The key to restarting a round of negotiations is not “to pick up where we left off”, as President Christodoulides argues. If this were the case, why did we walk away? Neither, of course, is the T/C position on the a priori recognition of two states satisfactory or, more importantly, honest.
The biggest issue in the handling of the Cyprus problem since its inception has been the doublespeak on the part of the leaders. Publicly, since the Spyros Kyprianou period until today, the claim that “we strongly desire a solution to the Cyprus problem on the basis of UN resolutions” has been consistently repeated. Each time, however, that the G/C side was invited to a substantive negotiation (Anglo-American-Canadian Plan, Ghali plan, Annan plan, Downer’s Convergences, Guterres framework), it did not shown itself particularly prepared to go all the way.
Especially after 2004, when it rejected the Annan plan with 76% of the vote, in contrast to the positive vote of the Turkish Cypriots (65%), international criticism against it began to escalate. The G/Cs were accused of not knowing what they wanted, of lacking the political will for a solution, of exploiting their EU accession to keep the T/Cs in isolation and, above all, of blocking the deepening of EU-Turkey relations. Various European diplomats argue that if Turkey’s rhetoric on the Cyprus problem was clearer, if it was less greedy, if it avoided making threats and employing Ottoman bravado, it could have even easily achieved the recognition of a state in the north in recent years.
The inability of the Turkish regime to stop inducing insecurity among Greek Cypriots has allowed politicians to hide behind some rational, but also some irrational, fears. Which become more justified each time Ankara proves that its primary concern is not the safeguarding of Turkish Cypriots, but its own interests in the region. On the other hand, according to diplomatic sources, every time Turkey has engaged in dialogue, it has made significant openings. In 2004, it removed the dissenting Rauf Denktash and discussed a BBF solution. In Crans-Montana in 2017, it did not refuse to put the abolition of the 1960 guarantees on the table, which allowed Antonio Guterres in his report, and despite the deadlock, to refer to its constructive role in the Cyprus problem.
Playing on the hopes and fears of the G/Cs, Nicos Anastasiades proved to be a master of doublespeak in the Cyprus problem both in 2004 and in 2017. He played the same game in the presidential election. In 2013, amidst the economic crisis he was elected as “President of the solution of the Cyprus problem”. The solution would bring growth to all. In 2017, he abandoned the negotiating table in Crans-Montana and in 2018, he was re-elected to prevent, along with Nikos Kotzias, the “Lebanonisation of Cyprus”. The private interests of some were at odds with a solution, since they needed T/Cs to not be allowed in and have a piece of the passports and high-rise buildings pie. He completed his term of office by talking about a two-state solution, and since 2021, we have had Ersin Tatar’s proposals on sovereign equality.
President Christodoulides, immediately after announcing his candidacy and 7 months after his election, is publicly declaring himself ready to resume talks from where they left off in Crans-Montana. On the substance, it is not clear whether he accepts all 6 points of the Guterres framework. As such, according to diplomatic sources, “he did not convince UN envoy [Miroslav] Jenča, during his recent trip to Cyprus, that he is ready for a final negotiation”. Nor was he in a position to give an opinion on the terms of reference of the Secretary-General’s envoy. How can he be convincing when he keeps aggravating the climate? While calling for the resumption of the dialogue and the appointment of a UN envoy, the Republic of Cyprus has turned the Green Line into a hard border at the checkpoints, enforcing fuel checks [on vehicles] and inconveniencing thousands of citizens despite the clear opinion issued by the Commission. At the same time, problems that have to do with either the more effective operation of checkpoints or the opening of new ones (Pyla-Kokkina-Athienou) are not progressing, not only because of the Turkish army, but also because of the inflexibility of the G/C side. For example, the Arsos-Pyla road that the T/Cs wanted to open was presented by the G/C side as a “military incursion into the buffer zone and a simultaneous creation of a strategic advantage for the occupation of Larnaca and the airport in the event that hostilities erupt”!
To the world
We are dealing with a regrettable cycle. All the discussions and concerns raised are reminiscent of the approach taken by Tassos Papadopoulos a few months before the 2004 referendums: a letter to Kofi Annan to speed up his initiative, a willingness to initiate dialogue, an acceptance of timeframes and arbitration but, in the end, the sabotaging of the talks and a tearful rejection.
The outcome of Crans-Montana in 2017 allows some to argue that the G/Cs are not seriously discussing a federal solution, which, they argue, [G/Cs] have rejected since 2004. Under these circumstances and as time goes by, some arguments and conditions posed by the Turkish Cypriot side have started to sound reasonable and realistic both to the UN and the EU.
Clearly, the Turkish Cypriot side’s position on sovereign equality as it is being presented, i.e. the a priori recognition of two states, is not accepted by anyone, but if sovereign equality means political and legal security for Turkish Cypriots within a federal state, then everyone is willing to discuss it. This is the clarification that UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres is seeking when he meets with Tayyip Erdogan in New York. Depending on the answer, it will be decided whether a trilateral meeting will be held in New York and whether a new round of negotiations will take place. In Ankara, however, Jenča did not perceive there to be any willingness for an immediate commencement of negotiations. The Turks are insisting on the issue of sovereign equality.
The demands of the T/Cs
Sovereign equality, according to statements made by Turkish and T/C politicians as well as clarifications issued by the T/C negotiator Olgun, could be broken down into a number of T/C demands which, in their view, would shield the credibility and the outcome of the negotiations, regardless of the result. The G/C side is also attempting to decipher this issue, information suggests. What could sovereign equality constitute in a new round of negotiations?
- In case of a new declaration similar to the 2014 Anastasiades-Eroglu signed joint declaration, which will incorporate the Guterres framework and constitute a strategic agreement on the Cyprus problem, the T/Cs seek stronger language in relation to their political equality. They wish to move further away from wording of constructive ambiguity that allows for the simultaneous retention of terms such as evolution/transformation and parthenogenesis. They are likely to seek formulations on the “inherent rights” of T/Cs which could be stored for later use.
- Sovereign equality for T/Cs could mean something practical and at the same time substantial in the event of another failure of a new round of talks. T/Cs insist that there must be a way out for them in case another agreement is rejected, as was the case in the 2004 referendum by the G/Cs. In 2004, they say, the G/Cs voted “No”, but continued to have a state that even became a member of the EU. The T/Cs voted “Yes” to the United Nations plan and remained a pseudo-state. Of course there is a counter argument. If the T/Cs, in the event of another failure, will have the right to recognition, because that is what this is all about, why be constructive? And why would G/Cs enter a new round under blackmail, although of course, after 2004 and 2017, this argument is not as strong as it sounds.
- What sounds more “reasonable”, if sovereign equality implies the right to self-determination for a sovereign T/C community, is that this should apply as a potential right after a federal solution is achieved and in operation. A right that could be exercised after, say, 5 years of cohabitation and if everyone agrees that there is neither a willingness nor a possibility of coexistence. In this case, through a coordinated process that would be agreed upon, either the G/Cs or the T/Cs could withdraw peacefully and smoothly. No one should be obliged to remain in a state if they do not wish to do so, which is the case, for example, in Great Britain, where Scotland or Wales can withdraw through a referendum. Various prohibitions such as the prohibition of secession or union with another state as provided for in the 1960 Zurich Agreement collapsed like a house of cards in 1963. In any case, this right of secession, if the T/Cs become a full member of the EU and based on the response Catalonia received when it asked for secession from Spain, is more theoretical than substantive, or at any rate cannot be exercised in a frivolous manner.
In short, the key to resuming a round of negotiations is not to “pick up where we left off “, as President Christodoulides argues. If this were the case, why did we walk away while Cavusoglu was calling for the Prime Ministers of the guarantor powers to be summoned? Why, after Crans-Montana, did both Nicos Anastasiades and Nikos Christodoulides, with Nicos Kotzias as their chief conductor, present the Guterres framework to us as a disaster?
Neither, of course, is the T/C position on the a priori recognition of sovereign equality acceptable. Six years on, the Guterres plan is probably not enough, nor is it sufficient to restart the dialogue. Nor, of course, is the Turkish position on sovereign equality, as formulated, a mature proposal for the resumption of a negotiation that will reunite our country. The truth lies elsewhere and is certainly not represented or described through unscrupulous tactics.
We are probably still a long way from a responsible negotiation. Finding responsible leaders is in high demand.