Tuesday 26 May 2015

Where does the solution lie (The Cyprus Weekly, 23 May 2015)

Esra Aygin

There is a widespread and very dangerous assumption, or rather misconception, among the Greek Cypriot society that Turkey pulls all the strings in the northern part of Cyprus and that, it single-handedly holds the key to a solution in Cyprus. This simplistic approach does not only demonstrate an inability to read the political and social dynamics prevalent in the Turkish Cypriot community, but is also very dangerous as it leads to the view that, “Cypriots in general have no power whatsoever vis-à-vis Turkey regarding a solution, so why bother?” It leads to taking the easy way out. It leads to passivity. And, we are at a time when passivity should be the last thing we resort to.

The resounding victory last month, of Mustafa Akıncı in the elections for the Turkish Cypriot leader, should serve as a clear and undeniable indicator that Ankara is unable to pull all the strings in Cyprus. I don’t think anybody, even the most wildly creative, would put forward the argument that Akıncı – who openly campaigned for a federal solution in Cyprus and relations with Turkey based on equality - is an agent of Turkey! In fact, it would be noteworthy to say that candidates in the northern part of Cyprus - be it in-party elections, local, general or ‘presidential’ elections - who were supported by Ankara in recent years, have all suffered losses.

After coming to power, the first step Akıncı took within the framework of Confidence Building Measures, was to lift the ‘visa’ procedure at the Turkish Cypriot crossing points – whereby everyone moving between the northern and southern parts of the island were required to fill a form and get issued with a stamped ‘visa.’

The Turkish Cypriot police at the crossing points now only make a quick check on the computer by entering ID numbers – similar to the Greek Cypriot procedure. The decision was made two weeks ago during Akıncı’s first official visit to Ankara, which happened days after Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan attacked Akıncı saying “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 an “infantland.”

Ankara, which, until only a couple of months ago, was adamantly opposed to any change in the ‘visa’ procedure at the crossing points, has been forced once again by dynamics in the Turkish Cypriot community, to adapt its policies.

It is not the first time the dynamics in the Turkish Cypriot society have forced such a change. In 2003, for example, Ankara, under unprecedented pressure by the tens of thousands of Turkish Cypriots who took the streets to protest the regime, had to give a green light to the opening of crossing points, allowing Cypriots on both sides of the island to move freely across the green line.

It is an undeniable fact that Turkey has a huge influence over the northern part of Cyprus, and anybody who rejects this would be naïve, to say the least. However, it is high time for Greek Cypriots to stop believing that the Turkish Cypriots’ and the Turkish Cypriot leaders’ relationship with Ankara is a one-way-only channel, where Turkey can impose its will and policies easily without taking into consideration the dynamics within the society. And the stance of the Turkish Cypriot leader is of vital importance, especially with regard to the negotiations to find a federal solution to the Cyprus problem. The leader of the Turkish Cypriot community, especially when he has the support of a sweeping 60.50 percent of the voters - not only from the leftist pro-solution camp but the broader section of society including the Turkish settlers - is anything but powerless, and has a lot of leverage in Ankara. And imagine the leverage if we were putting up a struggle for solution jointly with our Greek Cypriot compatriots.

It goes without saying that a solution in Cyprus is not possible without Turkey’s cooperation and consent. However, it is obvious that Akıncı will not be the loyal follower of a policy fully determined by Turkey. Yes, he will have to constantly discuss with Ankara the issues that arise within the framework of negotiations. However, drawing on my experience working with former Turkish Cypriot leader Mehmet Ali Talat during the five years he spent in office, I am confident in saying that this will most probably be a two-way working relationship based neither on surrendering autonomy to Ankara nor confronting it. Sides will undoubtedly differ on many issues and it will be up to Akıncı and his chief negotiator Özdil Nami to convince Turkey of the benefit or advantage of certain steps – just the same way as Mr. Talat, five years ago, eventually convinced a  rigidly opposed Ankara to support the idea of cross-voting in a federal Cyprus.

Turkey cannot risk further alienating the Turkish Cypriot community, which is growing more and more unhappy with Turkey. The Turkish officials, without a doubt, realize that the more they try to intervene or impose, the more
adverse reaction they will draw. They realize their weakening influence over the Turkish Cypriots, including the settlers. And it would be very difficult for Turkey to oppose an internationally-backed agreement reached between Akıncı and Greek Cypriot leader Nicos Anastasiades, especially if both communities stand strong behind their leaders in the quest for solution.

By electing Akıncı as their new leader, Turkish Cypriots have, for the second time in a little more than a decade, challenged the status-quo in the northern part of Cyprus and made anti-solution policies hit the wall. The Greek Cypriot community remained distant to the struggle of the Turkish Cypriots in the early 2000s. Will you hold our hand and join us in our struggle for ending the division of the island this time? Because the key to solution lies right here, in our hands.

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