Currently, we are experiencing a period in which the issue is becoming even worse due to the EU term presidency of the Republic of Cyprus, due to start in July, and the offshore gas and oil discoveries in the south. Let’s go through the state of play.
After the EU membership of the south, Greece no longer considered itself the mentor, but is still influenced by the outcome of tensions to the extent that they are relevant to its relations with Turkey.
Despite its size and potential, Turkey has to deal with this “minor” issue. The feud of the two parties over the island is now directly influencing Turkey. It experiences problems with the south over EU membership talks, and now over fossil fuels, Israeli involvement adding fuel to the fire. Problems with Cypriot Turks’ discontent regarding “quasi-colonial” rule are ever mounting. In the past, Turkish Cypriots would hold rallies against the Greeks; now their reaction is directed against Turkey. Bluffs suggesting that the north could be annexed or that the navy could be sent to the Mediterranean are not taken seriously. On the other hand, irresolution of the conflict means the continuation of military control of the island, thus a huge obstacle to the demilitarization process in Turkey. Along the same lines, Turkey is unable to deal with the Ergenekon mindset which is still active in the north.
The Greek south is not immune to the eurozone crisis. President Dimitris Christofias will have difficulties being re-elected. Last summer’s conflagration that caused the death of 13 people and a vast disruption of the nation’s largest electricity plant exhausted his credit. The upcoming term in the EU presidency will bring troubles rather than benefits. On the other hand, irresolution means that the south may have to live with 40,000 Turkish troops forever.
The situation in the north is even worse. Even supporters of the government hold that the National Unity Party (UBP) is the weakest and clumsiest party of all when it comes to reunification talks with Greek Cyprus, daily administration and the tone of relations with Ankara. No serious progress -- compared to the President Mehmet Ali Talat era -- has been made in the talks. The middle class is eroding fast. More closures than openings of new businesses are reported. There is no serious economic activity other than gambling. The economy is fast coming under Turkey’s control, as incentives are provided mostly to entrepreneurs from Turkey. The land is provided free of charge; loans are secured from Turkey; the labor force is imported from Turkey and the building material is not subjected to customs regulations. A perfect “colonial” economy! There is an advisor from Turkey in every ministry supervising decisions.
Despite this, parties have to agree on a solution to tensions in Cyprus, because in this small land there is no solution other than a bi-zonal and bi-communal federation, which has been promoted by Turkey for many years. Moreover, UN Security Council Resolution 367 of March 12, 1975 -- which guarantees the sovereignty, territorial integrity and independence of the island and its non-alignment -- cannot be amended. Besides, two new strategic parameters have been added to the search for a solution: fossil fuels and water to be transported from Turkey.
These parameters have not been duly appraised. On the contrary, Turkey has tough rhetoric on gas/oil matters, despite the fact that it is a major potential buyer of these fossil fuels. Attention to the new parameters requires the strong will of the parties and the support of third parties. To this end, timing is important. A win by the liberal Nicos Anastasiadis in the presidential elections in February could trigger positive momentum in the south. Although the presidential elections in the north will be held in 2015, present dissatisfaction with the UBP government and the rise of the opposition Republican Turkish Party (CTP) may extend the momentum to the north as well. But in the final analysis, Turkey holds the key.
Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan made a bold move on Jan. 24, 2004, in respect to the Cyprus issue and cleared the way for the Annan Plan. However, the deep state had blocked any progress toward resolution already in March 2003. The issue was tainted after the rejection of the plan. Prime Minister Erdoğan will pay a visit to the island on July 20. He has two options: He will either make some patriotic statements and leave the issue unresolved, or show his determination to tackle the issue in order to make sure that all parties will win in the end. Answer within a few weeks.