When the negotiations to end the decades-old division of Cyprus broke down on the early hours of Tuesday, thousands of Greek and Turkish Cypriots who had attended the biggest peace demonstration on the Green Line the night before, were still in party mood.
Despite the UN praising the significant progress achieved so far, the news of the failure of the talks at Mont Pèlerin, was greeted either with a palpable sense of loss or a deep sigh of relief; depending which side you were on.
Yiannis Papadakis, Professor of Political Anthropology at the University Cyprus, has described it to me as “a great disappointment, leaving the Greek Cypriot public opinion numb”.
Meanwhile, on the other side of the divide, Turkish Cypriots that favoured a settlement, were left with frustration, tinged with anger; but a considerable number of their compatriots, along with many in Turkey, seemed jubilant.
After the initial shock, along came the mutual blame game. As usual, there was very little soul-searching but, in the time honoured Cyprus fashion, the search for a solution started again.
President Nicos Anastasiades was the first to declare his readiness to pick up where they left off.
Following Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Çavuşoğlu’s visit to Nicosia, Mr. Akinci has also confirmed his determination to keep working towards a settlement before the end of the year.
Soon after, details of intense diplomacy in coming days have emerged. The UN Secretary General’s Special Adviser Espen Barth Eide would be visiting Cyprus on Monday; the British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson is due on Wednesday and Jonathan Cohen, US Deputy Assistant Secretary for European and Eurasian Affairs, would be arriving on the island on Thursday.
Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan are also expected to meet early in December.
Much of this haste in securing an agreement before the end of the year, comes down to external factors.
Ban Ki-moon, who brokered the talks, is coming to the end of his term as the UN secretary general.
There is a new President-elect in the United States, whose foreign policy priorities are not yet clear. One of the guarantor powers, the United Kingdom is walking away from the European Union. Another big player Turkey, which describes itself “an island of stability in the middle of regional turbulence” is nothing of the sort. Most importantly, the Greek Cypriot side will be going into a presidential election campaign next year for the critical vote in 2018.
No wonder many believed these negotiations were the last chance for unification.
Now, with the close personal rapport and confidence between Mr. Anastasiades and Mr. Akinci visibly shaken, and the international climate worse than ever, the problem of Cyprus seems more intractable than ever.
Zeynel Lüle, a veteran journalist and one of the rare political analysts who has taken a close interest in Cyprus, believes that the latest impasse does not mean we have reached “the end of the road”.
“The process will continue. The existing situation serves the interests of neither side, “ he says.
He sees three major hurdles: guarantees, rotating presidency and territory. “Karpaz Peninsula and Morphou are the most difficult areas when it comes to territorial adjustment. On the question of the guarantor powers, Greek Cypriots and Greece want Turkish troops out of Cyprus. A possible compromise would be a staged withdrawal of the Turkish forces and later establishing an alliance between a “Federal Cyprus”, Turkey and Greece. They have never been so close to an agreement before. Pressure by the UN and the international community may facilitate an agreement, but the most difficult part of the problem is to get an approval from the Greek and Turkish Cypriot voters in referenda. That requires serious effort”, Zeynel Lüle says.
The fate of an agreement may ultimately lay in the hands of Greek and Turkish Cypriots, but interventions by Turkey and Greece can easily derail the most determined diplomatic efforts.
Speaking at the Royal Institute of International Affairs in London on Friday, the Turkish deputy prime minister Numan Kurtulmuş has reiterated Turkey’s support for a negotiated settlement in Cyprus.
A western diplomatic source I have spoken to after the Chatham House event reminded me the comments by President Erdoğan, quoted by the disgruntled Turkish Cypriot prime minister Huseyin Özgürgün, a few days before the stalled Mont Pèlerin talks. According to Mr. Özgürgün, Mr. Erdogan has repeated his warning that Morphou would never be allowed to be returned to the Greek Cypriots.
Greece, too, has been meddling.
Professor Yiannis Papadakis has told me that for the first time in many years, Greek Cypriots have been critical of the government of Greece, especially the Greek Minister of Foreign Affairs, Mr Nikos Kotzias, alongside Turkey and Turkish Cypriot leadership for the failure in Switzerland. Mr. Kotzias was blamed for endorsing unreasonably tough positions on the issue of guarantees.
Professor Papadakis points out that in the Cyprus Republic, the two largest parties, right-wing DISI in government and left-wing AKEL in opposition, each controlling one third of the vote, strongly support the negotiations towards a federal solution. “Those in favour of a federal solution urge the Greek Cypriot leader to immediately find ways to move forward, otherwise the momentum could be lost,”.
Resolving a decades-long conflict with its neighbor Turkey, is seen as beneficial in Greece, too. Opening new energy corridors in the Eastern Mediterranean and upgrading its role as a transit centre linking Asia to Europe, thought to be a positive development for Greece, still reeling from its economic and refugee crisis.
For Turkey, benefit and loss calculations are not so straightforward.
For a start, policy decisions are shaped by a government which is moving away from Europe. This is mainly due to Turkey’s democratic deficiency but it is partly because of the EU’s failure to reach a common stance on Turkey, in which Cyprus government has been playing a significant role.
Inside Turkey, among every political shade, left and right, there is a strong nationalist sentiment against any kind of compromise that may involve loss of influence in Cyprus. With some exceptions, the rest is totally indifferent to what happens to Cyprus.
Greek Cypriot politicians that have long invested their hopes in an Islamist party determined to break the traditional hold of the military in Turkey, still, naively, keep thinking that the AKP government would be more “constructive” in Cyprus because it needs a foreign policy success.
They will be disillusioned, again.
Knowing full well most of its supporters would not see a compromise in Cyprus as a success, the AKP government would only genuinely agree to a permanent solution if they see a short term domestic gain as well as a major geopolitical advantage.
A lasting settlement in Cyprus, the kind both Turkish and Greek Cypriots have been dreaming of for years, bringing them sustainable peace, security and prosperity, requires a lot more than that.
This post is also available in: Turkish