Speaking from Nicosia this week, ex-state Labor minister Theo Theophanous told Neos Kosmos that Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s crackdown could soon be reaching Cyprus’ shores.
How long will it be before he looks at Northern Cyprus and follows Vladimir Putin’s lead, in the way Putin annexed Crimea?
Mr Theophanous, who visited the occupied north of the island as a guest, said the consequences of Erdogan’s response to the failed 15 July coup – for Cyprus and the re-unification process – could be catastrophic, with the Turkish president bent on a savage purge of his opponents, and the intention to sure up his control in the region.
“How long is it going to be before Erdogan looks to squash all examples of liberal resistance, not just in Turkey, but in its sphere of influence,” said Theophanous.
“How long will it be before he looks at northern Cyprus and follows Vladimir Putin’s lead, in the way Putin annexed Crimea?
Theophanous believes the stalled unification talks between the Republic of Cyprus and the Turkish Cypriot authorities offer Erdogan the chance to claim northern Cyprus in what the Turkish president would claim was a ‘democratic’ mandate.
“Drawing on Putin’s actions in Crimea, Erdogan may be tempted to engineer a referendum in northern Cyprus, to test whether its inhabitants want to join Turkey, so resolving their isolation,” says Theophanous.
“He would try and justify it by saying the talks have dragged on too long, that the Greek Cypriot side is intransigent, and that Turkish Cypriots are isolated from, and unrecognised by, the international community.
“Of course he would win any such a referendum. Half the original Turkish Cypriot population have emigrated – replaced largely by Anatolian Turks, and Erdogan draws huge support from that community.”
The only way forward is for Greek and Turkish Cypriot leaders to find a way reach a settlement to unify Cyprus as soon as possible, says Theophanous.
“To not do so offers Erdogan an opportunity to create mayhem, that would threaten not only Cyprus’ future but the stability of the region.”
Adding fuel to Theophanous’ argument, Turkish prime minister Binali Yildirim said last week that while Turkey wanted the UN-brokered reunification talks to continue, the current round of negotiations was the last chance for Greek Cypriots to reach a deal.
“The Turkish Cypriot side has, with full sincerity, acted constructively,” Yildirim told reporters. “This is the last chance for the Greek Cypriot side, which has always acted as the ‘game spoiler’. We recommend they use this chance wisely,” Yildirim added.
Turkey is the only country to recognise the Turkish Cypriot administration in northern Cyprus, with the international community regarding the Republic of Cyprus as the only legitimate authority for the island that has been divided since the 1974 Turkish invasion.
Meanwhile in his first public speech since the failed uprising, Turkish Cypriot leader Mustafa Akinci said Turkish Cypriots had serious concerns about the coup attempt and its aftermath. Mr Akinci said the failure of the coup was a relief but that Turkey needed continue to progress “as a modern, democratic, secular, and social state of law”.