TURKEY HAS no hidden agenda behind efforts to reunite the island, said Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan to a group of Cypriot journalists in Istanbul, adding that Greek Cypriots needed to overcome their mistrust of Turkey and help work towards building a region of peace and cooperation.
“Our goal is to achieve a lasting comprehensive settlement to the problem in Cyprus. We are ready to do our share to achieve that goal, and no one should or can doubt Turkey’s sincerity,” he said.
For the first time since the conflict began decades ago, a Turkish prime minister directly addressed an audience of Cypriot journalists and politicians from both sides of the divide at Erdogan’s palace offices in Istanbul at the weekend
“We will respect a solution that will be found through the free will of the two sides and we will fulfill whatever we need to fulfill in achieving that result,” he told journalists from three Greek Cypriot newspapers, including the Cyprus Mail, and two Turkish Cypriot ones.
As part of efforts to open dialogue with the Greek Cypriot leadership and public, the Turkish premier sought to quash speculation that Turkey would fail to implement an agreed solution between the two sides, saying that Turkey supports “wholeheartedly and with sincerity” a solution based on the framework agreed between the two leaders on May 23, 2008. He referred specifically to a bizonal, bicommunal federation as defined by relevant UN resolutions, with political equality and a single international identity.
Erdogan spoke of the lack of trust and understanding between the various sides involved in the conflict. He argued that while his government was always one step ahead in making efforts to solve the problem, Greek Cypriots were lagging way behind. He noted that the Justice and Development Party (AKP) started working immediately to bring an end to the conflict once in power by encouraging former UN Secretary General Kofi Annan to launch peace talks.
Erdogan highlighted that in 2004 he had called on the Turkish Cypriots to support the Annan plan, because he believed it was a win-win situation. “In Turkey, the main opposition party and other opposition parties criticised us heavily, insulted us even. They said we were selling off Cyprus, so we faced a lot of criticism.”
Despite its subsequent rejection by Greek Cypriots, he said he would continue to maintain a “constructive position” on a solution.
“As the government for the last seven and a half years, we have been showing this understanding approach not just for a solution of the problem but also from the point of the view of the Greek Cypriots. It was my government that facilitated the trips of Greek Cypriots to Turkey (in 2004),” he said.
Referring to the Turkish side’s package of proposals on governance and power sharing submitted in January to the negotiating table, Erdogan highlighted the level of suspicion tainting progress in the talks.
“I see on the Greek Cypriot side some question marks or doubts about what is behind this package. Whereas what we have to be doing is thinking not just about one part of the island, not only about the north of the island but the north and south of the island.”
Erdogan maintained that there were no hidden agendas in his push for peace. “I’ve been known to be very frank and open, in other words, I don’t have hidden agendas. I’m against hidden agendas. Everything should be out in the open, because if you exercise politics that way, then you can have a very sincere exchange with people.”
He said Turkey acknowledged that Greek Cypriots were the majority on the island, and simply wanted political not numerical equality for the Turkish Cypriots.
“We only we say what we think should be there, an equal footing, that’s it and we say it. We’re not talking about an equal number of ministers. The number of ministers from the Greek Cypriot side will be more. So we say two constituent states, which is only natural. We say a federal structure which is very expected. Population wise, there are more Greek Cypriots on the island, so those are all facts.
“With respect to the withdrawal of troops, we’ve spoken about this before. Over a period of time, we’ve said before that those troops can be withdrawn,” the Turkish leader said, adding that his government would not respond to calls for immediate troop withdrawal.
“We have to really work for peace, to have two constituent states on equal political footing, a federal state, then let’s do it. What is it that we cannot share? We have to build our future on that common understanding. Our government presents a great opportunity to solve this problem and the Greek Cypriot government must well understand this opportunity. What is it that we cannot share?” he asked.
Erdogan slammed the resolution recently passed in parliament on guarantor rights, saying it was a blow to the process and not a positive approach.
“Internal domestic problems cannot constitute an excuse for the actions of the Greek Cypriot side,” said Erdogan, who called on President Demetris Christofias to “show the necessary leadership and not slow down the process so that a solution can be found”.
The Turkish premier said he was aware that Christofias’ positions are criticised by certain newspapers. “We would not like to see some excuses cast a shadow over this process because the goal at the end of the day is to reach a comprehensive settlement, and I believe that if the necessary strong determination and will is presented then we can achieve a fair and lasting result in as short a time as possible,” he said.
“If Cyprus becomes an island of peace and stability then we will have fulfilled the responsibility not only for the current time but also it’s the responsibility we have towards the future generations,” he added.
Speaking to the Cypriot journalists, Erdogan argued that while the media may have an excuse for being cynical as a result of their profession, the people do not. “The people in the north and in the south should have enough confidence to be able to look at things directly in the eye and they should not be worried about these issues,” he said, referring to the framework of a solution. Then they would “be able to take this process forward”.
The Turkish PM quoted a Turkish saying on the media: “But you have a struggle too against those deceiving pens who do not write the truth. You too have something to struggle against because there are times when the media can take you to the top of the world or to the bottom of hell.”
Erdogan also called on Cypriots not to believe all rumours and speculation heard regarding Turkey’s motives. “You should not believe in words being spread out here and there because that leads to misunderstanding. It leads to intolerance on all sides.
“We have a saying in Turkish: a mad man throws one little stone into the deep well, and no clever person is able to bring it out again. It’s that complicated and so we have to make sure that we don’t fall into that trap.”
Asked by a Greek Cypriot journalist when the window of opportunity for a solution would close, he replied: “We would not want to be closing that window of opportunity, this is not something we desire, but how long can we be patient.
“The way you calculate time is different than us. I have the worry beads that Mr Costas Karamanlis had given me as a present and I know that the number of beads are different. You have 21, we have 33 so the number of beads we count for patience are different but we will continue to count them anyway.”
Erdogan welcomed the election of Georgios Papandreou in Greece, saying that he “trusted” him. He called on all Cypriots and the guarantor powers, Greece and Turkey, to put the past behind them and work towards ending the long-standing conflict in the region.
“It is important that the problem is solved on the island and we hope that the eastern Mediterranean will be an area of cooperation and peace which will be beneficial for everyone,” he said.
“What happened has happened in the past, we should leave it there. We have to look at the future and how we build the future. If Turkey and Greece for example were to engage in an arms race, would that take us to peace? That would take Greece into an economic crisis.”
Noting that $1 trillion per year was spent on arms in the world, Erdogan called for an investment “in friendship and brotherhood”, noting that nobody would have believed 10 years ago that Karamanlis would be a witness at his daughter’s wedding.
“So what I’m saying now is that we should go beyond this. We should not just stay where we are, we should keep moving forward. We should not be after small calculations. We really have to keep moving forward. We have to overcome difficulties, we’ve covered a lot of distance, but we need to cover more.”
The PM accused the Greek Cypriots of “in a manner of speaking acting as if they are the spoilt child of the EU and they feel like they can afford to do that” referring to the Republic’s decision to block more chapters in Turkey’s EU accession bid, particularly the ‘education’ and ‘energy’ chapter.
Erdogan repeated his call for four-party talks with the leaders of the Greek and Turkish Cypriots, Greece and Turkey, adding that Spain, holding the EU Presidency could also be present, as a way of getting all the sides talking together to speed up the peace process.
An hour and a half after the meeting began, 30 minutes over schedule, Erdogan looked visibly more relaxed among his Cypriot audience. Speaking of the Cyprus problem, he ended on this note: “We’ll do it together, thank you very much.”