Efforts to revive talks to end the half-century division of Cyprus appear doomed before they begin after Turkish Cypriot authorities said they were ready to accept only a two-way solution States.
Tahsin Ertugruloglu, foreign minister for separatist northern Cyprus, told the Financial Times that decades-long attempts at reunification had turned out to be a “total failure”. The Greek Cypriots and the international community must accept the “undeniable reality” of “two distinct national entities, two distinct states, two distinct democracies, two distinct peoples”, he insisted.
Cyprus has been divided since 1974 when Turkey invaded the north of the island in response to an Athens-inspired coup aimed at uniting the island with Greece.
The Republic of Cyprus, an internationally recognized authority on the whole island, joined the EU in 2004. But the bloc cannot enforce its jurisdiction in the north, which only Turkey recognizes as an independent state. Some 40,000 Turkish soldiers are still stationed north of the division line of control.
The UN called talks between the two parties at the end of April “to determine whether there is common ground for the parties to negotiate a lasting solution to the Cyprus problem within a foreseeable horizon”. The last round of UN-sponsored negotiations collapsed four years ago.
Ertugruloglu’s demand for a formal partition will strain the EU’s relations with Turkey even further as tensions have started to ease. The relationship nose dive last year, when Turkey sent gas exploration vessels into waters claimed by Greece and Cyprus.
Under the leadership of Tatar’s predecessor Mustafa Akinci, northern Cyprus began talks on reunification and federalization. But negotiations broke down in 2017 over Greek Cypriot demands for the withdrawal of all Turkish troops from the island.
“This new road that we have embarked on is not something that we have tried and tested,” Ertugruloglu said of the two-state proposal.. “It’s a whole new path.”
He acknowledged that the Cypriot government is unlikely to agree to talks aimed at a formal split. Cypriot President Nicos Anastasiades previously said he was ready to resume peace talks, but Nicosia and Athens rejected the idea of a Northern Cypriot sovereign state. They called for an agreement in line with UN resolutions calling for the reunification of the island as a binational federation, based on the 1977 and 1979 agreements between the two parties.
“Do I expect them to really try to turn a new leaf?” No, I don’t, ”Ertugruloglu said of the Cypriot government. “But just because they might not be interested in turning a new leaf doesn’t mean we’re going to give up our position and go along with what they are doing.”
Ertugruloglu said he saw no room for a compromise based on a federation of two zones and two communities. He insisted that the Greek Cypriots were responsible for the collapse of the constitutional arrangements put in place after independence from Britain in 1960.
He said he could imagine “two states cooperating in certain areas, perhaps paving the way for future generations to consider a confederation.” But he added that any confederation should be based on “two sovereign states”.
Ertugruloglu said there could be no cooperation on the management of gas resources unless the north is first recognized as an independent state. And he urged the UN to be adamant about the scope of further negotiations after the talks scheduled for Geneva on April 27-29.
“We expect the UN to be honest and sincere, to speak out and say it openly at the end: is there common ground or not?” he said.
Ertugruloglu downplayed the prospect that Britain, a state guaranteeing an independent Cyprus alongside Greece and Turkey, could play an important post-Brexit role in the peace negotiations. Turkish Cypriot leader Tatar expressed hope ahead of his election last year that British Prime Minister Boris Johnson could play a mediating role in the Cypriot conflict.
But Ertugruloglu said the UK “has not lived up to its responsibilities” in the past. His departure from the EU does not mean “that he will have a free hand.” . . to correct his mistakes, ”he added.
“The only country in which we have absolute confidence is Turkey, the motherland,” he said.