By Esra Aygin
The Turkish Cypriot and Greek Cypriot leaders have to go to Geneva with common positions on the security needs of all Cypriots, and put Cyprus and the needs of Cypriots first, Ahmet Sozen and Alexandros Lordos told the Cyprus Weekly in a joint interview.
Sozen and Lordos are the brains behind the Security Dialogue Project, preliminary findings of which were publicised earlier this month. The project is being directed by The Centre for Sustainable Peace and Democratic Development (SeeD),
“There is going to be a lot of pressure in Geneva to horse-trade Cyprus and the needs of Cyprus with the needs of other states,” Lordos said.
“The leaders will have to develop a very good understanding of what the security needs of Cypriots are. The conference should primarily be about solving a 50-year-old problem that has stopped Cyprus from moving forward.”
The ongoing research on security, which is one of the most difficult issues in the Cyprus negotiations, is aimed at better understanding the security needs of the Turkish Cypriot and Greek Cypriot communities and developing alternative security arrangement options.
SECURITY IS A PRIORITY
“Numerous public opinion polls over the years showed us that security is a priority for the people,” said Sozen. “Not only does security rank highest in importance, but it’s also an issue where the two communities have very strong and opposed positions,” added Lordos.
These findings raised the alarm bells for the two that unless a formula is found that would make both sides feel secure, the talks would inevitably collapse on the security issue.
The preliminary research findings point to 62 threats, 35 of which are common for Turkish Cypriots and Greek Cypriots. The common concerns are about the behaviour of extremists, intercommunal tension, whether the settlement agreement will be implemented, and whether the government will be functional and fair.
However, the implementation, fairness and functionality concerns are different on each side. Turkish Cypriots for instance, are more worried that power-sharing arrangements will not be implemented; while Greek Cypriots are concerned that territorial adjustments or troop withdrawal will not happen.
A primary concern for Turkish Cypriots was found to be access to justice. “They ask, ‘Will the Greek Cypriot police, or legal system be fair? Will I have justice?’” said Sozen. “This concern is a direct result of certain incidents the Turkish Cypriots experienced, where the perpetrators went unpunished.”
At the political level, Turkish Cypriots are concerned that they will be marginalised in federal institutions and from decision-making mechanisms.
One of the main Greek Cypriot concerns, according to the research, is that the settlement will function under the shadow of Turkey. Turkey will either not implement the solution or it will interfere in the affairs of the federal government.
The Greek Cypriot threat scenario goes a step further and says that the problems in the government will foster tension and fighting among the extremists – which will lead to an intervention by Turkey.
At the base of all these concerns is mistrust, according to Sozen and Lordos. “Greek Cypriots don’t trust Turkey and Turkish Cypriots don’t trust Greek Cypriots,” Sozen said.
“And, from a security perspective, mistrust equals security threat,” added Lordos. “The research so far shows that both sides are projecting the fears of the past forward into the future and are projecting their own fears on the federal government.”
The most important preventive remedies that the researchers have come up with have to do with creating credible, effective and just institutions – from public to security and justice – that do not display any kind of communal bias – that are ethnically blind, Sozen and Lordos argue.
Intercommunal, integrated army and police forces would also be very important according to the research directors, who talked about a multi-communal federal police where the Greek Cypriot and Turkish Cypriot officers work as one team, and some mixed units at the constituent state level.
Other preventive institutions recommended by the researchers are:
- A ministry of social cohesion to make sure that there are coherent reconciliation policies island-wide
- A group of international civilians embedded at the local community level to mediate or address tensions early on before they spark
- A council of unity and cooperation bringing together an age-and gender-balanced experienced group to step in to advise the federal presidency, federal parliament and the constituent state authorities at times of tension, and
- An early warning/early response system.
RAPID REACTION FORCE
The researchers stated that a federal rapid reaction force composed of Greek Cypriot and Turkish Cypriot officers that could act as a guarantor is a reactive hard security idea that is worth testing.
“The point of rapid reaction forces is that they are better equipped to deal with today’s threats, which are asymmetric threats, civic threats like extremism and terrorism; also threats related to social disorder at the community level,” said Lordos.
“This force could be separately triggered by each constituent state… This would mean that the Turkish Cypriots could trigger this rapid reaction force if necessary. It would effectively intervene, but Greek Cypriots would not be afraid because it’s not a purely Turkish or Turkish Cypriot army.”
The researchers added that if the Turkish and Greek troops need to transitionally stay on the island, they could support the work of the federal rapid reaction force.
They are currently testing each of the remedies/recommendations in an island-wide public opinion poll, as well as getting expert advice on their functionality.
The opinion poll will be conducted among 3,000 people -1,500 in each community – which makes it the largest poll ever conducted in Cyprus.
The researchers hope to make their recommendations to all relevant sides before the conference in Geneva in January, based on the polls and expert advice.
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