The first direct talks on the reunification of the divided island of Cyprus are set to start on Sept. 3, and the Turkish Cypriots desire a swift resolution as they continue to be isolated from the international community despite the fact that Cyprus became one of the 10 new states to join the EU in 2004.
The window of opportunity is small and could close even in late 2009 as preparations begin for Turkish Cypriot parliamentary and presidential elections in February and April 2010, respectively. The question is whether the Greek Cypriot side also desires a quick resolution to the long-lasting problem.
Turkish Cypriot leader Mehmet Ali Talat has said the Greek Cypriot leadership seems to be dragging its feet.
"[Greek Cypriot leader Dimitris] Christofias tells me that unlike my situation, in which [Turkish Cypriot Prime Minister Ferdi Sabit] Soyer can take over governmental duties, he needs more time because he has to continue to govern. So Christofias wants to meet once a week instead of twice," Talat said on Wednesday evening, speaking to a small group of journalists, academics and diplomats at the İstanbul Kültür University's newly founded Global Political Trends Center (GPOT).
Talat added that he is still hopeful that Christofias will take the lead and change the situation in Cyprus for the better because he promised a change in his election campaign.
Christofias, elected in February, has had several informal meetings with Talat in an effort to launch talks, which have been stalled for four years. His views have been much more conciliatory than his predecessor, Tassos Papadopoulos, who led Greek Cypriots in their rejection of a 2004 United Nations reunification plan that the Turkish Cypriots had endorsed. During his election campaign Christofias said Greek Cypriots wanted to rebuild partnership with the Turkish Cypriots, who make up about 20 percent of the island's population, and named foreign intervention and hard-line elements on both sides as reasons for failure so far.
Analysts commented at the time that events leading up to Kosovo's declaration of independence influenced the Greek Cypriots' vote. Talat emphasized Wednesday evening that Greek Cypriots do not wish for separation from the Turkish side. Observers also point out that Moscow's decision on Tuesday to recognize South Ossetia and Abkhazia, breakaway regions of Georgia, may be disturbing for the Greek Cypriot side.
Although respectful of the will of the peoples of South Ossetia and Abkhazia, Talat said official recognition of division has its own problems. "Our target via resolution is to create a federal and united Cyprus that integrates with the world," he said.
Cyprus has been divided between an internationally recognized Greek Cypriot south and a Turkish Cypriot north since 1974, when Turkey intervened in the island following a Greek Cypriot coup aimed at annexing the island to Greece.
Talat and Christofias had a landmark meeting in March, ending with an agreement to start preparatory talks to pave the way for reunification.
Their meeting on Sept. 3 will mark the start of direct negotiations to resolve the Cyprus issue, though they will not start dealing with the core issues until Sept. 11. Talat's meetings in Ankara will provide the opportunity for an exchange of views between the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus (KKTC) and Turkey in the days before the critical meetings with Christofias.
‘Isolation of the Turkish Cypriot community should end’
Hosting Talat at İstanbul Kültür University, GPOT Director Mensur Akgün, who formerly was the head of the İstanbul-based Turkish Economic and Social Studies Foundation's (TESEV) foreign policy program, said international isolation of the Turkish Cypriots should end because it has no legal justification.
He explained that in a TESEV publication titled "A Promise to Keep: Time to End the International Isolation of the Turkish Cypriots," six international academics had demonstrated the illegality of the isolationist policies imposed on Turkish Cypriots.
"We hope the study plays a role in facilitating the upcoming negotiations. Any step taken in the direction of lifting the isolations is likely to boost trust between both sides of the island," he said.
The report pointed to the decision on April 26, 2004, that the EU would take steps to end the isolation of the Turkish Cypriot community.
After Cyprus became an EU member, despite the fact that it was divided, Turkey agreed to extend its EU customs union agreement to the new member states, including Cyprus. In 2005, Turkey offered a six-point action plan -- including special arrangements for the practical inclusion of the KKTC as an economic entity in the EU's customs union and participation of the Turkish Cypriot side in international sports, cultural and other social activities -- for opening ports and airports to Greek Cypriot vessels. During talks on Cyprus between Turkey and the EU in 2006, however, Turkey refused to open its ports and airports to Greek Cypriot vessels unless EU ended the isolation of the KKTC. The talks broke down as the Cyprus issue continues to be a sword of Damocles dangling over Turkey's entry into the EU.
However, the report released in June, which clearly states that "lifting the isolation on the KKTC will not necessarily amount to -- or require -- its recognition as a nation-state," was harshly criticized by the Greek Cypriot media.
The Fileftheros daily claimed that the TESEV report was given to European Union officials in order to influence them on the eve of the European Parliament elections next year. Fileftheros also strongly opposed suggestions in the report that Turkish Cypriot representatives could have observer status at the European Parliament and at other EU institutions.
With Talat's election as president in 2005 following the rule of hard-line leader Rauf Denktaş, the subsequent election of Christofias on the Greek side gave new hope for the resolution of the conflict. But Talat said their policy is "all or none" regarding their demands, so proceeding to negotiate only on some of the demands won't be possible. "Lifting the isolation is about providing a lasting resolution to the Cyprus problem. Even if they are lifted today, the effects will be felt for years to come," Talat said.