The best chance to end Cyprus’ 40-year division disappeared in the Swiss Alps last week, as the long drawn-out talks at Crans-Montana ended acrimoniously. So ends a process that many Cypriots – from both sides of the divide – saw as the most promising for generations to heal decades of conflict. It was left to a despondent UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres to break the bitter news, saying that the conference had ended on 7 July “without the possibility to bring a solution to this dramatic and long-lasting problem.”
“Cyprus divided forever is a betrayal of our forebears… We will… be grieving for the loss of another chance for our dream and our parents’ dream of one Cyprus being realised.
The tragic irony is that reunification talks came closer to success in recent weeks than ever before, but disagreement over two issues: power-sharing arrangements in a unified government; and security guarantees for the Turkish Cypriot community, ensured no deal could be reached.
Throughout the talks a major sticking point was always whether the tens of thousands of Turkish troops currently deployed on the island would remain after reunification. According to Turkish Cypriot negotiators, proposals were offered that included a significant reduction in the number of troops in the north, but the offer was rejected. From the Republic of Cyprus’ position, calls for all Turkish troops to be removed, and the deployment of a multinational police force to monitor the agreement, fell on deaf ears. It is, of course, not the first time efforts at reunification have faltered over the issue of troops. Greek Cypriot leaders see a total withdrawal (of what is still considered an illegal occupying force) as vital, while Turkish Cypriots fear ethnic violence in the event of an exit by Turkish forces.
The issue of ‘security guarantees’, and the two sides’ inability to compromise on this matter is the other half of the stalemate. For Nicosia, security guarantees that would have allowed outside powers (including Turkey) to intervene if one side felt the reunification agreement had been violated were a non-starter. One Cyprus diplomat said that such an arrangement would be “anachronistic relics of a colonial system.”
As the recriminations began, in Australia, Cypriot diaspora commentators grieved a lost opportunity and called for renewed efforts to bridge the divide.
Former Victorian state minister Theo Theophanous told Neos Kosmos: “The failure of the talks is a failure for the Cypriot people – Greek and Turkish, as well as the many minorities living on the island.” Mr Theophanous said that while each side would blame the other, “We who so clearly see that Cyprus divided forever is a betrayal of our forebears, will not be listening to these justifications, mostly mouthed for short-term political gain. We will instead be grieving for the loss of another chance for our dream and our parents’ dream of one Cyprus being realised”.
Dr Michalis Michael, writer on Cyprus affairs and director of the Centre for Dialogue in Melbourne said: “The key lesson to emerge is that security – in all its manifestations, for both sides – is the obstacle. While there is much criticism to be levelled – including at the UN – the question is ‘what lessons can be learned to inform future efforts?’ One thing is certain: the current process, by itself, is inadequate in solving the Cyprus problem.”
Dr Michael added: “There is always the danger that given gas exploration in Cyprus, the political situation in Turkey, and the heightening of ‘patriotic rhetoric’ during the impending presidential campaign in the Republic of Cyprus, that we can revert to a situation of tension and rigidity.”
In the wake of the talks’ breakdown, the key question is now Turkey’s reaction. The biggest loser economically in partitioned Cyprus is the Turkish Cypriot community, and the self-declared ‘Republic of Northern Cyprus’ chances of achieving international recognition are as distant as they have ever been. Analysts suggest an attempt at annexation by Turkey is unlikely, but the Erdogan regime will be intent on re-exerting its influence; already Turkish president Erdogan has spoken of a ‘Plan B’ and a ‘Plan C’. Erdogan’s comments after the G20 summit this week, warning off French energy company Total from assisting Cyprus in exploring for offshore gas, heralds the start. Turkey claims the island’s natural resources belong to both Greek and Turkish Cypriots.
Diplomats have already spoken about restarting talks after both sides have reflected on their differences.
But any new initiative is years away. After the last best chance – before Cyprus joined the European Union (the plan brokered in 2004 by Kofi Anan and rejected by referendum in the Republic) – more than a decade passed before serious talks resumed.