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Peace talks over Cyprus need another chance

Commentary Politics

Peace talks over Cyprus need another chance


Peace talks over Cyprus need another chance

By: Ali Yurttagul

The only way to resolve current disputes about potentially huge gas deposits off Cyprus is to restart with talks between Turkey, Greece and Cyprus over the status of the divided island and leave any final decision on offshore gas dependent on the outcome of the negotiations.

Turkey has attempted block efforts to explore for potentially huge gas deposits off Cyprus saying the breakaway Turkish Cypriot north of the island is entitled to a share in the revenues. But the internationally recognised Greek Cypriot government in the south says the Turkish Cypriots will get their share only after the island is reunited

The best opportunity to end the division of the island came 30 years after Turkish troops seized the northern third of the island in response to a short-lived Greek Cypriot coup aiming to unite Cyprus with Greece.

In 2004, United Nations Secretary General Kofi Annan and the EU were strongly allied in bringing a peace plan to the table. They had signed it. Turkey was about to start accession talks with the EU. Everyone believed the 30-year crisis was about to end.

But before the ink was dry, Greek Cypriot nationalist President Tassos Papadoupoulos started a “no” campaign to persuade Greek Cypriots to vote against the plan. Brussels was shocked, but the winds had shifted and rather than a fresh solution, there was a new fight beginning.

The Greek Cypriot south of Cyprus said “no” and the Turkish Cypriot north said “yes.” The Greek Cypriots became members of the EU, and the Turkish Cypriots were excluded. Despite the fact that they had accepted this joint EU and UN effort, they were being punished.

But the rejection of the Annan plan by the Greek Cypriots did not merely deepen the divide between Greek and Turkish Cypriots. The Turkish Cypriots who had voted “yes” to reunification, as well as those Greeks Cypriots who had voted yes, felt deeply betrayed. In the process, the Greek Cypriots had divided themselves more than ever. The hate that was brewing on the island among the Greek Cypriots themselves threatened to dwarf even their hate for Turkish Cypriots. It took the greatest toll on conservative politicians like Nicos Anastasiades, who had allied with the Communist AKEL party for the “yes” campaign and were therefore seen for years as traitors. It took years for Cypriot voters to see that Anastasiades had been on the right side. In 2013, they realised their mistake and elected him president.

If this plan had passed, Cyprus would be a totally different place today rather than still an island split in half. Turkish-EU relations would not live in the shadows of the crisis. Cyprus would not be an issue used as leverage against Turkey.

Anastasiades’ generation dreamed of a united Cyprus and his support for not only the Annan plan, but also today’s planned solution show he is the most experienced, intelligent, and brave politician in Cyprus.

Anastasiades stresses that the Annan plan was dead and had major issues, but he said he thinks Greek Cypriots will have to negotiate with the Turkish Cypriots in order to achieve the federation they dream of. This is true for the Turks as well.

Anastasiades thinks that the time has come, and he is determined to push the negotiations forward. This political approach, which acknowledges all of the uncomfortable facts of Cyprus’s history, could be a solution. This idea of a federation, where Turkish Cypriots and Greek Cypriots have broad self-rule could create a shared political framework.

What sets Anastasiades apart from AKEL and the Cypriot Nationalists is that he wants integration with the West and independence from Russia, and wants Cyprus to be a NATO member. He knows this goal is impossible without Ankara giving the green light.

But Ankara has remained silent on the issue of Cyprus, and not just the government. The Turkish press and public are also silent. The trust issue created by the trauma of the failure of the Annan plan continues. The feeling is that the Greek Cypriots do not want a solution, but revenge.

Turkey must change this attitude. Peace in Cyprus will not only open the way for Turkey to enter the EU, but will also change the regional balance of power not only with regards to world powers such as the United States and Russia, but also with regional powers like Egypt and Israel.

Greek Cypriot nationalists are still using the same criticisms against Anastasiades that they used during the vote on the Annan plan and say he will betray the gains that the Greek Cypriots have made. They also have a new tool at their disposal: the potentially huge gas deposits off Cyprus.

Preventing a solution to this issue is also in the interests of Egypt and Israel, who also do not want to share these deposits with the Turks. They are strongly against Anastasiades engaging in any negotiations.

The Greek Cypriot nationalists cannot see that they are once again making the same grave error, and that their actions will only be a blow to peace in the region and deepen the divisions already present on the island.

Source: Ahval News

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