Just last week I started writing a post about how the island is edging ever closer to a two-state solution. As you’ve probably realised I wasn’t feeling particularly hopeful! A blog post I probably could have written a thousand times over, in the last year. And then I happened upon this article.
My hopes were lifted, ever so slightly; not too hard an achievement considering the lack of movement on the Cyprus problem since the collapse of the talks in Crans Montana in 2017 and the election of Turkish Cypriot leader, Ersin Tatar (with the ‘help’ of Turkey).
In a recent policy shift, following the appointment of Ioannis Kasoulides as Foreign Minister, the Republic (of Cyprus) has decided to turn its attention to confidence building measures (CBMs) with Turkish Cypriots, as opposed to sanctions against Turkey. Newly-appointed Kasoulides will be seeking EU support for the proposals.
Is it too little too late though?
Anyone following the Cyprus issue, at least over the last five years, will recall the list of CBMs announced during the last round of official negotiations that took place between Greek Cypriot leader Nicos Anastasiades and Turkish Cypriot leader Mustafa Akinci. One of the more notable CBMs was mobile interoperability; meaning I would be able to use my mobile in the north without losing signal and vice versa. Indeed, this CBM was essential to crossing either north or south and feeling much safer with a mobile connection. Losing mobile signal was not only annoying but disconcerting. However, this particular CBM was not achieved until 2019, two years after it was announced.
The new tranche of CBMs include Turkish Cypriots handing over the fenced-off city of Varosha to the United Nations in order to open it for resettlement by its legal owners, transferring the operation of Tymbou/Ercan airport to the UN to open it to international flights and putting the customs services in the Famagusta port under EU authority to facilitate trade with the outside world. In exchange, the Greek Cypriot leadership wants Turkey to open its ports and airports to Cyprus-flagged ships and allowing Cyprus planes to enter Turkish airspace.
If it was the year 2015, I would be jumping with joy! Disappointingly, it is not. As Glafkos Constantinides put it in his article here, in the Cyprus Mail, CBMs are back in fashion.
However, the year is 2022, there have been no official talks in five years. CBMs should not simply be brought out every time the Republic of Cyprus decides that there’s no point in pressuring the EU to implement sanctions against Turkey. Confidence Building Measures between the two communities should be ongoing, so much so that they stop being a news item.
As I said, on hearing the announcement, my hopes were only very slightly lifted. The CBMs feels like an afterthought, even though they may not be one. They may simply be the result of a change in leadership at the Foreign Ministry (from Nicos Christodoulides to Ioannis Kasoulides). Christodoulides is well known as a hardliner when it comes to the Cyprus problem, whereas Kasoulides, a seasoned politician, can be said to be more in touch with the Cyprus problem at grassroots level.
Tatar has dismissed them as a propaganda stunt and according to journalist Esra Aygin, the news is hardly being discussed within the Turkish Cypriot community, which is focussed on survival.
I remember someone asking me once whether Turkish Cypriots wanted a solution. The question was put to me some years ago now (2017), during a time in my life when I was crossing (the border) daily. I answered that of course they wanted a solution and most importantly, reunification, but they were also very much preoccupied with certain basic needs, such as a failing economy, employment, wages in the public sector, quality healthcare (as many Turkish Cypriots seek treatment in the south) and similar. As the north is only recognised by Turkey, it relies heavily on tourism and higher education foreign students, both of which have been heavily impacted by the pandemic.
We certainly need to see sunnier days, but first and foremost Cypriots require consistency and trustworthy leadership. While Tatar could never be trusted due to his ties with Turkey and insistence on a two-state solution, Anastasiades has broken too many promises, too many times.
- Lush fields and running rivers
- Spoilt child of the Med