Ankara has clarified that it is not seeking two internationally recognised independent states in Cyprus. What do they mean by sovereign equality?
No one in Nicosia had any illusions that the visit paid by Miroslav Jenča, the UN Assistant Secretary-General for Europe, Central Asia and the Americas of the Department of Political and Peacekeeping Affairs, would change things for the better as far as the Cyprus problem is concerned.
Mr Jenča’s visit at that specific point in time did have certain objectives, but they were rather conservative: To prevent things from taking a turn for the worse. According to a diplomatic source, “lately, things are at risk of getting out of hand due to elections in the Athens-Ankara-Nicosia triangle, with Cyprus once again finding itself in danger of becoming collateral damage of the election rhetoric of Erdoğan and Mitsotakis.”
Especially on Erdoğan’s side, it has recently become clear that an escalating and more nationalist rhetoric helps to boost the AKP’s ratings. Even the threat of “we will come suddenly one night” is rallying Bahçeli’s nationalists.
These were the concerns that led mainly the USA, Germany and Britain, through their embassies in Ankara, to act as firefighters so that:
1. The Turkish side would lower the tension and halt provocations in its confrontation with Greece, which is dangerous for the region.
2. Greece would limit its inflammatory responses that add fuel to the fire of the nationalists in Turkey.
3. Turkey would abort – for the time being – plans to extend its opening of Varosha to the area of Agios Memnon.
4. The deployment of Turkish drill ships to the Eastern Mediterranean for activities within the Cypriot EEZ would be contained – again, for the time being.
If certain interventions towards Ankara are being heeded, it is because Erdogan seems to have begun to control the situation to some extent. On the one hand, Turkey’s mediation efforts in the Ukraine have upgraded it geopolitically; on the other hand, the opposition’s failure to find a candidate to stand against Erdoğan has enabled the Turkish president to rebound in the polls. In short, the insistence of Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu, leader of the Kemalist Republican People’s Party, to run in the elections probably favours Tayyip Erdoğan. Of course, if the opposition chooses either of the mayors of Istanbul and Ankara, Ekrem İmamoğlu and Mansur Yavaş respectively, then Tayyip Erdoğan may have to raise the bar of his populist rhetoric, and not just that, in order to fight for his re-election.
The two sides
In this context, Miroslav Jenča conveyed UNSG Antonio Guterres’s commitment to remain involved in the process of finding common ground so that progress can be made towards securing a Cyprus settlement. This was conveyed to both President Nicos Anastasiades and Ersin Tatar. The G/C side said it was ready to resume the dialogue on condition that provocations stop in Famagusta, the EEZ and the buffer zone. Foreign Minister Ioannis Kasoulides even spoke of activity by Turkish commando units near the Green Line.
In his public statements, Turkish Cypriot leader Ersin Tatar kept tensions high, insisting that the key word for reaching a solution is “sovereign equality, our state”. He said “our sovereignty is essential for the continuation of peace. We are prepared for an agreement within this framework. We do not agree to an agreement that will be the beginning of the end for us, where our sovereign rights and guarantees will not exist.” E. Tatar claimed that with each new day the two-state formula is gaining ground, adding that the international community “has understood that no agreement can be reached in Cyprus in which the Greek Cypriot administration will be dominant and the Turkish Cypriot people will be a minority. The formal negotiation process cannot begin without the recognition of the sovereignty of the Turkish Cypriot people and that a federal agreement is no longer possible.”
Behind the scenes
The President of the Republic, Nicos Anastasiades, whose term in office is coming to an end in three months, would like to see the start of new mobility on the Cyprus problem. If nothing else, this would limit the criticism that he has received for his stance in Mont Pelerin (even from his own negotiator, Andreas Mavroyiannis), where he got up and left, but also for his frivolous tactics in Crans Montana, when, along with Nikos Kotzias, he questioned the UN Secretary-General himself when the latter announced that Turkey was ready to accept the abolition of guarantees.
Both UN and European diplomats currently involved in the Cyprus problem have told Politis that the Turkish side has until recently stated that it “does not wish to engage in any form of negotiation with President Nicos Anastasiades, because he cannot be trusted”. At the end of the summer, the Turkish side said that once the elections in Cyprus-Greece and Turkey are over, there might be another opportunity on the Cyprus problem. What is being conveyed to “P” [Politis] is that the Turkish side has also set a condition: “We are ready,” they say, without yet adequately specifying the basis of the solution, “for a serious, final negotiation provided that there is a leader in the Greek Cypriot leadership who is ready to negotiate.” As it was clarified to Politis, if there is an implication in this statement, it would relate to Christodoulides, not as an individual, but as a candidate supported by DIKO [Democratic Party] and EDEK [Movement for Social Democracy], which oppose a solution. These parties, as we know, are flanked by the conservative right-wing faction of DISY [Democratic Rally] as well as ELAM [National Popular Front], which are either openly or covertly against a federal solution.
In the context of the contacts held by the UN and third party diplomats who mediate and discuss with the Turkish and T/C side, there is an ongoing effort to fully clarify the term “sovereign equality”. The question is clear: By the term “sovereign equality”, do you mean the creation of two independent states in Cyprus, recognised by the UN? The answer, given primarily by Ankara and not by Tatar, is in the negative. “We do not want that, Turkish staffers at all levels say,” without, of course, going into details. In any case, a two-state solution has been categorically rejected by the UN and this was reiterated last Friday by the Chinese ambassador in Nicosia, referring to Security Council resolutions. Turkey itself was made aware of this recently when it attempted to include the so-called TRNC in the conference of Turkic states in Kazakhstan. The United Nations still refuses to formally consult with the so-called state on the renewal of the UN mandate, despite the Turkish Cypriots’ constant appeals.
Where does the term lead?
Based on the above, what can be realistically assumed that the Turkish side means by putting the term sovereign equality on the table?
1. It does not accept the transformation of the Republic of Cyprus into a Federal Republic of Cyprus, as agreed in 2015 by the T/C leader Mustafa Akinci. It reverts to the 1965 Denktash positions and in simple terms claims that the sovereignty that the two sides gave up to establish the Republic of Cyprus in 1960 in Zurich should be restored and should continue to apply after the new agreement. This is to allow the Turkish Cypriots the right to secede, if something goes wrong (as it did after 1960), as a sovereign community.
2. The biggest problem with the Turkish position is that it is put forward a priori, in other words, the T/Cs are asking for it in advance, before negotiations start, and not as part of a Guterres-type package. In short, if they are given sovereign equality and negotiations fail, they would be entitled to leave without any quid pro quo! That is why the G/Cs rightly reject it, since any upgraded political or sovereign equality given to the T/Cs would have to have some trade-offs on territory and property.
3. If the T/Cs succeed in the sovereign equality chapter as part of a comprehensive package and not in advance, this would safeguard them from what they fear. Namely, that in the event of a collapse of the new state, they would remain an unrecognised community, as they were in 1960. On the other hand, if it comes to that, that is, if reasons for separation arise, all the procedures would be carried out within the European Union. In short, if, after the solution, the Cyprus issue arises again, it would not only concern the Greeks and the Turks, it would be a European problem. It would be solved peacefully, just as the problems of Belgium, Scotland, Northern Ireland and Catalonia were solved.