The presentation, titled “Cyprus Talks Exhausted: Time for Change,” was organized by the think tank where I work in Brussels, earlier this week. It was the first of tandem meetings focusing on what’s next for Cyprus. The second meeting will host George Iacovou, advisor to the Greek Cypriot leader. Originally, Kudret Özersay, Ertuğ’s predecessor, was due to make this presentation. Indeed the title of the presentation was his. Kudret never got to make this speech as about a week earlier he resigned from the post.
For a solution to the decades-old problem, a spirit of compromise is needed, and this is something very hard to come by on Cyprus. Ertuğ is a man of vast experience, being involved in Cyprus peace negotiations since 1980. He enters the picture at a time when the current round of talks for a bi-communal, bi-zonal federation has been put into the deep freeze. It seems they will be “thawed out” once the Cypriot presidency of the EU is over and presidential elections have taken place in the South.
From the Turkish Cypriot perspective, this is a very unsatisfactory situation. There is deep resentment that the Greek Cypriots will be enjoying their “moment in the spotlight” from which the Turkish Cypriots have been excluded. They must sit and wait until the Greek Cypriots are ready to start talks again, hence his saying that the Turkish Cypriots are prisoners of the status quo -- that they are isolated and under economic embargo. However, having the experience of working on other “conflicts” involving unrecognized states, it is hard to agree that Northern Cyprus is isolated in the real sense of the word given the fact that thousands of visitors travel to the North each year, Turkish Cypriots are able to travel freely, and there is (although small) the opportunity of intra-island trade and trade overseas from ports in the South.
Yet, there is no doubt that Turkish Cypriots have suffered, and are still suffering the most as a consequence of the Cyprus problem. For the other players, Greek Cypriots, Turkey, etc., they have a future. For the Turkish Cypriots, particularly children, their future remains in limbo, as it has for the past 40 years.
It came as no surprise that Ertuğ blamed the Greek Cypriots for the unsatisfactory outcome in the talks so far, citing their reluctance for timeframes, arbitration and deadlines as well as the ongoing gas exploration that he cited as counterproductive for the peace process. He also cited the various articles that have been published by former Cypriot Foreign Minister Nikos Rolandis, which declare a consistent failure by the Greek Cypriots to support UN peace initiatives under Presidents Kyprianou, Clerides and Papadopoulos. The one president missing is George Vassiliou: Vassiliou came close to getting an agreement but was let down at the end of the day by the Progressive Party of Working People (AKEL), which failed to back him when he was up for re-election. Still, it is also clear that at the same time, the then-Turkish Cypriot leader, Rauf Denktaş, and his backers in Ankara were no more interested than their Greek Cypriot counterparts.
While there may be no organic link between the presidency and the negotiations, Ertuğ claimed it would boost the self-confidence of the Greek Cypriot side, while Turkish Cypriots have been left with the “crumbs of the EU cake.” Meaning that while the EU has done some useful work with the Turkish Cypriots -- on the day of our meeting, European Commissioner for Enlargement Stefan Füle was in Northern Cyprus -- the EU cannot force them into doing something they oppose. Thus, Ertuğ claimed the EU was rewarding the Greek Cypriots for intransigence.
On the issue of Turkish settlers, Ertuğ was the first Turkish Cypriot I have heard state so openly that he was not embarrassed about the immigration policy of Turkey. Rather he commented on some 40,000 Russians residing in Limassol and the close links between the Greek Cypriots and Moscow. Still, over the years tens of thousands of Turkish settlers have come to Northern Cyprus and now outnumber Turkish Cypriots. Furthermore, Ertuğ’s view certainly does not correspond to that of most ordinary Turkish Cypriots. Prior to his departure from office, Kudret Özersay stated that the Turkish Cypriots had “turned into less than a community.” This was behind his decision to lead an effort to organize a social movement, the aim of which he states as being for the Turkish Cypriots to start becoming a community again.
While the UN may have burned its fingers on Cyprus, it is not ready to give up, which is why in 2013 the ball will begin to roll again. How long it will roll for is anybody’s guess. For the international community Cyprus is not a priority, rather an irritant, like an itch that will not go away.