Greek analyst: Worst possible time for Turkey to solve Cyprus issue

"The closing of the Cyprus issue is not an end in itself. A bad solution will cause more serious problems in the future." [James Crisp / Flickr]

It is the worst possible time to reach an agreement on Cyprus, as Turkey is under severe pressure on its Iraqi and Syrian borders, and is pushing for a broader territory swap and more regional power, said Greek professor Angelos Syrigos.

Dr. Angelos Syrigos is an associate professor of International Law and Foreign Policy at Panteion University in Athens. He spoke to Alexandra Ktisii in an interview with the European Business Review, EURACTIV Greece’s media partner. 

What’s the next phase of the negotiations after the collapse in Mont Pelerin? Do you see any room for manoeuvre?

At the beginning of the next month, a summit will take place in Switzerland comprised of two phases. In the first phase, only Greek Cypriots and Turkish Cypriots are going to participate, without any serious possibility of reaching a specific agreement regarding the territorial issue, which is the most crucial point. In the second phase, the three guarantor powers, Greek Cypriots, and Turkish Cypriots will participate.

It is evident that during the second phase, we are heading for an all-inclusive negotiating procedure. That prospect is not beneficial for the Greek part, as the same occurs also for the extortionate timelines. It is always preferable to assess each step before moving to the next one.

What kind of role does Greece aspire to play as a guarantor power?

Greece correctly regards that the function of the guarantees from one state to another is obsolete according to international law. Therefore, Greece desires to stop that situation. On the contrary, Turkey still perceives its role as a guarantor power. Moreover, it intends to legitimise the use of force in order to continue intervening in the future.

Greece does not like a quintet summit because that would equate the Republic of Cyprus with a pseudo-state. Usually, the United Nations invents a formula and might call the quintet summit as “multilateral” so that everyone is satisfied.

Concerning the solution, there are four points that we should take into account. The first is what we are doing now in the negotiations. Which are the points that we are interested in and which tactic are we following during the negotiating procedure? The second point is what we should do in the case that negotiations fail. What is the plan B? The third point is what we are doing if the negotiations resolution is rejected by the Greek Cypriots, which is a possible scenario under the current circumstances. Finally, the fourth point concerns generally how we are dealing with Turkey. At this point, I believe that Turkey, under certain conditions, might attempt to incorporate the occupied territories.

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Rival Cypriot leaders have agreed to resume UN-backed reunification talks after negotiations broke down in Switzerland last month.

I am afraid that Greece and the Republic of Cyprus do not have an answer to those strategic questions. We just agree on the tactics during the negotiations, which means that everything depends on the next meeting. If the Turkish Cypriots do not keep their word, as happened at the end of November in Mont Pelerin, we will not know how to manage that situation.

I’m reminded of the Annan Plan for Cyprus. What are the structural weaknesses of the Annan Plan, and why does it remain a roadmap for the current negotiations?

The plan that is under discussion is similar to the Annan Plan, indeed. There will be two states, one Greek Cypriot and one Turkish Cypriot. On a central level, it will be a federal government and two representative bodies, the Lower House and the Senate and the members’ participation will be pre-defined based on their origin, Greek Cypriots, and Turkish Cypriots. We are talking about a bureaucratic and finally non-functional system.

Rejection of the Annan Plan in 2004 was the result of some of its provisions: The Turkish troops would abandon the island after 14 years. At least 100,000 settlers would remain permanently on the island. The provisions about the restoration of property to its legitimate owners were so convoluted and complicated that could be lost in bureaucracy.  At the same time, the Greek Cypriots would hand over their strong hand, the official identity of the Republic of Cyprus, from the first day of the new state’s creation.

I do not think that the situation is going to change radically now.

Let’s focus on the time factor. Should the Cyprus issue be closed under present circumstances?  

I am afraid that it is the worst possible timing for closing the Cyprus issue. Turkey is under severe pressure on its eastern borders. It is pushing for a broad swap of territory and power in its neighborhood. It is placing many of its claims on the table, led by an arrogant leadership.

I do not know if the timing would be proper after one or two years. A requirement would be to discover more rich sources in the underground of the Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) of Cyprus that would help the Greek Cypriot side to change the power relationship. In general, however, I fully concur with the view of former Minister for Foreign Affairs Petros Molyviatis concerning the Annan Plan in 2004. “There are no last chances in diplomacy,” he noted.

The closing of Cyprus issue is not an end in itself. A bad solution will cause more serious problems in the future.

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Crucial talks on Cyprus reunification held in Switzerland hit an impasse in the night of 21 to 22 November, the Cypriot press announced.

Which country cares more about the closing of the Cyprus issue, Greece or Cyprus? And why do they worry so much about that issue?

Obviously, Greek Cypriots attach greater importance for the issue, because let us not forget that one-third of them, i.e. 200,000 people, were made refugees after the Turkish invasion in 1974. But as a topic, I think it concerns the position of Hellenism in total. If there were no Greeks in Cyprus, Turkey’s interest would be comparatively limited. The presence of Greeks in its underbelly makes Turkey worried.

How would you explain Turkey’s pressure on Greece and EU? According to you, what does Erdogan have in mind?

Erdogan is possessed by expansionist ideas and that’s reflected in the three grandiose milestones he has set for Turkey with reference to specific symbolic dates.

The first plan is the 2023 plan which is linked to the 100th anniversary of the Turkish state’s establishment. According to that plan, Turkey aspires to be one of the 10 most powerful economies in the world. In foreign policy, Turkey desires to be a global player and a regional superpower. The second plan, of 2053, marks 600 years since the fall of Constantinople. At that time, Turkey intends to be included in the 5 most powerful economies globally and also be a permanent member of the UN Security Council.

The third plan, set for 2071, marks 1000 years since the Battle of Manzikert (for control of eastern Anatolia), and the Turkish invasion of Asia Minor. There are no specific objectives defined at that point, but it concerns the heritage of the Seljuks. The unspoken point of the Seljuks’ heritage for Islamists is the fact that they expanded to non-Muslim territories, defeating the most important Christian power of that time.

Those three plans remind me of a comment expressed by an American diplomat about neo-Ottomanism: Rolls Royce ambitions, but with a Rover engine. In that framework, we should consider the pressure that Erdoğan is trying to impose on Greece and Europe.

Cyprus leaders to hold talks in Switzerland in November

Greek and Turkish Cypriot leaders have agreed to continue their talks next month in Switzerland to try and reach an agreement on reunification of the island before the end of 2016, a UN spokesman announced Wednesday (26 October).

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