Another Crossroads in the Cyprus Conflict: New Negotiations, Hope for Change and Tough Challenges Ahead
Another Crossroads in the Cyprus Conflict
New Negotiations, Hope for Change and
Tough Challenges Ahead
UN-sponsored inter-communal negotiations for a comprehensıve settlement of the Cyprus problem are going on for decades with breakdowns and under different leaderships from both sides. A new round of negotiations with the mediation of the UN Good Offices is due to start soon. The leaders from both sides, the President of the Republic of Cyprus (RoC)[i] Nicos Anastasiades and the President of Northern Cyprus Derviş Eroǧlu, started informal talks in November 2013, but they could not agree on the wording of a joint statement that has so far adjourned the start of formal negotiations[ii].
This article offers an analysis of current issues and long-standing complexities in the peace process that are crucial to understand the importance of the approaching negotiations in Cyprus. The first section analyses the efforts in resolving the Cyprus conflict in the aftermath of the 2004 referendum on the Annan Plan and EU membership. The section particularly focuses on the shifting domestic dynamics away from the Plan on both sides of the island between 2008 and 2012. The following section turns to discuss a number of issues that would be key areas of concern, or – if exploited carefully- opportunities for cooperation for the new round of negotiations. The final section summarises the key points and discusses a number of lessons from the previous attempts at reaching a comprehensive settlement on the island that should guide both parties during the upcoming talks.
A Brief Glance at the High Level Negotiations after the Referendum
Following the failed referendum in 2004 on reunification and subsequent EU accession, Cyprus peace process has entered into a dormant period[iii]. The efforts of the Greek and Turkish Cypriot sides to resume peace talks started in 2005 with occasional meetings between the leaders from both sides and the UN Special Representative. The Secretary General brought an impetus to these meetings by proposing bi-communal talks at technical level in February 2006 (UNSG 23 May 2006). In July 2006, two leaders –Tassos Papadopoulos and Mehmet Ali Talat- agreed on a joint statement which declared that the status quo was unacceptable and a comprehensive settlement was their common aim (UNSG 1 December 2006). After setting up seven technical groups and six bi-communal working groups, the actual negotiations started in early 2007[iv].
Nevertheless, the trauma of the Annan Plan referendum prevented the leaders from creating a positive atmosphere during the negotiations. In the words of the UN Secretary General, “the two sides continued to engage in mutual recriminations” and failed to put “an end to the so-called blame game” (UNSG 4 June 2007). The talks were not fruitful throughout 2006 and 2007, and the negotiations turned into a virtual fight over the failed referendum and lifting isolations of Turkish Cypriots, despite the fact that the UN and the EU constantly stated recognition of a separate authority in the north was not on the agenda[v] (UNSG 3 December 2007).
Despite the initial lack of progress, the year 2008 seemed to be promising to reach a comprehensive agreement. The February 2008 Presidential elections brought the leader of AKEL Demetris Christofias into power in the RoC. AKEL is traditionally a leftist/communist party that supports a reunified and demilitarised federal Cyprus. The party has established links with the pro-solution/reunification Republican Turkish Party (CTP), throughout the division years. Moreover, during his election campaign, Christofias promised to start negotiations with the Turkish Cypriot leader and reach a conclusive settlement in Cyprus (UNSG 2 June 2008). Thanks to the close interpersonal relations between Christofias and Talat, the leaders quickly agreed on a roadmap for a comprehensive settlement. In May 2008, their joint statement reaffirmed their commitment to a bi-zonal and bi-communal federation, and political equality among the Turkish and Greek Cypriot communities as well as a common aim of establishing a federal government with a single international personality and two constituent states (UN 23 May 2008). In September 2008, full-fledged negotiations started after more than four years break and continued intensively through bi-communal working groups and technical committees.
However, the actual differences between both sides were huge regarding the terms of reunification, property debate and power sharing. In his inaugural speech, Christofias stated that his aim was to restore the unity of the island as a federal, bi-zonal and bi-communal republic, to exclude any rights of military intervention and to de-militarise the island (Morelli 2013). On the other hand, Talat noted that their aim was ‘to establish a new partnership state in Cyprus, based on the political equality of the two peoples and the equal status of two constituent states’ (Financial Times, March, 5 2008). Further highlighting the divergent starting points of the parties for new negotiations, the Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoǧan stated that Turkey supports the new efforts for a comprehensive settlement, but “a comprehensive solution will be possible in a new partnership where the Turkish Cypriot people and the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus will equally be represented as one of the founder states. This new partnership will be built upon such indispensable principles as bi-zonality, political equality, and Turkey’s effective guarantorship” (Morelli 2013).
In addition to the parties’ irreconcilable expectations from the negotiations, the Greek Cypriot government avoided any discussion to the basis of the Annan Plan proposals. Instead, the Greek Cypriot side promoted the so-called ‘European solution’. One of the main principles of a ‘European solution’ would be no restrictions on the freedom of settlement and property on the island as opposed to the derogations offered in the Annan Plan (Stavridis 2006; Faustmann 2010). The European solution, as favoured by the Greek Cypriot government, also envisioned the incorporation of Northern Cyprus into the RoC. As a counter-argument, the Turkish Cypriot leadership claimed that a ‘UN solution’ would be the most viable option to guarantee bi-communality and bi-zonality on the island. In the view of the Turkish Cypriot side, a ‘UN solution’ would require certain derogations from EU freedoms. Such derogations from freedom of settlement would guarantee that the Greek Cypriot majority would not override the Turkish Cypriot identity and autonomy in the long term. *In short, the Greek Cypriot side insisted on the full implementation of the acquis and rejected permanent derogations as outlined in the Annan Plan, while the Turkish Cypriot side demanded political equality of communities, self-rule and physical separation on the island through restrictions on freedom of settlement and property.
Unsurprisingly, during the first phase of the talks, only partial convergence was achieved in the areas of governance and power sharing, economy and the EU matters. However, very limited progress was made in regards to property, while territory and security issues were not even discussed between the leaders. During the second phase, the election of the executive, federal competencies and external relations were on the table, but the leaders also failed to reach a final agreement on power sharing (UNSG 11 May 2010).
In 2010, Derviş Eroğlu was elected as the president of Northern Cyprus replacing the pro-EU/pro-reunification president Talat. Eroğlu is known as a nationalist figure with a background in the traditionally pro-independence National Unity Party (UBP). Although Eroğlu declared that he was committed to the negotiations, during his election campaign he accused Talat as giving far too concessions to the Greek Cypriot side (Napolitano 2011).
The negotiations continued between the leaders, but progress was much slower between Eroğlu and Christofias in 2010. The property debate was at the heart of negotiations, and disagreements shaped the talks between the leaders (UNSG 8 August 2011). Towards the end of 2010, Eroğlu stated that ‘as time passes, the willingness of two communities to live together is diminishing’[vi]. Similarly, Christofias acknowledged that both sides were not coming closer to an agreement, and Turkey was not ready to engage with the Cyprus issue for a decisive solution[vii]. Consequently, the Greentree meetings in New York in October 2011 and January 2012 failed to bring any agreement on the core issues of power sharing, property, territory and citizenship (UNSG 30 November 2011). Finally, the negotiations were suspended in May 2012 and Kudret Ӧzersay, the chief adviser to Eroğlu, resigned one month later signalling that the talks at the technical level would be put on hold for an unknown period.
What went wrong in the post-2004 period?
The failure of the efforts to find a solution after 2004 can be attributed to several reasons. To start with, it would not be wrong to claim that the status quo took a new shape under the EU membership given the sluggish efforts of both sides at the negotiation table. As a result of the continuing isolations and disappointment with the referendum results, Turkish Cypriots grew more resentful of the EU and more pessimistic about a comprehensive settlement in the post-2004 period. The pre-accession firm belief in the possibility of co-existence under a common state across the socio-economic factions of the Turkish Cypriot society has been replaced by a belief that the political and physical separation will persist in the long term (UNFICYP 2007), and there would not be a comprehensive settlement on the island (Kaymak, Lordos et al. 2008; Sözen 2012). For example, a UNFICYP survey in 2007 demonstrated that Turkish Cypriots have become less interested in bi-communal contacts (UNFICYP 2007).
The apathy of the Turkish Cypriot public towards settlement efforts has also become visible in their perception of the local civil society organisations which increasingly suffer from a relative marginalisation compared to the pre-referendum years when civil society created mass political mobilisation for reunification and EU membership. There is an overall tendency to attribute the reason for failed negotiations to the international community, including the EU and Turkey, rather than the inter-communal mistrust. As a result, today, the Turkish Cypriot public increasingly perceives the efforts for building trust and reconciliation among the two communities as trivial endeavours (Yabanci 2013).
The Turkish Cypriot community have sufficient reasons to lose hope in the peace process. Before the referendum, Northern Cyprus witnessed an unprecedented social uprising against the political and economic dominance of Turkey in Northern Cyprus and the conservative/nationalist political leadership. The majority of the Turkish Cypriot public supported the Annan Plan and EU membership as the only remedy to end their isolation within the international community and to achieve a more democratic system which is free from the political and economic dependence on Turkey. The societal support for reunification and EU membership was partially a result of the AKP government that eagerly supported the UN peace process when it came to power after the 2002 general elections in Turkey.
In the post-referendum period, the Cyprus peace process has become more dependent on the problematic relations between Turkey and the EU. Currently, Turkey refuses to implement the Additional Protocol added to the Customs Union Agreement (i.e. to extend the customs union to the RoC). The EU declared that Turkey is under obligation to implement its Customs Union Agreement (Stavridis 2006), and until Turkey agrees to apply the Additional Protocol of the Ankara Association Agreement to Cyprus, eight negotiation chapters will not be opened and none of the open chapters of Turkey’s accession negotiations would be concluded (Tocci 2007; Tocci 2010). In this decision, the lobbying and veto power of the RoC against the Commission’s proposal is undeniable. Greek Cypriot government claims that the Commission’s proposal is “purely a political reward for the Turkish Cypriots, not justified by economic considerations that would culminate into the creeping or overt recognition of the secessionist entity in the north” (UK Parliament 2005). Contrarily, Turkey argues that until the EU approves the direct trade proposal that would allow Northern Cyprus to directly trade with the EU member states and lifts the cultural and political isolations of the Turkish Cypriot community, Turkey’s ports and airspace would remain closed to the RoC[viii].
On the other hand, Turkish Cypriot side claims that direct trade is essential to lift the isolations of the Turkish Cypriot community and to contribute into the long-term development of Northern Cyprus more than the current financial aid. The lift of isolations and economic development would not equal to political recognition; contrarily it would ease the future reunification (Yabanci 2013). However, the Turkish Cypriot claims are often unheard in the middle of the discourse of blame between the EU, Turkey and the RoC.
As a result, the general pessimism among the Turkish Cypriot public is due to a perception that the government in Northern Cyprus has limited control over the actual negotiations and the terms of a comprehensive settlement and that “the Cyprus conflict and the future of the Turkish Cypriots have been wrongly placed in a framework driven by Turkey-Greek Cypriot relations and Turkey-EU accession process. The Turkish Cypriots are forced to suffer”[ix]. The loss of belief in a negotiated settlement between the Turkish and Greek Cypriot leaders has become a self-fulfilling prophecy that the current status quo would be the only option available for the Turkish Cypriot community.
The same lack of interest in bi-communal contact (doing business and establishing personal relations) is also valid for the Greek Cypriot public (UNFICYP 2007). After the EU membership provided a guarantee against Turkey, the Greek Cypriot public has also developed a general apathy for the settlement efforts and lost hope about a comprehensive settlement on the island (Sözen 2012). Moreover, the government crisis in early 2010 left Christofias without a majority in the parliament when the coalition partner DIKO withdrew from the government citing ‘too many concessions given’ during the negotiations by Christofias (Morelli 2013). Without a majority in the parliament, Christofias could not risk imposing a negotiated settlement at home. In short, on both sides the publics have grown weary of endless negotiation and displayed reluctance to accept concessions that prevented the leaders from preparing the two communities for a settlement deal and for another referendum on reunification.
Also, the year 2011 marked deteriorating relations between Turkey and the Republic of Cyprus for two reasons. First, given the approaching Council presidency of the RoC, Turkey declared that relations with the EU would be frozen during the six-month presidency. Eroğlu also suggested the termination of the UN talks in early April due to similar reasons[x]. The reluctance of Turkey and the Turkish Cypriot leadership to continue talks further slowed down the UN peace process. Also related to the frustration with the EU’s failure to approve the direct trade regulation with Northern Cyprus and to lift the isolations, the AKP government’s attitude towards the Cyprus peace process has significantly transformed since its early years in power. Turkey has become more vocal in arguing that there are two separate states on the island implying that division would be accepted as the final settlement on the island by the Turkish side. Instead of supporting reunification, in the aftermath of the referendum, AKP’s policy towards Cyprus has become more supportive of the current status quo and less enthusiastic to empathise with the Greek Cypriot grievances caused by the division. In late 2012, the Turkish Prime Minister noted that if a negotiated solution could not be reached soon, Northern Cyprus would go its own way[xi]. In the post-referendum period, the Turkish government has also declared that territorial and other concessions agreed by Turkey before the referendum would no longer be accepted by the Turkish side. In a speech addressing a group of Turkish Cypriot journalists, Erdoğan stated
“the Annan plan conditions have changed. We will be coming to the table differently. They [the Greek Cypriots] are still thinking of what more they get can get besides [concessions stipulated in] the Annan plan. Well, excuse us, but the time [of concessions] has passed. […] If the Greek Cypriots are still hoping that they will have the northern Cyprus, they will wait in vain to see this happen. They will wait in vain as long as Turkey remains a guarantor state. […] We had agreed to withdraw troops under the Annan plan. They [the Greek Cypriots] did not accept it. So, they lost [their chance]. […] We speak clearly and firmly. A bi-zonal structure of two states with equal status must be accepted. Whether or not to accept is up to them[xii].
Second, the relations between Turkey and the RoC were further strained when the Greek Cypriot government issued licence to a US company to search for natural gas in the Exclusive Economic Zone in 2011. The escalating tension between Turkey and the RoC were not conductive for reaching a deal, as acknowledged by the Greek Cypriot president Christofias[xiii].
Finally, the modalities of high-level talks were not flexible to allow reaching an agreement on the persistently problematic issues. As discussed previously, the Greek and Turkish Cypriot sides were discussing irreconcilable demands. The leaders differed in terms of almost every matter that would shape a comprehensive settlement plan such as property, settlers from mainland Turkey, guarantorship of Turkey, power sharing and the nature of the bi-communal federation. Leaders discussed each issue independently, which prevented them from engaging with the process through genuine compromises and agreeing on package deals. In other words, in the absence of a process of give-and-take, the leaders failed to solve the essential disagreements to reach a conclusive settlement.
At the Brink of New Negotiations: Brand-new challenges or opportunities for cooperation?
After almost ten years since the referendum and EU accession, the sides are far from a comprehensive settlement in Cyprus. The wrong attitude of the leaders in negotiations (discussing contentious issues independently), increasing aversion to the efforts for a comprehensive settlement among people on both sides of the island, and the worsening relations between Turkey and the RoC were the main reasons for the failure. Undoubtedly, the old ghosts will continue to haunt all the interested parties during the upcoming negotiations. In addition, there are also novel issues that would shape (though they would probably not be a part of the official agenda for negotiations) the pace and the end result of the talks such as the recent elections on both sides, the banking and financial crisis in the RoC, hydrocarbon resources in the Mediterranean and the work of the Immovable Property Commission (IPC).
Change of Leadership on the Island: A real chance for breaking the impasse?
The 2013 Presidential elections in the RoC brought Nicos Anastasiades of Democratic Party (DISY) to power. DISY was the only party calling for a yes vote for the Annan Plan in the Greek Cypriot referendum. Anastasiades also criticised the Papadopoulos government’s no campaign in 2004 fiercely as power abuse (Anastasiou 2008). As a result, the election of Anastasiades created new hopes for all pro-solution groups on the island as well as for the international community supporting a settlement in Cyprus.
The July 2013 general elections in Northern Cyprus also brought a change in the leadership. The CTP re-emerged as the largest party in the Turkish Cypriot assembly with the 38% share of the vote. The second winner was the DP that received 23% of the vote and became the coalition partner of CTP[xiv]. The support for the opposition parties Republican Turkish Party (CTP) and Democrat Party (DP) in Northern Cyprus indicated a desire for a change regarding the policies of the previous UBP government among the Turkish Cypriots.
The presence of pro-solution leaders on both sides is certainly a positive development for the negotiations. The key role of leaders in engaging public attitude to the peace process was clear during the 2004 referendum campaign on the island. While the pro-Annan Plan CTP government in the north encouraged the Turkish Cypriot public for a ‘yes’ vote, the conservative Papadopoulos government in the south amplified the worries of the sceptical Greek Cypriots through a ‘no’ campaign. The forthcoming talks will be much determined by the attitudes and flexibility of the Anastasiades government and the CTP/DP coalition. Leaderships that are willing to reach a comprehensive settlement are not only crucial during the negotiations, but also in preparing the relative publics for an eventual referendum and shared state in the future.
However, there are two caveats that call for caution. Although the willingness of the leadership in northern and southern parts of the island is important, the negotiations between the leaders do not take place in isolation. First, soon after his inauguration in February 2013, the Anastasiades government was challenged by a fiscal crisis that forced the RoC to seek a rescue package from the EU. The package is linked to tough austerity measures including heavy taxation of the private depositors of the RoC’s huge banking sector (The Economist March, 25 2013). The unpopular measures forced the government to confront domestic reactions from the Greek Cypriot society and the parliament for the approval of the austerity package. It would not be incorrect to claim that the Anastasiades government’s ability to commit Cyprus negotiations with flexibility has already been constrained at the domestic level. In fact, Anastasiades, whose government does not enjoy a big majority, already declared that the Greek Cypriot side would not be forced to the negotiations, deadlines and timetables while the implementation of austerity package was ongoing[xv].
Second, as the recent elections have also proved, the Turkish Cypriot public’s desire for change in terms of economic and political dependence on Turkey that has increased in the post-referendum era (Bryant and Yakinthou 2012). the change of leadership in Northern Cyprus was also related to the unpopularity of the economic programme of budgetary controls and big privatisation projects imposed by Turkey in Northern Cyprus. In fact, the political parties avoided making commitments about the Cyprus negotiations during their election campaign. The main pledge of the parties was around the economy, albeit the difficulty to make unilateral alterations to the austerity measures demanded by Turkey[xvi]. Put simply, the new government’s popularity is also much dependent on the economic indicators and austerity measures in Northern Cyprus.
Moreover, as discussed earlier, the AKP government’s stance on Cyprus conflict has considerably changed after the referendum. It is unlikely that the Turkish government would pressurise the Turkish Cypriot side to leave the negotiations, yet the Turkish government does not exclude the possibility of ‘a peaceful divorce’ between the Greek and Turkish Cypriots, if the parties could not agree on reunification[xvii]. Although the CTP as a traditional pro-reunification party which played a key role in the last phase of pre-referendum negotiations does not approve the provocative hard-stance of the AKP over the Cyprus issue and its colonial-style approach towards Northern Cyprus, it is still difficult for the CTP-DP coalition to openly voice a complaint or alter Ankara’s policy.
In short, during the actual process of negotiations, it would be crucial for the Greek and Turkish Cypriot pro-reunification leaderships to prepare the relative publics for a final settlement. However, the economic constraints have already generated tough challenges for these leaderships’ popularity at home that are likely to decrease their willingness to give concessions during the talks.
The Property Debate and the Immovable Properties Commission
One of the most invincible problems during the previous rounds of negotiations was the property debate. The property debate is a complicated one, not only because it is a legal/political issue but also it is closely related to personal rights, i.e. resettlement/rehousing of many families after a comprehensive settlement. The origin of the property debate dates back to the inter-communal violence in the course of 1960s and the war in 1974 on the island. According to the estimates, during the 1963-4 inter-communal fights, 25.000 Turkish Cypriots (a quarter of the Turkish Cypriot community at that time) were internally displaced. Following the 1974 war, 142.000 Greek Cypriots (approximately 30% of the Greek Cypriot community at that time) and 45.000 Turkish Cypriots (approximately 40% of Turkish Cypriot population) had to flee leaving immovable properties behind them (Gürel and Özersay 2006). With the territorial division on the island after the war, the abandoned territories on both sides were confiscated by the authorities, and these properties were mostly distributed to the refugees to house them after the war or used to build community infrastructure such as schools, hospitals by the Northern Cyprus and the RoC governments (Gürel and Özersay 2006).
From a legal point of view, when the confiscation took place, there was no consent of the original owners. Since the Greek Cypriot side never accepted the division on the island, the original owners still have the legal rights on their properties. Therefore, the consent of the original and new owners is crucial in settling the property debate. On the other hand, from a human rights point of view, the new owners of the disputed properties have also acquired certain rights, despite the lack of legal title deeds on the property they inhabit. The issue has become even more complicated in time as the hereditary and collateral claims and claims related to buying and selling were involved on many of those properties (Gürel and Özersay 2006). Therefore, property is perhaps the main issue that the ordinary people on the island would experience the consequences of the future settlement immediately and directly.
Nevertheless, the legal, political and human rights implications of the property debate has so far prevented the Greek and Turkish Cypriot leaderships from giving concessions on this issue in the past. In the Greek Cypriot view, a comprehensive settlement plan should give the ‘right to full reinstatement’ to the original owners. In other words, the favoured solution of the Greek Cypriot side is to allow people who would like to return their properties in the north without any quotas. However, in the view of the Turkish Cypriot side, in order to preserve the bi-zonal nature of a future federation and to protect the current inhabitants’ rights on the disputed properties, certain restrictions on right to return are crucial (Gürel and Özersay 2006; Williams and Gürel 2011). During the Christofias-Eroglu negotiations, the Turkish Cypriot side offered a compensation plan that reflects the main position of the Turkish Cypriot/Turkish side on the property debate. The proposal prioritised the current inhabitants on these disputed properties in order not to create mass social unrest and displacement among the Turkish Cypriot community and the Turkish settlers from mainland Turkey.
Since the negotiations failed to reconcile the two demands, the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) was the most important actor dealing with individual claims from the Greek Cypriot original owners of immovable properties until a few years ago. Especially, after the landmark decision of the Court in Loizidou case in 1996, many Greek Cypriot owners applied to the Court against Turkey[xviii]. However, as a result of the increasing number of cases and compensation claims, the ECtHR suggested a mechanism to allow settlement of similar claims between the direct parties (ECtHR 2005). After this suggestion, Turkey and Northern Cyprus established the Immovable Properties Commission (IPC) in 2005. The IPC was established after the ECtHR guidelines for ‘a genuinely effective redress’ for the cases pending and also for the similar litigations in the future (ECtHR 2005). In 2010, the ECtHR declared the IPC in line with its own guidelines in its conclusions for the Demopoulos and Others v. Turkey case.
The Turkish/Turkish Cypriot side regards the recognition of the Court highly important for the settlement of the property dispute for two reasons. First, the Court stated that the IPC provides ‘an effective domestic remedy’ that would be compatible with the ECtHR principles. Second, the Court also acknowledged that the rights of current (Turkish Cypriot) residents on the disputed property, and it noted that when restitution might not be possible, financial compensation and other ways of settling issues would be considered (ECtHR 2010).
Nevertheless, during the first years of the IPC, the applications from Greek Cypriot owners remained very low mostly due to the very negative attitude of the Greek Cypriot authorities. The RoC government, Greek Cypriot lawyers and even the archbishop protested the statements of the ECtHR that are supportive of the IPC and dismissed the Court’s decision as political and siding with an ‘unlawful’ institutions created by ‘an illegitimate entity’[xix]. However, due to the current financial situation in the RoC, the number Greek Cypriots filing applications with the IPC have considerably increased in 2012 and 2013. As of late 2013, the territory that is subject to Greek Cypriot claims is around 15.000 ha. So far, the cases have been mostly resolved through compensation for the original owner. In return, the original owners relinquish their title deeds. Around 8.000 ha area was compensated which amounts to approximately €16 million[xx]. In addition to compensation, 460 ha area was returned to the Greek Cypriot original owner (restitution), more than 1.000 ha was exchanged with the Turkish Cypriot property in the south. When evaluating the original owners applications, the IPC draws upon the Annan Plan’s relevant principles regarding the property issue that is “reinstatement of property to dispossessed owners is accorded under limited circumstances, otherwise compensation or exchange for comparably valued Turkish Cypriot property in the south is considered the norm” (Williams and Gürel 2011: 22).
The work of the IPC is indispensable in terms of slowly settling the property debate through an alternative arrangement than negotiations at the leaders’ level. The latter proved to be unfruitful in the past since, as acknowledged by the RoC government, the property issue is not only a legal issue but also a political one[xxi]. However, there are reasons for not to be over-optimistic again. First, as more Greek Cypriots agreeing to give up their legal ownership in return for compensation, the Greek Cypriot position on the property dispute (giving all displaced persons on the island a right to reinstitution) is undermined in favour of the Turkish Cypriot position (limited reinstitution, an offer compensation and exchange of property). The RoC government has recently appointed a special committee to work on legislation in order to allow property buying and selling between only Greek Cypriots concerning the left properties in the north[xxii]. Without imposing any taxes, the new legislation would seek to limit the settlement of the property issue on Turkish Cypriot terms and to prevent Greek Cypriots who are in dire condition from filing applications with the IPC. The efficiency of this counter-measure taken by the Greek Cypriot government will be only assessed through time. However, the attitude of the government would certainly discourage some property owners from bypassing their government and settling their private dispute through the IPC.
Second, and more importantly, the issue has a political nature and should be considered in relation to the other aspects of the Cyprus conflict. While the IPC might offer a practical way of settling property dispute for some individuals in line with the ECtHR principles and guidelines, it is mostly based on the Turkey’s ability to convince the Greek Cypriot original owners to sell their title deeds due to the crisis in the south. However, the IPC, besides being a very costly effort, does not guarantee normalization of relations and reconciliation between the two communities.
Gas and Pipeline: a new prospect for cooperation?
The exploration of hydrocarbon resources in the Mediterranean has generated a recent attention from the international community as a novel opportunity for cooperation between the RoC, Northern Cyprus and Turkey. According to some commentators, a pipeline would create incentives for cooperation between the two in the long term (Pericleous 2012) since transporting hydrocarbon through a pipeline passing through Turkey would be the most optimum choice compared to other alternatives (Gürel, Mullen et al. 2013).
Initially, when the RoC launched the first international tender for hydrocarbon exploration in February 2007, the issue has escalated the tension between the Greek Cypriot government and Turkey adding another dimension to the difficult relations between the two. After the US based Noble Energy Company was granted exploration licences in the south of Cyprus, Turkey and Northern Cyprus tried to consolidate an international reaction against the Greek Cypriot action (Gürel, Mullen et al. 2013). According to the Turkish Cypriot (and the Turkish) view, the RoC –that is de facto represented by the Greek Cypriot government- has no right to make decisions on behalf of the entire island. In 2009, the then Turkish Cypriot President M. Ali Talat explained the official position in a letter to the UN Secretary General. In his letter, Talat described the Greek Cypriot action as ‘unacceptable and provocative’ and warned that it would ‘not only deepen the gap of confidence between the two sides but could also lead to an escalation of tension between them’[xxiii]. The Turkish Cypriot president noted that the Turkish Cypriot community, as the one of the constitutional communities of the federal state that was established in 1960, should also have a say in the exploration activities. He also claimed that the unilateral efforts for exploration of hydrocarbons in the Mediterranean should be suspended until a political settlement is found on the island (until the Turkish Cypriots are officially recognised as an equal component in a future federal state)[xxiv].
The international reaction to the Turkish Cypriot claims was not as expected. The EU member states and the US acknowledged that the RoC is the only internationally recognised authority on the island; therefore, it has the right to explore and exploit natural resources within the boundaries determined by international law. The statements by the then President of the RoC Demetris Christofias also convinced the international community that the extraction of hydrocarbons would be another strong motive for both communities to reach a viable solution to settle the Cyprus conflict. Moreover, the Greek Cypriot president declared that in a reunified Cyprus, the natural resources would benefit for all Cypriots as a federal state competence[xxv].
Despite warnings from Turkey and Northern Cyprus, the first drilling started in September 2011 near the Israeli Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ). With the start of first drilling, the tension around hydrocarbon exploration escalated further, and Turkey and Northern Cyprus declared their intention to take reciprocal measures. First step was to sign an agreement delineating the maritime borders between Turkey and Northern Cyprus in September 2011. Soon after, they issued licence to Turkish Petroleum Corporation (TPAO) to carry out hydrocarbon exploration activities. During this period, Turkey issued statements that can also be interpreted as a potential crisis in the Mediterranean involving the military. For instance, the Deputy Prime Minster of Turkey, Bülent Arınç, stated that
Similarly, the EU Minister of Turkey’s Egemen Baǧıs noted “this is what we have the navy for. We have trained our marines for this. We have equipped the navy for this. All options are on the table; anything can be done”[xxvi].
Despite these statements, it would be unrealistic to foresee that the tension would involve military measures in the future. In fact, the Prime Minister of Turkey Erdoǧan noted that military intervention was not an option, and the Turkish government’s reaction would be conducting its own hydrocarbon exploration activities (Gürel, Mullen et al. 2013). The statements of Turkey – albeit strongly worded- are related to the maritime zones in the Mediterranean where Turkey/Northern Cyprus and the RoC have overlapping claims (cf. Gürel, Mullen et al. 2013). The crisis is rather of political nature regarding the long-standing Cyprus problem that might lead to political and legal disputes including third parties (such as Israel)[xxvii].
Yet, it is also difficult to foresee that the hydrocarbon exploration would generate a motivation for new negotiations and cooperation per se. Turkey’s current strategy can be defined as ‘wait and see’ in terms of hydrocarbon exploration in the Mediterranean. Greek Cypriot government aims to decrease the tension by avoiding exploration activities in the areas that are subject to overlapping claims of Turkey. Given the current level of mistrust between the parties, cooperation between the RoC and Turkey over the transportation of natural gas would be a result of a settlement in Cyprus, rather than serving as a catalyser to seek a final settlement. In September 2012, the Turkish Cypriot side sent a proposal to the UN Secretary General which offered a bilateral technical committee set up by Turkish and Greek Cypriot experts to discuss the exploration and revenue sharing along with a UN advisor ‘without prejudice to their legal an nd political positions on the Cyprus problem’ (Gürel, Mullen et al. 2013). However, the RoC rejected any negotiations –under UN auspices or bilateral- regarding the exploration and joint management of hydrocarbons before a final settlement on the island.
Moreover, as accepted by the Turkish side, the issue is not about sharing the revenues after a final settlement, it is about ‘generating the revenues together’ (Hazou 2012: 96). The political concerns of equality for Turkish Cypriots and sovereignty for Greek Cypriots have generated the crisis in the first place. Similar to the property dispute, the economic and legal answers are not sufficient to resolve the complex political questions and generate incentives for cooperation in the Cyprus conflict. Before building certain level of trust, parties would not be able to develop cooperation in geopolitical issues.
Approaching Negotiations: Room for optimism amidst challenges ahead
The above discussion suggests that the upcoming negotiations will be shaped by a number of key issues that would provide both challenges and opportunities for reaching a comprehensive settlement on the island. First, the efforts for a comprehensive settlement in Cyprus have become hostage to the post-referendum inertia of the Turkish and Greek Cypriot leaders. There are outstanding areas of disagreement between the parties as revealed by the latest round of talks (the 2008-2012 period). These areas of disagreement will pose the toughest challenges for both sides during the upcoming negotiations and they should be genuinely addressed during the high-level talks.
In this sense, it is crucially important for the parties to learn from the previous rounds of failed negotiations and the referendum process. The number one lesson is that the official talks are usually deadlocked over the same critical issues: power sharing, the meaning of a bi-communal and bi-zonal federation, territory, security and guarantees. According to Ahmet Sözen, the reason for the persistent deadlock is that the leaders preferred to deal with these issues separately in the past. According to Sözen, the design of the upcoming negotiations is crucial, if the sides want to overcome these traditionally ‘tough’ areas. Instead of dealing with the complex issues separately, the leaders should be willing to engage in a ‘give and take’ process[xxviii].
Linking problematic issue areas and generating win-win solutions through package deals can also be applied in relation to the confidence building measures as parallel to the official negotiations. For instance, civil society activists on both sides have long been arguing that there is a number of confidence building measures that authorities on both sides should undertake at the same time. Greek Cypriot and Turkish Cypriot governments could introduce trilateral (Greek, Turkish and English) road signs, restore cultural heritage and cooperate on environmental protection and biodiversity on the island as a sign of goodwill to reach a solution and to show willingness to live together (Kaymak, Lordos et al. 2008). Turkey and the Turkish Cypriot government would agree opening Varosha/Maraş to resettlement[xxix], implement the Additional Protocol of the Customs Union Treaty and withdraw some Turkish troops from the island to show commitment to demilitarisation of the island. The Greek Cypriot government would reciprocate by lifting its veto on the direct trade proposal and Turkey’s accession negotiations chapters[xxx]. Such package deals and win-win solutions would certainly ease the persistent deadlock in the official negotiations and increase inter-communal trust among the Turkish and Greek Cypriot people.
Second, there is an evident public weariness in both sides of the island related to the failed negotiations in the past. The Greek and Turkish Cypriots have lost their belief in the prospect of a comprehensive settlement and re-unification. The implication of this on the new negotiations would be immense. Accepting the current status quo and becoming less interested in inter-communal contact, the Greek and Turkish Cypriot publics could be the thin end of the wedge for the acceptance of a settlement plan agreed by the leaders. Regular public opinion surveys after the Annan Plan referendum reveals that both publics are not convinced that the negotiations would create a comprehensive settlement on the island. For example, according to the Cyprus 2015 survey in 2012, the 65% of the Greek Cypriot and 69% of the Turkish Cypriot public expressed ‘low hope’ for a future compromise (Sözen 2012). Under the current circumstances, the publics can only be encouraged to support the upcoming high level talks, once the widespread pessimism on both sides of the island will be overcome.
While leaders’ attitude is important in overcoming this pessimism, the role of civil society and other non-governmental activists, trade unions and business groups cannot be denied. As the recent report by the Centre for Sustainable Peace and Development shows, the official negotiations usually bypass bottom-up efforts at societal level and the process is usually ‘subordinated to the political agenda and domestic electoral cycles’ (Centre for Sustainable Peace and Development 2013). The secretive nature of official negations creates a mutual blame game between the leaders, while both publics remain detached from the actual process. Acknowledging the local/societal dimension of the process is crucial for the leaderships on the island. The importance of the civil society and other non-state actors were proven during early 2000s in Northern Cyprus. The Greek and Turkish Cypriot leaderships can increase the transparency of the peace process by allowing the local activists and civil society organisations to take an active role in discussing and explaining the package deals and compromises agreed between the leaders at public level. In this sense, the civil society would act as a link between the leaders and the publics by conveying the demands and attitudes of the Turkish and Greek Cypriot communities to the leaders and preparing the two communities for a future referendum on reunification. In short, the second lesson is that engaging the publics from both sides to the settlement process is fundamental for the peace process to be locally owned and sustainable. Another round of failed negotiations (or even worse a failed referendum) would open the way for a total disengagement of both communities from each other and from the peace process.
Third, the discussion has revealed that the Cyprus problem is more complicated today with novel issues on the table such as hydrocarbon exploration activities including other regional actors (Israel and possibly other states bordering the Mediterranean in the long term), the financial and banking crisis in the RoC, latest elections which brought pro-reunification, pro-Annan Plan parties to power in both sides, and the novel efforts undertaken by the Immovable Properties Commission (IPC) in settling the property debate. As discussed above, these issues provide some opportunities for cooperation, but they cannot solve the long-standing Cyprus conflict.
Finally, AKP government’s altered policy towards negotiations and a final settlement and the EU’s inability or reluctance to integrate the Turkish Cypriot community through alternative means will continue to pose tough challenges for the upcoming negotiations. As discussed above, especially the devoted pro-solution groups in North Cyprus (the leftist political parties and pro-Annan Plan/pro-EU civil society organisations) feel uncomfortable by the Greek Cypriot attitude of linking the issue of direct trade and lift of Turkish Cypriot isolations with Turkey’s EU accession process as well as the AKP government’s dismissive attitude in regards to the Greek Cypriot side and the colonial-style policies towards Northern Cyprus (Bryant and Yakinthou 2012). However, continuing political, economic and cultural isolations on Northern Cyprus imply that the Turkish Cypriot side would continue to be dependent on Turkey’s financial support which would limit the room for manoeuvre for the pro-solution forces in Northern Cyprus.
When considered together, Cyprus issue raises many challenging questions today. Can the upcoming talks in Cyprus lead to a concrete plan for a comprehensive settlement? Will the leaders from both sides be able to engage the Turkish and Greek Cypriot people who lost the belief in the peace process? While there are new opportunities and incentives for reaching a comprehensive settlement, these new items on the agenda do not provide easy solutions to the highly politicised and interlinked problems as the previous discussion suggested. The new round negotiations will not be smooth as in the past, and substantial progress will be much dependent on whether and how the interested parties would exploit these opportunities. The key for exploiting the novel cooperation opportunities lies in the willingness of Turkey, the RoC and the Turkish Cypriot side to give concessions during the negotiations in order to eventually reach a mutually agreed settlement, and the ability of the leaders to link the problematic issues and new areas for potential cooperation to generate win-win solutions.
Bilge Yabancı (PhD), University of Bath
Please cite this publication as follows:
Yabanci, Bilge (January, 2014), “Another Crossroads in the Cyprus Conflict – New Negotiations, Hope for Change and Tough Challenges Ahead ”, Vol. III, Issue 1, pp.25-46, Centre for Policy and Research on Turkey (ResearchTurkey), London, Research Turkey. (http://researchturkey.org/?p=4675)
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[i] Republic of Cyprus (RoC) refers to the only internationally recognised state on the island which has lost the control of the north in the 1974 war. Due to the unrecognised status of the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus (TRNC or Northern Cyprus), the RoC is still considered as the only sovereign entity on the entire island by the international community. In line with the broad academic literature, this paper uses Republic of Cyprus only to refer to the Greek-controlled south or the Greek-Cypriot government. Cyprus is used to refer to the entire island, both Greek and Turkish Cypriot communities.
[ii] Ekathimerini, UN Struggles to Break Impasse in Cyprus talks, 7 November 2013.
[iii] Two separate referendums were held simultaneously in the Greek and Turkish parts of the island on 24 April 2004 on a plan, known as the Annan Plan, outlining the terms of future reunification and subsequent EU membership. The Plan offered a common state with single international personality in the form of a bi-communal and bi-zonal federation. The Turkish and Greek Cypriot states would be the politically equal constitutional parts of this federation with certain power sharing agreement. 64.9% of Turkish Cypriots voted in favour of Annan Plan and reunification, while 76.8% of Greek Cypriots rejected it. The divided island became a member of the Union on 1 May 2004 in its entirety. However, the implementation of the acquis in Northern Cyprus is suspended until future reunification.
[iv] Six working groups on governance and power-sharing, European Union matters, security and guarantees, territory, property and economic matters were set. They conducted daily meetings aided by the UN experts.
[v] The rejection of reunification by the Greek Cypriot community and mass civic mobilisation in favour of reunification and EU membership by the Turkish Cypriot community forced the international community and especially the EU to reconsider their attitude towards the Turkish Cypriot side. As a result, the Commission proposed a package of policies called ‘Comprehensive Measures to end Isolation of Turkish Cypriot Community’. The measures had three objectives: to generate economic development in Northern Cyprus, to support reconciliation efforts and to ease the shock of future re-unification by bridging legal and economic gap between the two sides. One of the pillars of the Commission’s proposal was the Financial Aid Regulation (FAR) which offers financial support for the economic and political development of the Turkish Cypriot community. The FAR was eventually adopted in February 2006. The second pillar of this proposal was the Direct Trace Regulation (DTR). The aim of the proposal was to facilitate trade between the Northern Cyprus and the member states. The Greek Cypriot government vetoed the DTR claiming that it would generate implicit international recognition for Northern Cyprus.
European Commission (7 July 2004). Commission proposes comprehensive measures to end isolation of Turkish Cypriot community. IP/04/857. Brussels.
[vi] Hürriyet Daily News, ‘Turkish Cypriot leader ready for tripartite New York meeting’, 22 October 2010.
[vii] Cyprus Mail, ‘Christofias: two sides not getting closer’, 12 September 2010.
[viii] Reuters, Ralph Boulton and Aslı Kandemir, 20.11.2011, Turkey would open ports to Cyprus, no diplomatic strings, 20 November 2011.
[ix] Turkish Cypriot Chamber of Commerce (KTTO), 2012, letter to European Parliament President Martin Schulz, in file with the author.
[x] Famagusta Gazette, ‘Eroglu seeks termination of U.N. talks on Cyprus’, 12 April 2012.
[xi] Hürriyet Daily News, ‘Coming to a crucial junction in Cyprus talks’, 5 July 2011.
[xii] Today’s Zaman, ‘Era of concessions over in Cyprus, PM Erdoğan says’, 19 July 2011.
[xiii] Hürriyet Daily News, ‘Coming to a crucial junction in Cyprus talks’, 5 July 2011.
[xiv] The DP is led by Serdar Denktaş, the son of Rauf Denktaş. The party has nationalist standing, but nevertheless displayed a ‘neutral’ stance with the Annan Plan during the referendum campaign.
[xv] Cyprus Mail, ‘We won’t be pushed into talks’, 29 October 2013.
[xvi] Yusuf Kanlı, ‘Electioneering in North Cyprus’, Hürriyet Daily News, 19 August 2013.
[xvii] Radikal, ‘Baǧış: Kıbrıslı Turkler ve Rumlar Evli Cift Gibi’, 1 December 2013.
[xviii] The Court found Turkey guilty of human rights violation and ordered Turkey to pay $1.12 million in compensation. The Court’s decisions can be summarised as in threefold: (i) recognition of the original owner as the legal owner (ii) acknowledging Turkey’s responsibility of displacement, violation of the right to property and arbitrary denial to the legal owners’ right to access to their properties due to the ongoing division, (iii) ordering compensation for the loss of use of the property for the legal owners prompted by the lack of a legal and effective remedy initiated by Turkey or Turkish Cypriot authorities.
[xix] Cyprus Mail, George Psyllides, ‘Political motive to ECHR ruling’, 9 March 2010.
[xx] Immovable Properties Commission, http://www.tamk.gov.ct.tr/.
[xxi] RoC Public Information Office, Press Release, 10 March 2010.
[xxii] Cyprus Mail, ‘Special committee to oversee property sales in the north’, 27 June 2013.
[xxiii] Letter by Mehmet Ali Talat enclosed to the ‘Annex to the letter dated 17 April 2009 from the Permanent Representative of Turkey to the United Nations addressed to the Secretary-General’, UN Doc. A/63/828-S/2009/216.
[xxiv] Letter by Mehmet Ali Talat, ‘Annex to the letter dated 2 February 2007 from the Permanent Representative of Turkey to the United Nations addressed to the Secretary-General’, UN Doc. A/61/727-S/2007/54.
[xxv] Cyprus News Agency, 22 September 2012.
[xxvi] Sunday’s Zaman, ‘Turkish Minister warns Greek Cypriots about oil exploration in Mediterranean’, 4 September 2011.
[xxvii] Especially regarding the delimitation of maritime borders and exclusive economic zones, Turkey is already in dispute with Greece. In the long term, even if parties reach a comprehensive agreement in Cyprus, due to the Turkey’s rejection to sign the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), the legal disputes would be unavoidable between Turkey and its neighbours. It is also worth noting that the EU has conceded the UNCLOS which now forms a part of the acquis communautaire. In case of Turkey’s accession to the Union, Turkey has to accept the UNCLOS principles when settling maritime borders with neighbours including the RoC and Greece.
[xxviii] AB Haber, 15 September 2013.
[xxix] Havadis, ‘Maraş Kapsamlı Bir Cozumun Parcasıdır’, 2 December 2013.
[xxx] Kıbrıs Gazetesi, ‘Barış için alternatif müzakere modeli’, 25 November 2013.