The second and final round of trilateral meetings between the leaders of the two Cypriot communities and the UN chief kicks off today on Long Island and will determine whether the Turkish and Greek Cypriots have now arrived at a point where they can rule a unified Cyprus together, or whether they should ultimately remain separate and spare the UN the frustration of the negotiation process constantly hitting a deadlock, Today's Zaman reported.
Turkish Cypriot leader Dervis Eroglu and his Greek Cypriot counterpart, Dimitris Christofias, are gathering in New York for the second round of a new negotiation process that started in 2008 between the two ethnic communities, having previously wasted the efforts of three UN chiefs and scrapped plans worth years of work. The meeting also comes following the death of the founding father of the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus (KKTC), Rauf Denktas, who passed away 10 days ago at the age of 87, leaving behind a legacy of cynicism towards the Cyprus negotiations, the embodiment of the "no" that efforts at reconciliation always received in the past on the island.
Denktas, throughout his life, never believed that it was possible to have a unified Cyprus where Greek and Turkish Cypriots would have equal rights and equal representation on the world stage and remained a staunch supporter of separation on the island. Cyprus is divided between a Turkish community settled in the northern one-third of the island and a Greek community that lives in the rest of the land in the south, which is also home to a majority of the island's population. If Cyprus is united, the same bi-zonal and bi-communal structure, although with a different sharing of land this time, will be retained under a federal administration, and both sides, for a change, now agree on this. However, it is in the tiny details of the negations where the devil seems to be.
"We expect a solution to be reached as soon as possible," a Turkish official told Sunday's Zaman regarding their expectations of the Long Island meeting, as Turkey hopes a solution will be found before the Greek Cypriots assume the rotating presidency of the EU this summer, which could increase the separation of the two communities.
"The Turkish Cypriots have come up with innovative suggestions, and they have our full support in doing that. We will go along with virtually anything the KKTC is OK with," they added, while also noting that they are expecting the Greek Cypriots to welcome and positively contribute to the constructive efforts of the KKTC in the process. "The bottom line is we are expecting progress," they stated.
The debate over the small island of Cyprus has created serious problems for a number of parties, involving gas and oil deals on enormously rich reserves in the eastern Mediterranean, the delineation of exclusive economic zones (EEZs) of neighboring countries and also Turkey's accession to the EU, which apparently will go nowhere until a solution is reached in Cyprus.
UN keeps fingers crossed Cypriots are in mood for deal in New York
It is not just the guarantor states and neighboring countries whose interests are at stake, but also the UN, which has seen decades of fruitless efforts on the issue and has ended up being told "no" every time it thought it had a workable plan. Former UN chief Kofi Annan's project, the Annan plan, was the last time the sides came close to reaching an agreement, but it somehow ended up down the drain in twin referenda that showed the Greek Cypriots were actually not interested in coming to an agreement at all.
Ahead of the trilateral gathering, UN special representative Alexander Downer told Reuters that this current episode in the negotiations from Jan. 22-24 will be "either a success or a failure" and admitted there were no plans for a third trilateral summit. "What would be the point? It's expensive, difficult, logistically complex and very time consuming for a secretary-general who is dealing with all the issues of the world, not just Cyprus," Downer said. From the looks of it and the words of both leaders, the second summit is not going to go far on the way to making an international Cyprus conference that could finally see a deal signed between the opposing neighbors.
What the sides find hard to agree on are property and governance issues as well as a few deadlocked problems regarding territory share among communities; however, experts state that it is more than just disagreements on paper but a deeply rooted emotional uneasiness on both sides about reuniting after decades. Analysts Mete Hatay and Rebecca Bryant stated in a co-authored article, "Negotiating the Cyprus Problem(s)," published by the Turkish Economic and Social Studies Foundation (TESEV) last year, that the issue has a very sensitive nature and that the appearance of an agreement can be very tricky.
Recalling the failure of negotiations, the authors noted that late Denktas' stubborn attitude against reconciliation made it very easy for the Greek Cypriots to look as though they supported reunification, while "it became possible to rhetorically accept such a plan while politically and practically undermining it." Hatay and Bryant also recall that the Annan plan, which the two sides pledged they would support while they were at the negotiating table, received an overwhelming "no" from the Greek Cypriots in the 2004 referendum, much to the dismay of diplomats who had spent years on the project, prompting a feeling of "being cheated" among EU circles. However, in just a matter of days, the Greek Cypriot community found its way to the EU bloc, representing the whole island, on the grounds that reconciliation might come easier if the Greek Cypriots received recognition on the international platform.
On the Greek Cypriot side of things, the reunification plans do not instill in them the feeling they are being fairly treated, since giving up certain governance powers and sharing control with a minority on the island is a big compromise to make, one that will be made in order to take back parts of the island it lost during Turkey's 1974 intervention and to rid the island of troops that still give them the sense of being besieged by Turkey. A reunification would also create the opportunity to obtain recognition from Turkey, which refuses to let Greek Cyprus trade through its ports, plus bring a release of international pressure, but in return, the Turkish Cypriots will earn the right to finally exist on the world map and claim a spot in world diplomacy, with which its only means of connection currently is through Turkey.
Isolated KKTC asks for international identity, not shelter
Although Turkey is a fierce protector of the Turkish Cypriots, with the negotiations dragging on, the KKTC's patience is wearing thin towards Turkey and it feels like a pawn in the nation's game with the EU for accession. Since the KKTC's dependence on Turkey was sealed after the European Court of Justice banned the export of Turkish Cypriot goods to Europe in 1994, Bryant and Hatay said, protests have erupted in Turkish Cyprus whenever their unrecognized state has been affected by "whatever wind was blowing hard in Turkey." A general wish on the Turkish Cypriot street is to be recognized as citizens of a nation with a valid passport, finally bringing an end to the feeling of isolation for the KKTC, which does not host a single international brand on its soil, unlike its flourishing southern neighbor.
"I feel there is a possibility that the UN could give more time to the sides to allow for more bilateral talks if they see that both Greek and Turkish Cypriots have the will to go to the international conference," Associate Professor Mehmet Hasguler, a Turkish Cypriot academic who teaches at Lefke University, told Sunday's Zaman, underlining that it is the word and opinion of UN chief Ban Ki-moon that will matter at the end of the day. "The UN wants to get this over with and go beyond a scenario that resembles a business merger where one side, the Turkish side, feels like the disgraced partner," Hasguler said, hailing the international organization's efforts to solve one of its earliest and most persistent problems, which has for decades seen almost no progress toward a solution.
"But our fate is sealed as long as the Greek side continues to try and gain time and expects the KKTC to collapse and give up on it [sovereignty], rather than take it as an equal partner," Hasguler noted pessimistically, suggesting that the process is sure to drag on further if a flicker of hope for a solution does not come out of the weekend in New York. The UN also agrees that the window of opportunity is fading for the Cypriots; if negotiations hit a deadlock, this could lead to anything from a continuation of the crisis to a partition that could necessitate international recognition of the KKTC, an idea even Turks do not think is possible under the current circumstances.