Turkey-Greece-Cyprus: The Conflict Triangle
(Bogazici/TUSIAD, Istanbul, 8-4-2011)
The Turkey-Greece-Cyprus conflict triangle includes three main questions: the Aegean dispute, the Cyprus problem and minorities issues, including questions related to the Patriarchate in Istanbul. I will focus on the Cyprus part of the conflict triangle.
For Turkey and Greece, the Cyprus problem is at best a nuisance/headache at worst a curse/an incurable illness, having in the first place, in the mid-1950s, destroyed their cordial relations of the 1930s that had survived the Second World War.
From 1954 onwards Cyprus has poisoned Turkish-Greek their relations, not permitting their various attempts at better relations, such as the Davos attempt in 1988 and the most recent détente that started in 1999, to reach the desirable goal of both states: reconciliation. In the last years Cyprus has become a major irritant, in fact a major obstacle for Turkey as regards its EU road, much to the delight of many in France, Germany, the anti-Turkish lobby in Greece and the anti-EU lobby in Turkey.
In dealing with Cyprus I will address three issues. First I will set out some common mutual perceptions/misperceptions in Turkey and Greece about Cyprus and the role of the respective motherlands. Secondly, I will refer to the present state of play, the recent negotiations for a settlement. Thirdly, I will refer to the main reasons that have not permitted the resolution of the Cyprus problem until today.
For Greece (for most Greeks) the non-resolution of the Cyprus problem is to be blamed on the TCs, for few Greeks can accept the fact that the Greek-Cypriots are also to blame for several lost opportunities for a settlement. Until 2003, Greece could convincingly throw the blame for the non-settlement on Denktash and until 2002 to Turkey as well (Ecevit’s dictum that the problem had in fact been resolved in 1974). Now this claim is less convincing. Yet not only the nationalists in Greece and among the GCs but even many moderates continue to doubt Turkey’s sincerity in truly wanting a settlement.
Following the Republic of Cyprus’s accession to the EU (and in view of Greece’s key role in bringing this about), Athens feels that it has done its duty and, among others, absolved itself of the blame of bringing about the catastrophe that befell the GCs in1974. Moreover since 2004 Greece has tried to decouple G-T relations from the Cyprus quagmire (though with little success).
For Turkey Cyprus is a Catch 22 situation: so small yet so much able to create trouble for Ankara, as regards the EU and Turkey’s international image/reputation. What Turkey cannot swallow is that despite its dramatic volte face in 2003 (Erdogan’s famous “no solution is no solution”, and Turkey will be “one step ahead” as to the resolution, etc), Turkey is still regarded with suspicion by many in the Cyprus Republic, Greece and even by some in Europe. Such is the negative stereotype of Turkey, given its role in 1974 (namely the second operation of August) and its unconditional support for Denktash’s intransigence.
In Turkey one of the most common misperceptions is that the Cyprus problem could have been settled if Athens had been more resolute and has put pressure on the Greek Cypriots to be more accommodating.
In fact since 1974 – with the return of Greece to democratic rule under the Constantinos Karamanlis – Greece has abandoned its previous doctrine: that Athens had the first say as regards Cyprus matters, by reason of being the so called ‘national center’ of Hellenism. The following approach has consistently been followed from 1974 until today by all Greek governments: “Cyprus [the Greek Cypriots] decide and Greece accepts this decision and supports the Republic of Cyprus on the basis of its decision” almost blindly I would add.
Why has the ‘national centre’ approach been abandoned? For three main reasons:
(1) Because recurring Greek governments were apprehensive of the detrimental potential of Cyprus in internal Greek affairs, which goes back to the 1959 Zurich and London agreements (when Karamanlis had, unjustifiably, been branded as a traitor to the nation);
(2) Due to the belief (since 1974) that it is for the Greek-Cypriots to decide as to their fate for, after all, it is their future state which is at stake;
(3) The Cyprus Republic is an independent state and cannot be pushed around.
The respective Greek misperception regarding Turkey and the TCs and the TRNC is that Turkey was always behind Denktash’s intransigence and that he was a puppet of Ankara and its generals who have a great say on Cyprus affairs.
Most Greeks (until recently) could not grasp two fundamental things:
(a) that from 1975 onward the indigenous Turkish-Cypriots were sincerely supportive of reunification, that is the opposition to Denktash (the Republican Turkish Party and the Communal Liberal Party).
(b) that with Denktash and Turkey it was more the case, to use the English expression, of “the tail wagging the dog”.
However there is little doubt that Turkey calls the shot as regards yavru vatan to a much greater extent than Greece which has limited influence on its own yavru vatan (which is not a baby or child but an adult). After all the TRNC is a secessionist entity and not a recognized state, and it rallies entirely on Ankara, economically and otherwise. But for Ankara to do the trick and push the TC leadership to be accommodating the following are indispensable:
(1) Wide support on the part of the TCs for reunification and a settlement, as was the case in 2002-4.
(2) A moderate leader at the helm, such as Talat.
(3) When the leader is a hard-liner, as presently with Eroglu, there continues to be considerable support by the majority of TCs for a reunification.
As regards the third factor – support for a solution – it is an open question today as far as the Turkish-Cypriots are concerned. There is probably an even split between rejectionists and moderates. And there is also a new dimension in recent months: the ill-feeling between Turkey and the TCs, due to initiatives and blunt statements made by Erdogan.
Ironically this emerging ill-feeling may have a positive impact on reunification as far as the TCs are concerned. For years I have somewhat mischievously entertained the view that, most of all, what could bring the two communities in Cyprus together may not be their repressed attraction for each other but their hearty mutual dislike and distrust of their respective motherlands.
Now let me refer to the talks that started unexpectedly in 2008 and continue until today.
The recent talks
When Christofias unexpectedly beat the intransigent incumbent Papadopoulos in the February 2008 precedential elections, there was once again “a unique opportunity”. It was in many respects even more unique than the previous one (the Annan Plan and accession of Cyprus as a whole in the EU) for it was the first and only time in the history of Cyprus that both sides were headed by non-intransigent leaders. But this new window of opportunity depended on the two leaders remaining in place and being able to sway their respective publics, irrespective of the internal political costs.
Christofias and Talat agreed to initiate negotiations, committing themselves to establishing a bizonal bicommunal federation based on political equality between the Greek and Turkish Cypriot constituent states (Christofias-Talat agreements of 23 May and 1 July 2008). The spirit of the two leaders was now or never.
The talks were “Cyprus-owned” and “Cyprus-led”, in the words of UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon (clearly lessons were drawn from the spectacular failure of the Annan mediation). The SG appointed as his special advisor Alexander Downer (a former long-serving Australian foreign minister) to facilitate (good office) and not mediate.
The two leaders set up six working groups: (1) sovereignty, governance and power-sharing (executive, legislature, federal competences, external relations), (2) EU matters (acquis, derogations and others), (3) security and guarantees, (4) return of territory, (5) property and (6) economic matters.
After a four month preparatory phase by the working groups, negotiations at leadership level started in September 2008 (and until today more than a 100 meetings of the leaders of the two communities have taken place and many more between their chief negotiators, Giorgos Iacovou and Kudret Ozersay).
There has been progress and convergence on governance and power-sharing, EU matters and the economy but very little on property, territory and security. Apart from the sheer complexity of these three issues, there is increasing domestic criticism in both communities “directed at the leaders and the process”, making the way ahead “politically difficult for both leaders” (expressions used by the UN Secretary-General in his reports to the UN Security Council. Alarmingly some 90 percent of the Greek Cypriots mistrusted even Talat according to opinion polls. The end result was that Talat and Christofias, who lack the necessary political weight (they are hardly political heavy-weights), were hesitant and unable to clinch a deal before the April 2010 presidency elections in TRNC. Talat lost to Eroğlu, a nationalist and long-time supporter of TRNC’s independence.
Eroğlu is a hardliner and nationalist but is under strong pressure from Ankara (Erdogan himself) to be constructive in the talks. And even if Eroğlu tries to derail the talks, he does not have the prestige and influence of Denktash in Turkey to achieve his aim, as Denktash had done, with great success in the early 1990s (with Ozal’s conciliatory attempts). Thus the talks have continued this time between Christofias and Eroğlu (fortunately the latter seems at times detached, leaving the initiative to the more constructive Ozersay).
In his November Report 2010 to the Security Council, the Secretary-General was apprehensive. He pointed out that there was “a worrying lack of progress” (notably on the property question) and concluded that he fears that “a critical window of opportunity is rapidly closing”. In his most recent report to the Security Council (dated 4 March 2011), Ban is somewhat more optimistic.
But Christofias has openly stated, on more than one occasion, and very recently, that progress has been minimal to non-existent since Eroğlu took over power. However he does regard an agreement as impossible by the end of 2011.
Iocovou doubts Turkey’s sincerity for a settlement.
Ozersay has said that ‘everyone wants peace, but not everyone is prepared for the necessary mutual compromises’ and if there is no progress he has hinted that he may quit.
Downer has made a telling remark a couple of weeks ago: that the real question is not whether a deal is possible (it is) but whether the two sides truly want a deal.
Clearly the talks cannot go on forever. But the May general elections in the Cyprus Republic and Turkey forthcoming elections are events not helpful to the peace process.
It would not be too dramatic or pessimistic to say that, at the moment and for the next months, the process is hanging from a thread, given the following:
(a) increasing public criticism on both sides of the green line,
(b) Christrofias’s over-cautiousness and fear of the internal cost, and
(c) Eroğlu’s lack of real commitment for a settlement and a reunification of the island.
Now is the time for initiative from outside parties, apart from the UN S-G, not least by Ankara. Turkey could bring new dynamism to the talks as it did in the second part of 2003 (though it was too late at the time, due to Papadopoulos in control), by taking the following four key initiatives:
(a) Implementing the additional protocol which is a sine qua non for opening the chapters suspended upon the request of the Republic of Cyprus. This means the opening of Turkish ports to Cypriot ships (this can be done with no real cost for Turkey, with a reservation stating that the opening of the ports does not amount to formal recognition); This move would have also have the advantage of putting pressure on the GCs regarding the issue of direct trade.
(b) Allowing for a supervised return by the UN of the ghost city of Varosha (an idea in the air for decades).
(c) The withdrawal of troops by Turkey, and I mean a substantive number, and not only a token force. This can be done at no risk whatsoever. 15 000 troops will more than suffice to keep the peace. And in any event no Greek or GC force would dare (or dream of) attacking the TRNC.
(d) Persuading the TCs to acknowledge the obvious: the link between return of territory and the question of property (the more territory will be handed-back, the less property to be returned or compensated).
These gestures could be reciprocated on the part of the CR, e.g. by allowing charter flight to Ercan airport in the north; and other measures partially lifting the embargo on the TRNC.
So long as Turkey does not make such gestures it will be eyed with suspicion:
(a) that it is not fully committed to a resolution.
(b) due to the EU prospect fading, Ankara has little incentive to be one step forward as in it was in late 2003 and early 2004, or even worse
(c) that Ankara simply does not care anymore for the EU.
In any event we must also be prepared for the worst – a non-settlement. Under the circumstances, let me stand back a bit and identify the main reasons for the impasse which until today have not permitted the reunification of the island in a workable consociational federation, and which have to be dealt with one way or another so as to open the road for a settlement.
Main reasons for the impasse
I would point to no less than 10 reasons for the non-resolution of the Cyprus conflict: (1) virulent nationalism and national identity (being mainly a Greek or Turk respectively and less a Cypriot, GC or TC); (2) the sheer irreconcilability of their respective goals; (3) the deep distrust and mutual demonization; (4) mutual non-acceptance and denial; (5) the negative role of the domestic factor (intransigent leaders and nationalist parties dominating the scene most of the time); (6) the existence of incompatible normative principles; (7) what constitutes a just solution; (8) the difficulty with federalism; (9) the fear of change; and (10) the external factor that has at times thrown oil on fire or has been overbearing or overbearing or clumsy when in trying to find a solution.
I will refer to three of the above ten factors that are not widely known yet are crucial at least to my mind: non-acceptance, what constitutes a just solution and the difficulty with federalism.
The denial-rejection of the “Other” is, I would argue, the ultimate obstacle to a Cyprus settlement. The Greek Cypriot denial posture regarding the TCs includes the following:
• The belief that Cyprus is Greek.
• That the Turkish Cypriots are simply Turks who happen to reside in the island.
• That the Turkish Cypriots are politically non-existent; they are simply Ankara’s pawns.
• Northern Cyprus (the secessionist TRNC) is regarded as non-existent it is merely “the Occupied Territories”, with pseudo-leaders as heads.
The Turkish Cypriots return non-acceptance and denial, in their own way, as follows:
• They refer to the “Greek Cypriot Administration” and not to the Republic of Cyprus;
• To the president of the Republic of Cyprus as merely the leader of the Greek Cypriot community and not as the president of an independent internationally recognized state.
• The Greek Cypriots are seen as Greeks and not as true Cypriots.
• Even more insulting to the Greek Cypriots, is that their chosen Greek self-definition is seen as an invention: the “Greeks of Cyprus” are hardly Greeks; they arbitrarily chose to define themselves as Hellenes, given the use of the Greek language; and as for the Greek Cypriot claim to be descendents of the Ancient Greeks this is sheer fabrication to rouse the support of Greece and Europe.
• Moreover the TCs call the Greek Cypriots Rum, the connotation being that they are a previously subject people of the Turks.
What is a just solution is yet another major difficulty. For most Greek-Cypriots (I would say 60-70%) a just solution must include the following (a) the departure of all the Turkish soldiers to the last man; (b) the departure of all the “settlers”; (c) the possibility of all of the Greek-Cypriots to regain their properties and resettle in their original homes if they so wish; and (d) the power to be handed to the Turkish-Cypriot and the territory of their respective federated state to be analogous to its percentage of the population (that is not much more than 20%).
Clearly in any mutually accepted settlement none of the above can be taken on board as such. Even the Greek-Cypriots seem to realize that they are unattainable. It could well be that these unachievable goals are put forward (consciously or unconsciously) so as not to allow any reasonable settlement, making “no solution the solution”.
The Turkish-Cypriots’ view of a just solution includes the retention of part of the Turkish Army as a guarantee against the Greek-Cypriot nationalists; the departure of only a minority of the immigrants from Anatolia; and power and territory to be based on a consociational framework.
The idea of a binational-bicommunal federation is the generally accepted blueprint for a solution since 1977. Yet it has not managed to capture the hearts and minds of most GCs, who continue to view it with suspicion. The main reasons for this stance are (a) the fear that by giving the Turkish Cypriots a federated state of their own this would pave the way for partition and union with Turkey; (b) the difficulty of sharing the state of Cyprus, after decades, in fact after almost 50 years of having monopolized the Cypriot state, and doing so on the basis of political equality when the ratio population-wise is 80-18 %.
Another reason that makes federalism unpopular to the Greek Cypriots is that it was a Turkish idea to begin with. Hence its acceptance is seen as tantamount to accepting the fait accompli of the Turkish military intervention of 1974.
Turkish Cypriots adverse to reunification and federalism regard a federal system as amounting to disguised dominance of the Greek Cypriots that would lead to a unitary Greek-dominated state. But in general the federal blueprint is more popular among Turkish Cypriots who support reunification, than among Greek Cypriots.
Above all, neither Cypriot community is sufficiently dissatisfied with the status quo to be prepared to make the difficult compromises necessary for resolving the conflict.
Thus there is little urgency to reach a settlement as the alternatives to reaching a final solution are not so unattractive as to warrant a genuine desire of settlement. As a seasoned US ambassador had once put it: “Greek and Turkish Cypriots will always have better reasons for not rocking the boat than for trying to sail it with a mixed crew.”
The words of former UN under-secretary Brian Urquhart more than two decades remain as pertinent as ever: “I know of no problem more frustrating or more bedeviled by mean-spiritedness and lack neither of mutual confidence, nor of as problem where all concerned would so obviously gain from a reasonable settlement”.
Yet it seems that the gains to all concerned are not appreciated by many members of the two communities who prefer separation to reunification. What is to be done?
Needless to say, an imposed settlement it is totally out of the question; it cannot be reached and even if it could, à la Dayton, it would be impossible to implement.
If the present talks fail, then the Cyprus problem can only be solved by two variants of partition: a “velvet divorce” (which is preferably as with most divorces) that would include some territory of the north going to the south; and an “adversarial divorce”, a settlement by default as it were, along the famous adage in the Cyprus case, that “no solution is a solution”.