Turkey intensifies its stranglehold on Cyprus

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Turkish-Cypriot presidential candidate Ersin Tatar (C) celebrates his victory in the second round of the presidential elections, in the Turkish-administered northern part of the divided capital Nicosia, Cyprus, 18 October 2020. [Bilge Bebek/EPA/EFE]

The EU cannot afford to turn a blind eye as Turkey tightens its grip on Cyprus, writes Robert Ellis.

Robert Ellis is a member of the advisory board at Vocal Europe in Brussels.

For those who have worked for and believe in the reunification of the troubled island of Cyprus, the outcome of Sunday’s presidential election in the TRNC (Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus) is a major setback. The TRNC is itself a fabrication, a self-declared republic, to justify what in fact is Turkey’s 82nd province.

The Republic of Cyprus was declared in 1960, but since the collapse of the power-sharing constitution in December 1963 and the formation of UNFICYP (United Nations Peacekeeping Force in Cyprus) in March 1964 to separate the Greek and Turkish Cypriot communities, all attempts at reunification have been in vain.

The threat of Turkish intervention was met by a letter from US president Lyndon B. Johnson, who in an echo of the Cuba crisis warned Turkish president Ismet Inönü that Turkey could not count on NATO’s support in the event of Soviet intervention on behalf of Cyprus.

It was not for nothing that President Johnson called the Cyprus issue “one of the most complex problems on earth”, which ranks with the Palestinian question.

A series of UN secretaries-general and envoys have attempted to square the circle. Kurt Waldheim called it the “most frustrating and thankless task of my term of office”, and the issue defeated Richard Holbrooke, who brokered the Dayton Agreement.

António Guterres, who came close to an agreement in Crans-Montana in Switzerland in 2017, believed that a historic opportunity had been missed. In a report to the UN Security Council, he wrote of “a horizon of an endless process without result” and concluded that the lack of a resolution is unsustainable.

Intercommunal talks began in 1968, but the situation was bedeviled by a coup in 1974 by Greek Cypriot extremists, who backed by the Greek military junta intended to declare enosis (union with Greece).

The establishment of the Republic of Cyprus is underpinned by a number of documents, among them the Treaty of Guarantee, where Greece, Turkey and the UK undertake to prohibit the union of Cyprus with any other state or partition of the island.

As the UK refused to intervene, Article 4 gave Turkey the right to take action, which led to Turkey’s occupation of northern Cyprus and a redistribution of the population.

Under the aegis of the UN it was agreed in 1977 and 1979 between the Greek and Turkish Cypriots that the aim of a Cyprus settlement was the creation of a bi-communal and bi-zonal federation with a single sovereignty and citizenship.

In April 2004 the Annan Plan for reunification was accepted by 65% of the Turkish Cypriots but rejected by 76% of the Greek Cypriots.

The following month the whole island joined the European Union but the occupied north was defined as “those areas in which the Government of the Republic of Cyprus does not exercise effective control”. However, Turkey has refused to recognize the ROC government, which it terms as “the Greek Cypriot Administration of Southern Cyprus”.

Additional fuel was added to the fire in 1983 with the unilateral declaration of the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus (TRNC), which only Turkey recognizes as a sovereign state.

Despite the collapse of talks in Crans Montana there was still hope of a federal solution with the re-election of Turkish Cypriot leader Mustafa Akinci as president of the TRNC this month, but these hopes were dashed with the election of Ersin Tatar, who is regarded as Ankara’s man.

In the election the dice were loaded, as Turkey has in violation of the Geneva Convention effected a massive population transfer of settlers from Anatolia to Cyprus, who could outvote the indigenous Turkish Cypriots.

The architect of Turkey’s neo-Ottoman foreign policy, former foreign minister and prime minister, Ahmet Davutoglu, has in his key work, “Strategic Depth”, from 2001, made clear that “Even if there was not one single Muslim Turk over there, Turkey would have to maintain a Cyprus question. No country could possibly be indifferent to an island like this, placed in the heart of its vital space.”

The discovery of vast hydrocarbon resources in the Levant Basin has intensified Turkey’s stranglehold on the island, and Ersin Tatar has already prioritized the distribution of these resources before reunification talks, where he supports a two-state rather than federal solution.

At the last meeting of the European Council Germany’s Chancellor, Angela Merkel clearly stated her preference for “a constructive dialogue” and “a positive agenda” with Turkey. Turkey’s President Erdogan responded with a video call to the chancellor, where he noted that the EU succumbs to the pressure and blackmails by Greece and the Greek Cypriot administration despite Turkey’s well-intended approach.

“Europe’s major interests shouldn’t be sacrificed for a few member countries’ minor interests.”

If the EU falls for this ploy, a blatant attempt at ‘divide and rule’, it will take yet another step to undermine its credibility.

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