In a very clear message in favour of change, Turkish Cypriots elected moderate veteran politician Mustafa Akıncı as their new leader in last Sunday’s runoff in the northern part of Cyprus. Akıncı, the candidate, who promised to push for the solution of the Cyprus problem and protect the Cypriot identity, won an overwhelming 60.50% of the vote, while Derviş Eroğlu, the incumbent hawkish Turkish Cypriot leader was able to get only 39.50%.
The outcome of the election is the victory of a desire for change, a federal solution and survival of the Cypriot identity in the face of Turkish assimilation against the status quo, non-solution and Turkification. Turkish Cypriots have given out a clear message of readiness for reconciliation and reunification with the Greek Cypriot community, as well as of a demand for a different relation with Turkey based on an equal standing, rather than one between the dominant and subordinate.
The sweeping victory of the 67-year-old, however, does not mean his job will be easy. The road ahead for Akıncı is full of challenges. He will have to work with the Greek Cypriot side to achieve agreement in what is widely seen as a last-chance to solve the Cyprus problem, while at the same time, managing sensitive relations with Turkey.
Akıncı, who entered politics in 1976, when he was elected mayor of Nicosia Turkish Municipality and served in this post for 14 years, has a negative track record with Ankara, who is used to having obedient officials in the northern part of Cyprus. When he was “deputy prime minister” in 2000, he got into a big row with the Turkish general in Cyprus over transferring the control of Turkish Cypriot police from the Turkish military to civilian authority. His coalition “government” collapsed as a result. Later, in 2003, during a conference in Majorca, Spain, Akıncı publicly called upon the then-Turkish Prime Minister Erdoğan to stop transferring population to the northern part of Cyprus. Although he rightfully avoided reviving old conflicts with Turkey throughout his election campaign, he frequently repeated that “We’ll be neither confrontational nor submissive,” in relations with Turkey.
In fact, Akıncı was immediately tested on his promise of a dignified relationship with Turkey and demonstrated that he would not yield to bullying. He refused to step back after Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, only a day after his election, attacked him for calling for a “relationship between brothers” with Turkey rather than one of a “motherland” and a “baby land” – as Turkish governments traditionally describe it. Speaking to reporters on Monday, Erdoğan said Akıncı needs to watch what he says and not forget that Ankara finances Turkish Cypriots.
I am behind everything that I have said,” responded Akıncı. “I spoke of a healthy relationship. Turkey says it supports a federal solution in Cyprus. Since Turkish Cypriots will be equal partners in a federation, it is important for them to have a say in their own institutions starting from today.”
Akıncı’s unyielding stance in the face of Erdoğan’s crudity has given rise to an interesting dynamic in the northern part of Cyprus, where Turkish Cypriots, regardless of their political allegiances are growing increasingly unhappy with Turkish impositions, united behind Akıncı. The social media was bombarded with messages of Turkish Cypriots from all across the political spectrum, who said they felt dignified again with Akıncı and supported his unfaltering stance.
“Akıncı handled the dispute very smoothly and in a very impressive way,” said Professor Ahmet Sözen of International Relations. “As of today, his support has gone up to the 70 per cent band.”
As negotiations are expected to re-start in early May, it will be of utmost importance for the Greek Cypriot side to makes use of this historic opportunity of social unity behind Akıncı and give all that it has to reach a solution.
Although political analysts believe that Erdoğan’s nationalistic outburst is mostly aimed at wooing right-wing voters ahead of the parliamentary elections in Turkey in June, they also agree that Erdoğan has increasingly been resorting to nationalistic policies and rhetoric over the years.
Only time will show whether Akıncı will be able to tread the very thin line between taking the necessary brave steps to reach a solution agreement with his Greek Cypriot counterpart, and keeping positive and constructive relations with Turkey without giving ground. It goes without saying that a solution in Cyprus is not possible without Turkey’s cooperation and consent.
One thing is certain though. The prevalent sentiment in the Turkish Cypriot community is that if Akıncı too fails at efforts for a federal solution, all hopes for the unification of the island will die.