossible to imagine how a “light” federation can work if the state has to act as a united entity in the EU. Any Cypriot government will be obliged to deliver a united implementation of EU regulations country-wide, necessitating multiple levels of government that will inevitably need to include the cumbersome, heavy checks and balances of the “Convergences” of the 2008-12 process, or the Annan Plan.
Don’t you think an independent Turkish Cypriot state would be a big injustice in that it would legitimise the status quo?
Pope: Yes, in a way, but everything is relative. The prolongation of the current situation – non-negotiated partition, occupation of 37 per cent of the island, very little property compensated for, disputes that are casting a shadow over natural gas development south of the island, and tens of thousands of Turkish troops on the island – is clearly far more unfair on Greek Cypriots than what we suggest be discussed: a negotiated peace settlement, 29 per cent or less of the island as Turkish Cypriot, all the property compensated for in some way, a clear division of territorial waters that leave Greek Cypriots free to exploit whatever gas they can find and all Turkish troops off the island.
Do you believe that a Turkish Cypriot state could truly be independent of the influence of Turkey?
Pope: Geography dictates that both sides of Cyprus will be strongly influenced by Turkey after any settlement, and of course Turkish Cypriots will probably want to continue to have special relations with Turkey. But a Turkish Cypriot state within the EU would finally have alternatives to Turkey, that would allow it to start to grow with other partners and stand on its own feet. Many of those partners would actually be Greek Cypriot. A Turkish Cypriot state within the EU would actually mean that the two sides of the island would have the same currency, overall regulations, visa regime, and, in due course, a border that would be as invisible as the border between normal EU states.
Prof. Dr. Niyazi Kızılyürek, in his article published in Yenidüzen newspaper on 23 March, wrote that your report is either aimed at getting the Greek Cypriots support a federation by threatening them with partition; or at showing the Greek Cypriot side that the things it would gain in return for an independent Turkish Cypriot state are very attractive and therefore helping put into practice the Turkish thesis of partition… What was your intention in publishing this report?
Pope: Prof. Kizilyurek makes an accurate list of the proposals in the Crisis Group report but I disagree with the reasons with which he concludes that it is “faulty” [kusurlu]. He believes that consciously or unconsciously that we are simply enacting a Turkish nationalist thesis, namely partition [taksim], Turkey’s Plan B. In fact, the Turkish nationalist Plan B is the reality today – non-negotiated partition, exposure of the island to an unrestricted monopoly of Turkish predatory capitalism and dependence on Turkish subsidies. In fact it is not International Crisis Gropu proposal, but this current Plan B which is leading, as Prof. Kizilyurek fears, to the gradual evolution of north Cyprus into a Gibraltar.
What we are proposing is much more of a Plan C. Prof. Kizilyurek seems to dismiss the possibility that the EU will accept a Turkish Cypriot state. Our research shows that there is no way that the EU can say no to this, if the Greek Cypriot side accepts it. The question is much more, what can persuade the Greek Cypriots to do take such a step? First of all, trust in Turkey, which will take a great deal of effort on Turkey’s part, plus a withdrawal of troops, an end to the guarantees, proper compensation for property and so on – all things that I have never ever heard proposed in the “Turkish nationalist thesis” [Turk milliyetci tezi].
Surely, the tearing apart of Cypriot society in 1963 and 1974 is morally repugnant, but it happened. This is why International Crisis Group refers to the present reality as imperfect. Unfortunately, as our report points out, this division is indeed a reality. And our proposal is a suggestion of how it might be dealt with.
On the other hand, as Prof. Kizilyurek points out, once it starts being seriously discussed, then the two sides may discover it is harder to split the island than to reunite it. That knowledge might then make it easier for the leaders to return in good faith to the idea of a federation, or reunification as equal citizens without any of the outdated ideas of people either being “Greek Cypriot” or “Turkish Cypriot”.
You are also being criticised for misinterpreting SeeD/Cyprus 2015 polls. “It is misleading to claim that the communities oppose a compromise federal settlement model. Our polls demonstrate remarkable level of support for the compromise model despite decades of disappointment,” said SeeD/Cyprus 2015 in a statement last week. How would you respond to this criticism?
Pope: It’s true that the SeeD/Cyprus 2015 polls find that a federation is acceptable as the second best choice for both communities. But when you break down what people really want, support for the compromises needed in a bizonal, bicommunal are hard to find. As the Crisis Group reports from the poll results in footnote 25:
Turkish Cypriots see a consensual separation with both states in the EU as the ideal outcome (79 per cent) and better than the Turkish Cypriot interpretation of federation (69 per cent), while interim solutions such as Taiwanisation or Kosovoisation are rejected as half measures (50 per cent and 46 per cent respectively). Greek Cypriots see consensual separation as entirely unacceptable (79 per cent), but do not support key stated goals of the talks: political equality (32 per cent), a federal government (31 per cent), bizonality (19 per cent), bicommunality (18 per cent), and equal constituent states (15 per cent). As for both communities sharing power, 58 per cent of Greek Cypriots and 54 per cent of Turkish Cypriots are opposed.
Your report seems to be ignoring the financial crisis in the south. Don’t you think that this crisis made people more supportive of a federal solution?
Pope: A wish for a settlement is different from a wish for a federal solution. I’ve seen no polling data that indicates that Greek Cypriots are suddenly warmer to a federation. But the financial crisis has however certainly made Greek Cypriots much keener on some kind of settlement, which as the report points out will be a far surer provider of economic health than, say, natural gas. On page 17 we state:
“One reason for the new thinking is the collapse of the economy since the crushing banking crisis of March 2013 and a slow realisation that Cyprus urgently needs to reinvent itself. Some Greek Cypriots even believe that the EU’s crippling bailout terms were a plot to force them to surrender cherished hopes of reunification. President Anastasiades shares a wide recognition that a settlement is vital for restoring economic health. Outsiders judge him to be acting on a realisation that the self- contained, uncompromising Greek Cypriot “castle” of international legitimacy and support has been undermined.”
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