Tuesday 26 May 2015

Ankara plays ball (The Cyprus Weekly, 16 May 2015)

Esra Aygin

The new Turkish Cypriot leader Mustafa Akıncı, emerges unscathed from his first official visit to Ankara as Turkish Cypriots are going through a historical period openly challenging decades of submissive relations with Turkey and demanding the restoration of their dignity.

Contrary to expectations, Akıncı’s visit to Ankara on Wednesday, which was deemed an important indicator as to what Turkey’s stance would be in the face of this important transformation within the Turkish Cypriot community as well as the solution process, was no stage to new crises.

During the visit, which took place a week after Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan told Akıncı that “his ears should hear what his mouth is saying” in response to the new leader’s call for a “relationship between brothers” with Turkey rather than one of a “motherland” and a “baby land,” the sides were poised for a positive start as they confirmed mutual-desire for a solution in Cyprus and agreed to cooperate to this end.

During the press conference that followed the meeting between Akıncı and Erdoğan, the latter refrained from using the phrase “baby land” and referred to the northern part of Cyprus as a “brother.” Erdoğan, reading from a carefully prepared text, stated that the year 2015 could be the year for solution in Cyprus and stated that Turkey would always support Akinci and his negotiation team in the peace process. The planned Q&A session at the end of the press conference was cancelled last minute in an apparent bid to prevent the revival of last week’s conflict.

Besides his commitment to a solution in Cyprus, Akıncı won the support of the majority of Turkish Cypriots in last month’s elections on his promise to build a different relation with Turkey based on an equal standing, rather than one between the dominant and subordinate. By electing Akıncı, Turkish Cypriots made a clear demand for a change in the traditional relationship with Turkey where the northern part of Cyprus is treated like an unofficial 82nd province.

Erdoğan’s public discourse, as well as the way the press conference was conducted contained many hints that the two had reached some kind of a modus vivendi. The negotiations set to resume in the coming days will show Ankara’s sincerity in her support for solution and Akıncı, but political analysts agree Erdoğan cannot take the risk of blocking an internationally-backed process, or mounting the tension with Turkish Cypriots. As a country already alienated in the region and in the world, it would be very difficult for Turkey to reject or hinder an agreement in Cyprus, which is based on the parameters of political equality, bi-zonality and bi-communality she has advocated for decades, and which will also serve her long-term interests.

“Akıncı’s vision for a federal solution is completely in line with the Turkish official positions tabled since 1974,” said Prof. Niyazi Kızılyürek, Dean of School of Humanities at the University of Cyprus. “I don’t expect any tension regarding the dimensions of the Cyprus settlement. And Turkey is clever enough not to play power games with a community, which started an identity movement based on dignity.”

The choice of Nami as negotiator

New Turkish Cypriot leader Akıncı, in a controversial decision last week, appointed “foreign minister” Özdil Nami as his chief negotiator. Akıncı was harshly criticized on social media for his choice especially by his far-left supporters, who argued Nami was a nationalist who did not believe in a federal solution and furthermore, was Ankara’s man representing the official Turkish positions rather than the aspirations of Turkish Cypriots.

Others speculated that Nami was imposed on Akıncı by either the Republican Turkish Party CTP in exchange for supporting him in the second round against Derviş Eroğlu, or worse, or by Ankara, who wanted to make sure Akıncı stays in line with Turkey’s policies during the negotiations.

A closer look at Akıncı’s decision however, shows that this was a well-contemplated, strategic and pragmatic decision that enabled the new leader to kill a couple of birds with one stone. Nami, who was the special representative in the talks between former leaders Mehmet Ali Talat and Demetris Christofias between 2008 and 2010, is an experienced negotiator, who knows inside out all the topics of the Cyprus problem and therefore, is ready to literally dive into the process, which is expected to be a speedy and results-oriented one.

By appointing Nami, Akıncı has also taken CTP on board and secured its cooperation and support in the negotiations process, literally creating a peace alliance. As a person coming from the political circle and who has positive relations with not only Ankara, but in general with all the international actors, Nami will be key in managing sensitive liaisons. He is also one of the few who if necessary, could use his leverage to convince Ankara to support certain steps Akıncı may want to take along the process.

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