Turkey’s government still wants a solution for the divided island of Cyprus but sees there won’t be one, says an academic who has long worked for reunification. According to Mensur Akgün, Turkey’s PM wants to give the message that getting 50 percent of the votes will not make him more flexible.
Cyprus is heading toward separation as chances dim for a solution based on reunification, according to academic Mensur Akgün, who has been working for nearly a decade with a nongovernmental organization that is trying to bridge the gap on the divided island. But separation will be a costly solution, he told the Hürriyet Daily News in a recent interview.
Q: How do you compare Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s recent statements on Cyprus with those from his first days in government back in the 2000s?
A: His ruling Justice and Development Party, or AKP, is defending the same principles. With the exception of the statement on the land and the warning that the process cannot continue forever like it has been, there is not much difference. The government still wants a solution but sees there won’t be one.
The Greek Cypriots have been dragging their feet on the negotiations. They are expecting to sit at the same table with Turks in the second half of 2012 when they will hold the EU presidency. Erdoğan said this is not going to happen.
Actually he gave a general message to the world and to the Turks as well.
Following the [June 12 general] elections, whenever you talked to some people, for instance Americans or Armenians, there was this expectation that with Erdoğan’s landslide victory, he could do anything he wants. He can open the border with Armenia, he can reconcile with Israel. People were thinking that without the pressure of public opinion, he would make certain sacrifices. But he dashed those expectations. From now negotiations will take place on a more realistic ground.
Q: But doesn’t the rhetoric on Cyprus seem much harder compared to the AKP’s earlier days?
A: There was a different environment back then. Prior to the AKP, we were the ones unwilling to sit at the negotiating table. There was an army that was readying to topple the government in the event of a solution. We had expectations from the EU. But the votes cast during the last elections show the Turkish Cypriots do not harbor any expectations from the EU. With the current economic crisis, the EU is losing its attraction.
Erdoğan is still supporting a solution but what he says is that this stance will not continue forever. He genuinely supported the process to find a solution, but not a solution at any cost. He wants a fair solution based on equality. This is not wanted by the other side. Opinion polls show that Greek Cypriots do not want to live together with Turkish Cypriots. The Greek Cypriot archbishop said he would rather use candles than electricity from the Turkish side. How can you negotiate with that kind of mentality?
Q: But is there a repositioning of the negotiation?
A: Some of the parameters are not the same. Take Güzelyurt [Morphou]. Before the referendums when you talked to people, they were ready to leave Güzelyurt to the Greek Cypriots. And in fact most of the people in Güzelyurt said “yes” during the referendum. But today they have settled there. They have invested there and they don’t want to leave.
Q: So why has Erdoğan now said giving Güzelyurt back was no longer an option?
A: He wanted to give messages to the Turkish Cypriots as well. There are three groups that are critical of Turkey’s policies. One group believes Turkey will forget about Cyprus once it enters the EU. His statement about Güzelyurt was directed to them, as a message that he will not sell out Turkish Cypriots for EU membership.
The second group believes in reuniting with Greek Cypriots simply by reviving the 1960 agreements. And the third group resists economic reforms. Erdoğan called the second group marginal.
Q: Are those critical of Turkish policies really marginal?
A: Independent of whether they are right or wrong, in terms of numbers, yes, they are.
Q: Turkish Cypriots are concerned that their identity could be swallowed up by Turks from Turkey who have settled on the island.
A: There is such a concern, which we should take seriously. No one wants unification with Turkey.
Q: Erdoğan caused anger when he said Turkey is feeding the Turkish Cypriots. It seems he did not bother to win their hearts following this statement.
A: It was a very unfortunate statement. But I believe he won the hearts of the majority on the island by reiterating his commitment to support Turkish Cyprus.
Q: Will the prime minister’s warnings have an impact on the inter-communal talks?
A: They shook the negotiation process. Someone had to shake it. The U.N. secretary-general gave a deadline of until the end of the year but left it vague as to what he would do in the absence of a solution. But with Russia and France in the Security Council, not much should be expected from the U.N. This shake was necessary; it is good that it happened.
Q: Do you think Greek Cypriots will change their stance and stop dragging their feet?
A: Greek Cyprus is in the midst of a political crisis, Greece is struggling with economic crisis. There is little chance for a solution. But Turkey said what needed to be said. Avoiding giving that message would have been perceived as giving a blank check to the world that Turkey will continue to negotiate forever.
Q: So where is the Cyprus problem heading?
A: It is heading toward separation. I have been working for nine years for a solution but it’s been a swim against the tide. The lack of solution is not in the interest of Turkey. But if there is no solution, we need to think about other ways. Even some Greek Cypriots have started to search for other methods. But separation will be a costly solution for all.‘Relations with EU were going to freeze anyway’
Q: The statement that Turkish-EU relations would be frozen during a Greek Cypriot presidency must have come as music to the ears of French President Nicolas Sarkozy. Are we coming to the point desired by France and Germany by ourselves?
A: At the end of the day, this was going to happen anyway. The EU is not a priority for Turkey any longer. This will give the message that Turkey wants membership, but not at any cost. Freezing relations with the EU for six months does not have a high cost for Turkey, since in the absence of a solution, there won’t be any negotiation in policy areas. [Talks on certain policy areas, called chapters, are suspended due to Turkey’s refusal to open its ports to Greek Cypriot shipping.] But the suspension of relations will have a higher cost for the EU since it needs consultation with Turkey on many foreign-policy areas.
Q: Do you think the warning on suspending relations will change the EU’s attitude?
A: This will only lead them to think a little. Otherwise they won’t change their attitude. The EU has very deep problems to deal with.
Q: Some say to Turkey, open your ports to Greek Cyprus and membership talks will get back on track. There is nothing to lose from opening Turkish ports to Greek Cyprus. What do you think of that idea?
A: I asked the same question to Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu, who responded, “We are not naïve.” If Turkey opens the ports, they will ask for something else, like withdrawing our soldiers. With each unilateral gesture, the other side thinks it is powerful and can force Turkey to take additional steps. As an activist, I feel we should open the ports due to our commitment to the customs union, with the hope that maybe this can change things; but as a political scientist, I see that doing that won’t change much.
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