By Sakir Alemdar,
The Cyprus conflict entered a critical phase due to major progress made in the ongoing negotiations between the Turkish Cypriot leader Mustafa Ak?nc? and the Greek Cypriot leader Nicos Anastasiades. External factors and the internal changes on both sides in the last few years created a positive atmosphere and raised hopes that a solution could be within reach this year. In this advanced stage of negotiations, the top priority for the third party stakeholders trying to contribute to reaching a solution should be to encourage and if possible create more incentives for a compromise on both sides. This is what is most needed by the parties in the conflict as they are facing many unknowns and risks in the negotiations. Policies fuelling the maximalism of any one side, creating incentives to reject a compromise rather than accept one and support unilateral solutions increases expectations to unrealistic levels and obstructs the negotiations which are going on.
It will be recalled that in 2004 Annan Plan negotiations, the UN, the EU and major world powers spent a lot of time effort and supporting the UN Secretary-General in his good office mission in Cyprus to get the parties agree on a compromise agreement. The EU membership was the biggest card in the hands of the UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan to motivate and pressure both parties for a compromise. While the EU membership should have been used as an incentive to motivate both parties for a solution and its denial as a pressure, this was not done. On the contrary, Brussels gave the Greek Cypriot side a guarantee of unilateral EU membership before a final compromise for a solution. This increased the gains and incentives of the Greek Cypriot side from rejecting the plan rather than accepting one with all its compromises. Because it would be more attractive to reject the UN plan, but still get into the EU and then use the EU as an instrument of pressure on Turkey to extract more concessions on Cyprus. The thinking was that since Turkey wants to get into the EU, she will, in the end, give the full member Greek Cypriots the concessions it wants in Cyprus in order to get into the EU. This was admitted by the then Greek Cypriot leader Tassos Papadopoulos. The Annan plan failure remains the biggest failure of the UN-led efforts in Cyprus since 1968.
Have the right lessons been learned by the EU? One would have thought that the EU which played such a major role and in the end saw her efforts been blown away by the Greek Cypriot rejection, learned something by now.
Yet the section on the Cyprus issue in the latest European Parliament Turkey Progress Report (2015) leaves one puzzled and even worried that this lesson has not been learned at all. The resolution calls on Turkey among other things to pull out her troops from Cyprus and return the fenced area of Varosha to the Greek Cypriot administration. It also deplores Turkey’s refusal to implement fully the Additional Protocol of the EC-Turkey Association Agreement vis-a-vis all member states.
Clearly, at this advanced stage of negotiations where a compromise might be only months or a year away, it is difficult to understand how could calling on Turkey to unilaterally pull her troops out of Cyprus before a final agreement and before putting into place an agreed guarantee system, actually help a solution? What would the Turkish Cypriots, who attach top priority to their security, respond to such a one-sided call?
One also gets confused and puzzled by the call for returning Varosha even without any talk of a corresponding Greek Cypriot concession, as has been the case in all previous negotiations on Varosha. Varosha was linked to the opening of the Ercan airport in North Cyprus to international traffic which the Greek Cypriot side rejected. This call also ignores entirely the new Evkaf documents, which has been brought to light by researchers, regarding the Varosha area. Title deeds of the properties owned by Evkaf foundation, mostly in Varosha area, in violation of the internationally recognized rules of governance of this institution were passed on to the individuals illegally, that need to be dealt with before any final solution.
Above all the Cyprus section of the said report ignores the Annan Plan referendum results which is surprising since the EU was present there advising the parties. The Turkish Cypriots accepted the plan by over 65 % while the Greek Cypriots rejected it by a margin of over 75%. If this plan was accepted by the Greek Cypriots, the conflict would have been solved long time ago. A partnership would be set up, Varosha would be opened to both sides and the Turkish troops would be out of Cyprus save a few hundred alongside the Greek troops that would remain under the Treaty of Guarantee. Embargoes would have been lifted on both sides and the Turkish ports would have been opened to all Cyprus shipping and trade. The Greek Cypriots suffering from economic problems and hardship would have had the opportunity to enter the lucrative and dynamic Turkish market long time ago. So everything that is asked of Turkey today and much more was rejected by the Greek Cypriots themselves.
Another critical fact is that before asking anything from the Turkish side, the European Union itself should fulfill her own promises to the Turkish Cypriots. Major promises were made by the international community and in particular the European Union to the Turkish Cypriots to get a ‘yes’ vote from them in the Annan Plan which has not been fulfilled yet. The EU and the member countries had promised to the Turkish Cypriots that if they voted ‘yes’ to the Annan Plan in 2004, regardless of what the Greek Cypriots vote for, most of the embargoes on them would be lifted. All the international airlines would fly to Ercan State Airport and all ships from Europe would start calling at the Turkish Cypriot ports. These were public promises made at the highest levels and repeated over and over to manipulate the Turkish Cypriot vote in a referendum which would decide the future of the island. The general expectation was that it was the Turkish Cypriots which would reject the plan and not the Greek Cypriots.
After the referendum results came out the United Nations, major world powers and the European Union officials and indeed the European Parliament leaders gave statements and passed resolutions calling for the lifting of the embargoes on the Turkish Cypriot side. It was also made clear that the lifting of the isolations was also necessary since this would decrease the economic imbalance which resulted from decades of embargoes/isolations on the Turkish Cypriots side. A federal solution could only be reached and survive if there is an equilibrium between the two parties.
The then UN Secretary General Kofi Annan in his report to the Security Council after the referendum(S/2004/437) dated 28 May 2004 wrote
Ø “I would hope that the members of the (Security) Council can give a strong lead to all States to cooperate both bilaterally and in international bodies to eliminate unnecessary restrictions and barriers that have the effect of isolating the Turkish Cypriots and impeding their development, deeming such a move as consistent with security Council resolutions 541(1983) and 550(1984).” (Summary and para. 93)
But interestingly Mr. Pat Cox, the President of the European Parliament at the time, the very institution which passed the report on Turkey I am discussing here, in a statement on 24 April 2004 had this to say on the situation after the referendum:
“I deeply regret the outcome of the referendum among the Greek Cypriot community in Cyprus, rejecting the Annan Plan. The enlargement of the European Union on 1 May offers a dramatic change of context, and it is regrettable that the referendum did not produce a change of heart, despite the fact that the problem is not what it was thirty years ago. At the same time, I warmly welcome the strong endorsement of the Annan Plan by Turkish Cypriots.”
Even more importantly the European Union Parliamentary Assembly, passed the following resolution (no. 1376 (2004) which said:
“The Assembly pays tribute to the Turkish Cypriots, who supported the Annan Plan by an overwhelming majority, thus opting for a future in Europe. The international community, and in particular the Council of Europe and the European Union, cannot ignore or betray the expressed desire of a majority of Turkish Cypriots for greater openness and should take rapid and appropriate steps to encourage it. The Turkish Cypriots' international isolation must cease.
The Assembly, therefore, welcomes the support expressed by several European political leaders for financial assistance for the Turkish Cypriots and an easing of the international sanctions against them. The United Nations should also consider whether the resolutions on which the sanctions are based are still justified. The Assembly considers it unfair for the Turkish Cypriot community, which has expressed clear support for a reunited and European Cyprus, to continue to be denied representation in the European political debate. Such continued isolation may help strengthen the positions of those who are opposing a unified Cyprus.”
However, despite these calls at the highest levels by the international community in general and the EU institutions, in particular, exactly the reverse took place. Let alone lifting the isolations on the Turkish Cypriots, the EU went ahead and took the Greek Cypriot side into the EU on behalf of the whole of Cyprus. The side which accepted the UN plan was punished and the side which rejected the Plan was rewarded. As if this was not enough, due to Greek lobbying, the EU institutions soon returned to the old tune of repeating in every report what Turkey should or should not do in Cyprus. The kept asking Turkey to lift the embargoes on the Greek Cypriot side which it says is part of the Additional Protocol to the EC-Turkey Association Agreement. Turkey says that it is ready to fulfill this condition provided that the embargoes and isolations are lifted on both sides and not only on the Greek Cypriot side, as promised. This could have been a major opportunity to motivate both sides for a solution by the external stakeholders in Cyprus. But it is rejected by the EU.
It is worth noting that Europe refuses to fulfill or even remember her public promises made at the highest levels to the Turkish Cypriots. The EU and its institutions need to raise their credibility on the Turkish Cypriot side if it wants to play a positive role in Cyprus. So far it is an institution which kept making promises to manipulate the political will of the Turkish Cypriots and then when the Greek Cypriots rejected the UN plan, it simply forgot all about them. Instead, it tried to justify them by citing legal –or procedural difficulties – and then turning to the old tune of pressuring Turkey to make unilateral concessions so that the problem is solved. The simplicity of the approach to the solution of the complex Cyprus conflict, which has now been readopted by the European Parliament, tells a lot about the failure to solve many other complex problems by Brussels facing the EU.
One final point needs to be noted here. Whenever the European Union faces disagreements or problems in relations with Turkey, immediately the pressure is increased on Turkey to make serious concessions in Cyprus on the Turkish Cypriot rights and interests. This has been turned into a mechanical response of the European diplomacy vis-à-vis Turkey. The Turkish Cypriot partnership rights and interests exist independent of the state of the Turkey-EU relations. They do not change when relations improve or do not improve with Turkey. They are not something that could be bargained with Turkey ignoring the Turkish Cypriot leadership. Ankara also made it clear many times. The way to solve the conflict is through negotiations between the two leaders under the auspices of the UN Secretary-General. President Mustafa Ak?nc? made it clear on many occasions the importance he attaches to the political equality of the two parties and equal treatment of the parties by the outside actors.
Sakir Alemdar was a Political Affairs Advisor of Rauf Denktas, the former President of the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus, who has died aged 87, led the Turkish Cypriots for nearly half a century.