Interview with Professor Ahmet Sözen: Cyprus Peace Negotiations and Future of the Island

Interview with Professor Ahmet Sözen:
Cyprus Peace Negotiations and Future of the Island

Peace negotiations between the leaders of two parties, Nikos Anastasiadis and Mustafa Akıncı, which started in Cyprus in 2015, have been taken to Geneva on the 9th of January. Talks were deemed international when three guarantor countries; Turkey, Greece and England, first came together. Nonetheless, the talks continue to be made with exchanged maps from both sides and with controversial issues such as guarantees, presence of Turkish military on the island, and security.

Supporters of solution from both parties interpret Geneva talks as the last chance for a permanent deal whereas there are still concerns regarding the possibility of missing such an opportunity to reach a solution. Centre for Policy and Research on Turkey (Research Turkey) asked Ahmet Sözen from Eastern Mediterranean University Department of International Relations about ongoing negotiations, public opinion on the island, and the future of Cyprus where the UN peacekeeping force mission has been for the longest time

Professor Sözen is an expert on issues such as Cyprus dispute, ethnic studies, peace negotiations, EU and democratization. Along with his academic studies, he is also the co-director of SeeD (Center for Sustainable Peace and Democratic Development). Sözen also participated as an expert in the working group of Migration and Management which is established during the Talat-Hristofias Negotiations of 2008.

You can have access to his most recent work ‘Security Dialogue Initiative’ on gallop polls in two communities of Cyprus, and on perceptions of threat and common security with collaboration of Inter peace and SeeD via the link below:

http://www.seedsofpeace.eu/index.php/research/security-dialogue-project/interim-research-findings-and-a-new-security-architecture.

Summary

For the first time in the history of the negotiations, three guarantor countries; Turkey, Greece, England and the two Cypriot nations, came together and organized a Cyprus Conference. The main purpose of this international conference is to solve the sixth issue that is the security-guarantees problems. When we consider the previous negotiations, it can be observed that this kind of progress is unprecedented.”

Security is a much broader subject, and it should be evaluated from a wider perspective. We should first determine the issues that ordinary people of both parties feel insecure about. ‘In fact, there is not a widespread perception of threat between two communities. But, they have worries and security concerns on some daily and social issues. Especially regarding the internal security issues, there are common insecurities for both Cypriot Turks and Cypriot Greeks. As we put forth in our research, some of them are social matters like corruption, lack of qualified human capital, discrimination and hate speech, women and youth etc.”

Even though it will make neither three guarantors nor two communities totally pleased, I believe it might be possible to find a solution to satisfy all parties involved.”

United Federation of Cyprus should be able to solve all future problems in terms of security within its own capacity. For instance, future institutions of United Federation of Cyprus should have the ability to face the security problems that might occur in the next 10-20 years. Until that time, the guarantor countries should get ready to help for such a transitional period.”

If Cyprus dispute is intended to be solved with a bi-communal/bi-zonal federal solution, firstly, two leaders must negotiate on essential subjects. Secondly, in a reciprocal process, negotiations should be conducted in a way that brings two communities together, increases cooperation experiences, and builds trust with real practical consequences (?).”

Federation is a type of governing that depends on power sharing. Moreover, it is a structure of a mega-cooperation. So, how do you get into this mega-cooperation with two communities who are lack of experience and culture of cooperation? This is risky and hard to establish.”

“There is some work to do to bring two constituent states, together, Turkish Cypriot and Greek Cypriot in economic matters. Furthermore, to reconcile the statutory law of Turkish side with EU, EU has to prepare a hefty amount of monetary source. It should meet the costs of new federal institutions and federal buildings, and EU should be very generous on this issue.”

“Turkey-EU tension, or more correctly, EU dispute with the current Turkish government and Turkish president, does not remedy the situation. There is not a proper relationship between Turkey and EU today.”

“I think plebiscite campaign that will be held by both parties is also very important for both. If right messages are sent, it is possible to get ‘yes’ from both parties as well.”

“If there is going to be a federation, , it will be crucial to get the consent of both Cypriot Greeks and Cypriot Turks for a civic conscience, and also of people with different ethnic backgrounds living on the island such as Maronites, Armenians and Latinos.”

Interview Text

For the first time in the history of the negotiations, three guarantor countries; Turkey, Greece, England and the two Cypriot nations came together, and organized a Cyprus Conference. The main purpose of this international conference is to solve the sixth issue that is the security-guarantees problems. When we go back to previous negotiations, it can be observed that this kind of progress on issues is unprecedented”

We have an interview with Professor Ahmet Sözen from Eastern Mediterranean University on the Cyprus peace talks that is underway in Geneva now, and on the peace process on the island. First of all, thank you for accepting our invitation. To begin with a simple question, are there any new methods or subjects on the table throughout the negotiation process that is between Anastasiadis and Akıncı, and began in 2015 in Geneva compared to the previous peace talks?

Although the issue of methods seems trivial, it is important to look it up. The current negotiations continue with the methods of the process that began in 2008. Hristofias-Talat negotiations of 2008 had started with respect to six main titles which are administration and power sharing, economy, EU, properties, land and security, and guarantees. For each title, separate working groups had been constituted accordingly. Parties got warmed up especially on the first four titles in that period, and in the subsequent Hristofias-Eroğlu negotiations. Anastasiadis-Akıncı negotiations in 2005 took over what had been the subjects of previous discussions in a sense. But, it is different from the past experiences in that time, as two leaders affirm a federal solution. During their campaign for the Annan Plan, both of them rooted for ‘yes’. They got along well in their personal relations too. Both of them are from Limassol, and considering their ages, they were grown up in the same political conditions. The negotiations started in a positive manner with all these in hand. It started not only with essential high politics issues, which are six main titles, but also with symbolic gestures of mutual trust building. Two leaders visited each other’s territory, and they engaged in cultural activities together such as going to theatre and musical. In reference to common traditions and habits, they drank coffee and a local drink called ‘Zivaniya’. Briefly, it was a good start. Most important of all, they recently presented maps to each other for the first time. In fact, the fifth title, namely the land dispute, is being held for the first time, and parties demonstrate their preferred maps to each other. United Nations was the map-generating party in previous negotiations. Another issue is that the presentation of maps has occurred in Geneva under with regard to the terms of international conventions. For the first time in the history of negotiations, three guarantor countries; Turkey, Greece and Britain, and two nations of the island have come together to organize a Cyprus conference. The main purpose of this international conference is to resolve the sixth issue which is about security and guarantees. Previous negotiations had not gone this far. Before the referendum of Annan Plan, only two guarantor countries, Turkey and Greece, had met in Bürgenstock in 2004, and it was in a completely different format, because the Annan Plan was expected to transcribe the previous guarantee and alliance deals to today’s terms. But here, since the 1959-60 Guarantee and Alliance Deals entered into force, for the first time three guarantors and two sides of the island came together to negotiate. Therefore, there is a different situation in respect to the previous negotiation processes. Consequently, two sides made much progress on the first four topics. They started the negotiations on two subjects, land and security, which have never been discussed in real terms. These are the reasons to be hopeful about the ongoing negotiations.

As you mentioned, the framework agreement included a bi-communal/bi-zonal federal solution. The points where the negotiations are in stalemate are the removal of the soldiers, power-sharing in the federal state, property and land issues. In the last track, are they taking the previously agreed topics into consideration before moving on?

Akıncı-Anastasiadis negotiations in 2015 did not start from scratch. They considered Hristofias-Talat and Hristofias- Eroğlu negotiations held in 2008 as given and in accordance for certain topics. No subject starts from the scratch anyway. Just like EU Acquis Communutaire, there is a Cyprus negotiations acquis communutaire as well. This is because of the heritage that all these years brought with especially 1977-79 High Level Agreements and Annan Plan.

“Security is a much broader subject, and it should be evaluated from a wider perspective. We should first determine the issues that ordinary people of both parties feel insecure about”

One of the topics that have not been agreed upon by both parties is the security. We can say that parties have completely different understandings on this issue. According to official announcements, it seems indispensable for the Turkish community to have a Turkish guarantee in a federal state where Greeks have the majority. On the other hand, Greeks interpret this guarantee as a threat to their security. So, to advance on this issue, which compromises do parties have to make?

If we approach to the problem differently, we can get different results. Unfortunately for all these years, both sides have looked at this security issue from a narrow perspective. To sum it up very broadly, for one it was ‘never with guarantees’ while for other it was ‘never without guarantees’. That means one party says ‘no military, no right of intervention, no guarantees’, and the other says ‘a certain amount of soldiers must stay to guarantee a right of intervention to some extent’. With this kind of attitude, there is no way of solving the security issue. We made a research of security dialogue in the island under the banner of SeeD. Our approach is this: Security is a much broader subject, and it should be evaluated from a wider perspective. We should first look for the issues where two sides of the aisle, the people on the street, feel insecure about. For this, there must be a requirement analysis. In our research, we made interviews with security experts and some focus groups. Subsequently, we drew a threat perception map. There are interesting results… ‘Actually, there is no overarching threat perception between two communities. There are other fears and security concerns on daily and social issues. That means Cypriot Turks and Cypriot Greeks have common threat perceptions especially on internal security. As we pointed out in our research, some of them are corruption, lack of human capital, hate speech and discrimination, women and youth, etc. [repeat of the same sentence in the original text] For example, a Cypriot Turk’s fear is: ‘If I go to the other side, and I get attacked by extreme groups or if they damage my car as a practical incidence (an event that occurred recently), will Greek courts treat my case justly and fairly?’ In the time being today, it could not because perpetrators cannot be found and sentenced. So, after the foundation of federal state, is there an assurance for that? Can this kind of perception be abolished with the military presence of Turkey/Greece or with the guarantee of Turkey, Greece and Britain? No. We need a separate mechanism for it. For example, if a police or a judge is discriminating against one side, we should have an authority to file a complaint. We emphasize this in our work. During the research, we also asked people: ‘’through which mechanisms your concerns can be wiped out?’’. Results of our gallop poll that we made with 3000 people, 1500 from each side, reveal that both communities expect to feel more secure under a federal state with certain kind of mechanisms. Ones that are supported by people include: freedom of movement, right to travel and to settlement in the island of both communities, a foreign policy independent of both Greece and Turkey, friendly and cooperative relations with Turkey, more active participation of women and young people in politics, well-planned and efficient running of federal state institutions, advancement, and reform movements from politicians on common internal affairs such as economic development. These issues should be discussed in depth, and included in a comprehensive solution. As I call it, in ‘’big boys’ game’’ three guarantors, Turkey, Greece and Great Britain, should not overlook these issues among geopolitical game of interest. Only then a progress could be made, and a relaxation on security problem could be obtained.

“Actually, there is no overarching threat perception between two communities. There are other fears and security concerns on daily and social issues. That means Cypriot Turks and Cypriot Greeks have common threat perceptions especially on internal security. As we pointed out in our research, some of them are: corruption, lack of human capital, hate speech and discrimination, women and youth, etc. Results of our gallop poll reveal that both communities expect to feel more secure under a federal state with certain kind of mechanisms”

So, can we say that these issues can be solved with a more humane approach to security?

Yes, Cyprus needs a wider and a human-focused security approach. I do not intend to seem overly idealist and dreamy, because I realize that although the internal security is very important and we have to make progress on it, three guarantor countries that are part of this deal have-like it or not- national and geostrategic interests. On Cyprus, two parties do not have the right to keep them off of their geopolitical interests just because Cypriot Greeks and Turks reached an agreement. But, I think there must be a satisfactory solution even though it will not make everybody very happy. Also, this is dependent on the internal security mechanisms that we talked about. United Cyprus Federation should be able to solve all security problems that might arise in the future within its own capacity. 10-20 years from now on, institutions of United Cyprus Federation should have the capacity to solve possible security problems. Until that day, guarantor countries should be ready to help in the transitional period.

On the issue of land, Turkey founded the Immovable Property Commission in Northern Cyprus Turkish Republic in 2005. It granted Cypriot Greeks with property in the north, the right of reparations exchange and return. European Court of Human Rights recognized that it is in accordance with their advice, and an efficient means of domestic law. But, Greek government had serious challenges for it including non-recognizing it as an official institution. Nevertheless, it frequently got visited by Cypriot Greeks.

As far as I know, there are 6,000 applications.

But, this is both a long and a costly method. Is it possible to say that an effective solution to the property issue has been brought about in this way?

Namely, IPC (Immovable Property Commission) by oneself has not been a definitive solution to property issue. On the one hand, you have to continue the negotiations, while the IPC carries on its activities on the other. What is the purpose of negotiations? It is finding a comprehensive solution to Cyprus issue. What is the meaning of a comprehensive solution? After all, it is also a delivering comprehensive solution to the property issue along with all others. That is to say, the Immovable Property Commission does not offer a comprehensive solution by trying to establish a federal Cyprus. However, it suggested a key for the solution. But, I should also say that if the Cypriot affair comes in a certain way and fails, there is such possibility at least hypothetically, and then the interest and motivation regarding the federal solution will diminish on all sides. But, you know that in one sense property issues still continue. At that time, through IPC –namely, by means of compensation, clearing, restitution, and the solution of the property issue may be brought to agenda again. Then, two subjects need to be done. Firstly, the efficiency of the Immovable Property Commission should be increased. Supposing that, the Greek Cypriots who anticipate that there is no solution and will not be for a long time, not 6,000 but 36,000 of them would apply to the IPC. At this point, IPC needs to be determined as a decision-making authority that will take quick and effective decisions. Secondly, if the IPC is the main solution for the property issue, Turkey needs to transfer –for example- 20 billion Euros to this institution in order to avoid disputes especially in cases where the settlement will be solved by clearance.

If we touch upon the social dimension of the Cyprus problem, as you have repeated many times, a social peace process should be mentioned rather than peace negotiations. In addition to the bilateral talks between the leaders, a more participatory process is essential for social dialogue as a final settlement. Can we talk about a peace process that takes place with the involvement of different civil society-oriented groups from public in parallel with negotiations between Anastasadis and Akıncı?

If the Cyprus problem is to be resolved by bi-zonal, bi-communal federation, for this one, firstly both leaders have to negotiate in concise terms/core issues. Secondly, the negotiations will bring the two communities closer together in a parallel process, reproducing the experience of cooperation and need to be fed with real trust-building measures that are not just on paper

I have been expressing that since the 1990s. If the Cyprus problem is to be resolved by bi-zonal/bi-communal federation, for this one, firstly both leaders have to negotiate in concise terms/core issues. Secondly, the negotiations will bring the two communities closer together in a parallel process, reproducing the experience of cooperation and need to be fed with real trust-building measures that are not just on paper, because you are establishing a federated state at the end of the day. What is federation? It is governance that based on power sharing, in fact, on a mega-cooperation structure. How do you get into this mega-cooperation with incompetent and culturally disadvantaged two communities? This will be risky and hard to achieve. I and many other people have been referring to such a risk for years. However, when the negotiations started under UN surveillance, as called the Track 1 format, unfortunately all leaders came to the conclusion: ‘Trustful measures dissipate our attention apart from that we strive for a comprehensive solution. If we spend our time with trustful creative measures, we will not be able to reach a comprehensive solution ‘. Although Mr. Anastasiadis and Mr. Akıncı started negotiations in a good faith in 2015, unfortunately they are now in the same trap.

Federation is governance based on power sharing, in fact, mega-cooperation structure. How do you get into this mega-cooperation with incompetent and culturally disadvantaged two communities? This will be risky and hard to achieve

How much awareness did the public and media on both sides raise? How far are they being followed? After 2004, there was certain pessimism in both societies and the despair concerning comprehensive solution. Is it possible to talk about any improvement for this issue in the recent period?

The results of the recent public opinion survey are brand new. When we look at the both sides, I have to answer that the question of whether there is hope is unfortunate in terms of the possibility of a comprehensive solution of a big part of people on both sides, because you know that inter-communal negotiations have been going on for 49 years. However, more than 70% of the participants on both sides of the island wish that the Cyprus issue would be concluded with a comprehensive settlement. In other words, there are desires for solutions, but people have no hope. As for your question about developments in negotiations are being discussed in the media, the negotiations more or less are leaking into media. Thus, people can follow it. But different media organizations can arbitrarily distort developments. In other words, while the nationalist media in both the south and the north are ragged with rhetoric such as ‘we are sold and sold’ in a rough sense, the more pro-solution media reflects the issues differently. Yet, citizens who want to know what is happening cannot reach at reliable flow of information. In other words, there are not a lot of resources for objective analysis and reporting.

Especially, there are things that need to be done in order for the Turkish Cypriot constituent state to draw near on the Greek Cypriot constituent state economically. Besides, the EU needs to allocate substantial resources for the harmonization of Turkish Cypriot legal legislation with the EU. There are federal agencies to build and own costs. In these matters, I think the EU should be very generous

Unfortunately, this sounds very familiar. European Union’s representatives attended to the talks in Geneva. Well, what could be the expectations from the EU in this last period?

I’ll tell you one thing only half in jest: ‘Money, money and money’. The best contribution that can come from the EU is financial aid/assistance to Cyprus. But I do not mean ‘we have spent the money there’. On the contrary, I am talking about the long-term contribution in a planned way. In particular, there are things that need to be done in order for the Turkish Cypriot constituent state to draw near on the Greek Cypriot constituent state economically. Besides, the EU needs to allocate substantial resources for the harmonization of Turkish Cypriot legal legislation with the EU. There are federal agencies to build and own costs. In these matters, I think the EU should be very generous.

EU amid Turkey friction, more precisely the EU and the Turkish government and the president, is uncooperative/is not helping. Today, I do not think that there is proper relationship and communication between the EU and Turkey

How is EU’s contribution to security issues?

I do not know what to do regarding the security issues especially for the ones related to hard power. European Union’s common foreign and security policy is problematic. For instance, the EU does not have a common military force. However, the EU has considerable experience in peace building projects in Kosovo, Bosnia. Common capabilities of EU-Turkey may be useful for security of the common state to be formed in Cyprus. These issues need to be investigated more. But the EU amid Turkey friction, more precisely the EU and the Turkish government and the president, is uncooperative/is not helping. Today, I do not think that there is property relationship and communication between the EU and Turkey. I do not know if there will be a détente policy, planting firmly on the ground or a returning back to the real world after the upcoming referendum in April. I hope so. There is a great need for a much healthier cooperation between Turkey and the EU in Cyprus. When you referred to the West, the United States comes to mind. When you look at today’s administration in the U.S., I think it would be naive to expect a huge contribution. So, I think that if Turkey and the EU can return back to the early years of the 2000s, that is to say, if Turkey can be reintroduced to become a truly democratic and a Muslim-majority country in a real sense, it will be good for both sides. But unfortunately it does not amount to it will happen.

Another issue discussed with regard to the triangle of the EU, Turkey and Cyprus is the transfer of Cypriot gas across Turkey to the Europe. Is it possible to mention that this is an incentive for all sides to final peace along with being the most cost-effective way to achieve energy efficiency?

This is not only about Cyprus gas, because when we consider the amount of Cyprus gas discovered so far, we see that it does not have a huge volume. Therefore, you cannot plan big projects about it. But, if we speak of the whole Eastern Mediterranean, that is to say, gas from Israel and Cyprus and even from Egypt, then it is essential that the East Mediterranean gas in true sense goes to Europe through Turkey as an alternative to Russian gas. Here, of course, I think that the normalization of Turkey-Israel and Turkey-Egypt relations are very important factors besides the solution of Cyprus issue.

So, do you believe that cooperation regarding this subject can be an outcome of the peace process? In other words, it might be better to put Cyprus gas on the agenda rather than to take it as a catalyst for the solution after peace has actually been achieved and normalization has been sustained in the Turkey’s foreign policy.

Yes, I think that the providing peace in Cyprus will accelerate all this further.

How do political developments and social tension in Turkey reflect both the internal dynamics of the Turkish Cypriot side and the Cyprus peace process?

Turkish Cypriots follow the developments with deep concerns, especially after the July 15 coup attempt. On the one hand Fethullah Gülen’s structure within Turkey is significantly unsettling. In other words, the fact that an individual is so manipulated by unelected people is deeply concerning and frightening. On the other hand, beginning with Gülen movement’s purge but increasingly expanding, many people and institutions against Erdoğan and the AKP are being investigated, detained and sentenced in this process, which are also worrying for Turkey’s future. All these developments are crucial for the Turkish Cypriots. Here, the following expression is used to describe how Turkey’s developments are closely related to Cyprus: “When Turkey sneezes, we catch a cold”. You know Turkey’s impact on North Cyprus. Especially as a state that provides financial assistance, Turkey also has the chance of intervention capacity for North Cyprus’ internal matters. Given these circumstances, Turkish Cypriots are filled with apprehension concerning developments in Turkey. On the one hand, the majority does not approve Turkey’s intervention in the TRNC’s internal affairs. On the other hand, there is not any decrease in sympathy for Turkey and Turkish people. Even in the face of the security and threat perceptions, I have just mentioned, a big majority supports Turkey as a guarantor. So, we should not get confused about it. Finally, it will be a very special example, but it is worth talking about. Erdoğan’s advisor Yiğit Bulut made a speech on the TV program, right after that the president of the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus, Mr. Sayın Akıncı made a statement on the program in TRT. I mean, such considerations as his are freezing the Turkish Cypriots’ blood. Indeed, the question is whether the elected political elite in Turkey think in this way. Are these ideas shared among politicians in a broader sense, even though they say that I will tell their own opinions at the beginning of this program? All of this is worrying for the Turkish Cypriots.

The referendum campaign to be carried out will be crucial for both sides. If the right messages can be given to people, both sides are likely to vote for yes

A result can be drawn from Geneva, and this may go into a simultaneous referendum or the negotiations may become clogged and terminated once again. In either case, how will be the future of Cyprus shaped?

One possibility is that if the conference which started in Geneva is accomplished in the upcoming weeks and ended up with a framework agreement at the inter-ministerial level, it can lead us to a comprehensive solution with a quick take on the rest and internal regulations. In such a process, my expectation is call for a referendum in the summer or autumn of this year. According to the public opinion surveys, yes and no votes are nearly tied. Both sides are even; people are divided between yes and no in close proximity. The level of undecided voters rate have fallen compared to last year. The referendum campaign to be carried out will be crucial for both sides. If the right messages can be given to people, both sides are likely to vote for yes. If a consensus does not come from Geneva and the negotiations fail, it will be a pity as the rapprochement of both leaders during the negotiations conducted in the last 20 months and the complete elimination of their efforts would be a huge loss. Subsequent to this, the Greek Cypriot side has the presidential elections in February 2018, so that election atmosphere will begin in the south. A number of/certain international hydrocarbon companies will start drilling later in this year in line with licenses issued by the Republic of Cyprus. This could lead to tensions for the disputed territories in the Mediterranean, and in the exclusive economic zone claimed by both Turkey and the Republic of Cyprus. Hence, if the Cyprus issue were not entering a certain route as regards federal framework in Geneva, I would not see a better near future by far.

Final question would be more relevant to social psychology and sociology, rather than political science and international relations. In the case of calling for a referendum on the island and following a possibility of victory of yes, is it possible to create a common Cypriot identity?

Most importantly, if a federation is to be established, the federation will be tied to the allegiance of civilians to the both Greek Cypriots and Turkish Cypriots, Maronites, Armenians, and Latinos as well as many people from other ethnic backgrounds on the island

I disapprove social engineering with regards to common Cypriot identity. If this is consciously realized from the top down, I see a phenomenon like the creation of a different nationality as social engineering. But within the natural processes, some values and identities may come to the forefront. It does not matter at all as long as it is in a natural process. Most importantly, if a federation is to be established, the federation will be tied to the allegiance of civilians to the both Greek Cypriots and Turkish Cypriots, Maronites, Armenians, and Latinos as well as many people from other ethnic backgrounds on the island. What is important for this is that the federal institutions that will be established are totally neutral to people with respect to their ethnicity, language, and religion. In short, I am talking about civilian belonging to the state. I think it’s possible to live together if we can improve this capacity.

Thank you very much for your extensive opinions.

Centre for Policy and Research on Turkey (Research Turkey)

Please cite this interview as follows:

Research Turkey (February, 2017), “Interview with Professor Ahmet Sözen: Cyprus Peace Negotiations and Future of the Island”, Vol. VI, Issue 2, pp.6 – 17, Centre for Policy and Research on Turkey (ResearchTurkey), London, Research Turkey. (http://researchturkey.org/?p=13099)

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