Sunday 3 December 2017

Shall We Build Mistrust or Confidence?

Esra Aygin

Crans Montana, So Near But Still So Far

In a little over two years, Turkish Cypriot leader Mustafa Akinci and Greek Cypriot leader Nicos Anastasiades made unprecedented progress in the six chapters the negotiations were organised into: governance and power-sharing, economy, European Union matters, property, territory, and security and guarantees.

For the first time in the history of Cyprus negotiations, the sides presented each other with maps of territorial adjustments, while in another unprecedented development, the 1960 Treaties of Guarantee and Alliance were opened to negotiation. The two sides in Cyprus and the guarantor powers , Turkey, Greece and the United Kingdom sat around a table for the first time in mid-January 2017 in Geneva to discuss a new security and guarantee model for a future federal Cyprus with the overarching principle that the security of one community could not come at the expense of the security of the other.

Besides achieving unprecedented progress at the table, other important efforts were carried out in preparation of a solution. The European Commission conducted hundreds of working group meetings, seminars and fact-finding missions on subjects like customs, immigration and border control with the aim of preparing the north for a solution. Financial institutions, the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank provided technical assistance on the financial sectors, macroeconomic and fiscal frameworks and the public administration of a future united Cyprus.

The Conference on Cyprus convened in Crans Montana on 28 June as a culmination of all these efforts for the final give-and-take on the outstanding issues relating to governance and power-sharing, property, territory, security and guarantees, and the equivalent treatment of Turkish and Greek citizens.

To make it easier to reach an understanding on these issues, UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres, on 30 June, tabled a framework, which eliminated extreme positions and provided a tool to deal with them in the form of a package.

When the final dinner at Crans Montana came to an abrupt end in the early hours of 7 July 2017, everyone around the table knew what the final deal on a bizonal bicommunal federal Cyprus would have looked like. It was not a lack of agreement, perhaps a lack of political will and courage that led to the collapse of the process.

As Guterres wrote in his report on his mission of good offices in Cyprus on 28 September 2017:

“…the essence of a comprehensive settlement to the Cyprus problem is practically there. The parties had come close to reaching a strategic understanding on security and guarantees, as well as on all other outstanding core elements of a comprehensive settlement.” The Secretary General highlighted that the reason for the collapse was not a lack of agreement on core issues but rather, of “political will, courage and determination, mutual trust and a readiness on the part of all parties to take calculated risks…”

Building Mistrust, Not Confidence

Ever since the negotiations to unite Cyprus under a bizonal, bicommunal federation collapsed in Crans Montana in the early hours of 7 July 2017, elements in the northern part of the island with a vested interest in the continuation of status quo, have been vocal and active in promoting separation and division in an effort to complicate future federation attempts.

Clearly encouraged by Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu’s statement that solutions outside UN parameters should now be sought for Cyprus right after the talks failed, Tahsin Ertugruloglu, the right-wing Turkish Cypriot official responsible for foreign affairs, declared that the federal model is dead. He suggested two options: an independent state in the northern part of Cyprus or the delegation of defence and foreign policy matters to Ankara, much like the relationship between Monaco and France.

Although Ertugruloglu’s comments do not seem to reflect any serious considerations on the ground, the hawkish official has taken some measures that seriously hamper relations between the two sides of the Green Line and led to an increase in nationalist and separatist sentiments. 

Saying that the north’s relations with the south and the United Nations should change, Ertugruloglu imposed customs duties on humanitarian aid like food supplies and baby diapers delivered weekly by the UN to Greek Cypriots and Maronites living in the north. The delivery of humanitarian aid to the Greek Cypriots and Maronites, which is based on the 1975 Third Vienna Agreement, has been limited to medical aid supplies since 1 October.

The third Vienna Agreement provided that Greek Cypriots in the north of the island were free to stay. They were to be given every help to lead a normal life, including facilities for education and practicing religion, as well as medical care by their own doctors. They were entitled to free movement in the north of Cyprus.

Turkish Cypriot leader, Mustafa Akinci, publicly criticised Ertugruloglu for imposing the tax, saying his decision was akin to shooting oneself in the foot. However the Turkish Cypriot leader’s authority and powers are limited to the negotiations to solve the Cyprus problem and he has no say in the running of domestic issues in the north. 

In another controversial move, Tahsin Ertugruloglu has been giving less and less permissions to Greek Cypriots to conduct religious services in the churches in the north. When he came to office in April 2016, Ertugruloglu introduced new rules for permissions, according to which, religious ceremonies in churches except major sites Ayios Barnabas, Apostolos Andreas and Ayios Mamas, were restricted to once a year.

However, in September, Ertugruloglu also refused to give permission to a religious service at the Ayios Mamas Cathedral in Morphou. This was the first time a request to hold a religious service at Ayios Mamas was declined by Turkish Cypriot authorities since 2003.

Although no Greek Cypriot political party or politician has spoken publicly in favour of a partition, forces that are opposed to a settlement in the south have also used the collapse of negotiations to take certain actions to the detriment of peace prospects.

Immediately after the Conference on Cyprus closed, the Greek Cypriot side requested that a bicommunal EU ad-hoc committee established to prepare the Turkish Cypriot community – with the help of European Commission experts - for the implementation of the EU legal order, cease its activities. Other bicommunal technical committee such as the committee on culture and arts, education and cultural heritage, which have been operating since 2005, were ordered to immediately freeze their activities.

In another move, the foreign ministry in the south issued instructions for non-EU tourists arriving in Cyprus airports, Larnaca and Paphos, and planning to stay in hotels in the north to be denied entry and sent back.

Most recently, Greek Cypriot leader Nicos Anastasiades’ ruling DISY, together with a number of other right-wing parties on the Limassol municipal council approved the construction of a monument dedicated to George Grivas, the leader of Greek Cypriot paramilitary groups EOKA and EOKA B, who is viewed by many Turkish Cypriots as the man responsible for the inter-communal clashes that led to the division of the island.

The mistrust, resentment and increase in nationalist sentiments that result from such actions on both sides of the island are conducive to the continuation of the status quo and are celebrated by elements that have vested interests in the current division of the island.

The collapse of the political process also had a detrimental effect on the public sentiment on both sides of the island. The lack of involvement of civil society in the negotiations and failure of leaders to set up a joint public communication strategy from the very beginning of the process, followed by the tragic collapse of talks led to a crisis of confidence between the two communities and a rise in nationalist sentiment and rhetoric.

Building Confidence, Not Mistrust

What all Cypriots need to realise is that the status quo is not sustainable and will
eventually lead to permanent partition in Cyprus, as in the absence of a solution the northern part of Cyprus will rapidly integrate/disintegrate into Turkey. It is therefore high time for ordinary Cypriots to recognise where their interests lie and raise their voices against the separatist elements on both parts of the island.

It is exactly for this reason no time should be lost in meeting shortly after the final round of presidential elections in the southern part of the island to seal a strategic agreement on the core elements identified in the framework set out by the United Nations Secretary General Antonio Guterres in Crans Montana. Delaying this would risk losing all convergences that have been achieved – most of them unprecedented - and could put the Cyprus solution on hold for many years to come.

The ‘dead’ time until the elections should be used by both sides to implement unilateral and bilateral confidence building measures with the aim of improving trust between the two communities, which has taken a huge blow with the collapse of negotiations and the ensuing blame game.

Cypriots can still reclaim the chance they lost in Crans Montana after the elections in the south, if their leaders, this time, can display the necessary political will, courage, determination and understanding to go that extra mile for a strategic agreement within the Guterres framework and work jointly to engage the public and build support for a unified future.

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