The Conflict in Cyprus Part V

Spoken new Turkish Cypriot president

Rauf Denktaş did not run in the Turkish Cypriots’ presidential election in 2005. The new Turkish Cypriot president was former Prime Minister Mehmet Ali Talat. He continued for a long time, as did the Erdoğan government in Turkey, to advocate the implementation of the UN plan. Some low-level negotiations with the Greek Cypriots under President Tassos Papadopoulos eventually got under way, but to no avail.

The Greek Cypriot government did not want, could or was allowed to prevent Turkey from starting negotiations with the EU in October 2005. Later, however, the EU put pressure on Turkey to open Turkish ports and airports for trade with southern Cyprus. For domestic policy reasons, the issue is very sensitive for the Turkish government, which has therefore insisted that Turkey’s accession negotiations and Turkey’s relations with Cyprus be treated as two separate issues.

Christofia’s new Greek Cypriot president

The presidential election in southern Cyprus in February 2008 led to a change of power. The new president was Dimitris Christofias, from the “Communist Party” Akel. Although Akel had supported the negative side in the referendums on reunification in 2004 for tactical reasons, it was clear that Christofias had significantly better contacts with the Turkish Cypriots than Papadopoulos had.

In March, Christofias and Talat met at the UN headquarters in Nicosia, where they decided that new peace talks would begin later in the year. As a symbolic gesture, a new border crossing was opened in Nicosia in April at the former Ledra Street parade ground, which had been closed since 1963. However, many who had been following developments in Cyprus for some time were too optimistic to expect too quick results from forthcoming negotiations.

Crushed hopes

The leaders’ promises to create a solution based on the principle of a state with a single, common citizenship quickly met with criticism of concessions from skeptics on both sides. Continued negotiations during the year were sluggish, and after a change of Turkish Cypriot government in 2009, the pace of negotiations slowed down even more. When Talat also lost the presidency in the north in 2010, pessimism increased.

In January 2012, UN chief Ban Ki-moon brought the parties to a new round of negotiations that began in New York. His ambition was to drive the talks, quickly resolve the conflict and during the year be able to convene an international conference that would formally proclaim peace in Cyprus. But the efforts were unsuccessful and in April Ban was forced to state that the intended conference could not be carried out. The situation seemed as locked as ever.

However, after a change of president in the Greek part of the island and a Turkish Cypriot parliamentary election, the two sides agreed in February 2014 to take new steps to resolve the conflict. The new president of the south, Nikis Anastasiadis, and the Turkish Cypriot president Derviş Eroğlu agreed to set up negotiating delegations to formulate concrete proposals for solutions to key issues such as the distribution of power, land ownership and financial compensation for those who have lost their homes.

The process received internal criticism from Greek Cypriots who thought that Anastasiadis was rushing away too quickly, but UN mediators made the two leaders promise to increase the pace even more. In October 2014, Greek Cypriots abruptly suspended peace talks in protest of Turkey’s plans to launch seismic surveys in the sea south of the island, in an area considered by the Greek Cypriot government as its economic zone and where it has already issued oil and gas test drilling licenses.

Since Eroğlu lost the northern presidential election in April 2015, his successor Mustafa Akıncı made rapid contact with Anastasiadis. They met almost immediately, both showed concrete will for reconciliation and were supported by the religious communities on both sides of the island, as well as by the UN and a number of foreign governments. In December, they jointly said that they hoped for peace in 2016. Therefore, the disappointment was great when they announced in November 2016 that the negotiations had stalled. The disagreement over how land should be distributed and how many Greek Cypriots would be allowed to move back to the north became impossible to bridge for the time being. However, neither side wanted to say that the peace efforts had failed, and in January 2017 they took new steps. The new UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres and Greece also took part, The foreign ministers of Turkey and the United Kingdom in the initial negotiations in Geneva. But in July, negotiations stalled once again, and now the collapse was considered so definitive that UN mediator Espen Barth Eide resigned, stating that the world organization had exhausted its opportunities to mediate. Among the insoluble stumbling blocks seemed to be Turkey’s refusal to bring home its approximately 17,000 soldiers from the island.

The Conflict in Cyprus Part V