Cyprus Mail

Turkey needs to launch a Cyprus ‘charm offensive’

Turkish PM Tayyip Erdogan

By Stefanos Evripidou

IF TURKEY wants to solve the Cyprus problem, as the most powerful party in the equation, it needs to launch a charm offensive on Greek Cypriots, who are currently in a completely weak position, said regional conflict analyst Hugh Pope.

In an interview with Hurriyet Daily News, the Turkey-Cyprus project director for the International Crisis Group (ICG) said Cyprus was one of the most peaceful places on earth and yet “remains a pain in everyone’s neck”.

“No one has been killed in nearly two decades. De facto, what we have is a partition. It is not recognised, Greek Cypriots remain aggrieved, Turkish Cypriots remain isolated, and Turkey remains unable to have proper relations with the EU.”

The Istanbul-based analyst argued that time was not playing into anyone’s hands. The Greek Cypriots think that as EU members they can get Brussels to force Turkey to accept their version of a peace settlement while Turks think because they are a big country everyone will force the Greek Cypriots to cave in to their demands.

“The two sides don’t understand each other. If Turkey really wants to put this problem aside, it has to change the nature of the discussion and one of the ways is to reach out to Greek Cypriot [public] opinion,” said Pope.

Commenting on the Turkish view that President Nicos Anastasiades is “dragging his feet” in launching talks by focusing on the near economic collapse of the country, Pope said he had no choice.

“But he has to. He has a shipwreck of an economy. Greek Cypriots are being pushed around by the EU.”

The ICG analyst said Anastasiades and those around him have a “much more realistic position than the public” on solving the Cyprus problem, but Turkey is showing no patience.

“Ankara has no empathy for the situation Anastasiades is in,” he said, adding of the new Greek Cypriot leadership, “These people are traumatised not just by the nationalist narrative and economic disaster, but also by the fact that there is no room in Greek Cypriot politics to take this brave mood in opposition to established public opinion.”

The only way brave steps could be taken by the Greek Cypriot leadership is if “Turkey is seen as a trusted partner by their community”.

Pope, who has been at his post since 2007, before which he served as a foreign correspondent for Wall Street Journal, described Turkey’s ruling AKP policy on Cyprus as “a terrible failure”.

Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan agreed to implement the additional protocol, requiring Turkey to open its ports and airports to Cyprus Republic ships and airplanes, in exchange for the start of Turkey’s EU accession negotiations.

After refusing to implement the protocol because the EU failed to open direct trade with the Turkish Cypriots, Turkey gets half of its negotiations chapters blocked over Cyprus.
“This is a terrible failure of AKP policy. With the EU policy, which is the most important relation for Turkey in the outside world – Turkey ran aground because of Cyprus,” said Pope.

Solving the Cyprus problem is not just about supporting the UN peace process, but also about winning the trust of the Greek Cypriots, he added.

“When you are the Greek Cypriots and they have no power, when you are negotiating with a huge power like Turkey, you will watch what their track record is. They watched how

Armenian negotiations crashed in flames mainly because Turkey changed its mind. That was really frightening for Greek Cypriots; they’ve got one chance to solve this and they have to trust the partner on the table.

“They are watching this Kurdish process with huge interest; is Turkey a peacemaking government, or are they just seeking an opportunity to gain some time and then start the war again. They are watching this issue as a life-and-death issue for them.”

Pope argued that if it comes to the point where Greek Cypriots are ready to “make a divorce agreement with Turkey”, they can only come to that conclusion if they trust Turkey and feel it is no longer a threat to them.

As the most powerful party in the equation, it is up to Turkey to set a good example.

“It is always the most powerful party that should set the tone. It is at the moment you are powerful that you can give concessions, when you are weak you can never give concessions, and currently Turkey is powerful and Greek Cypriots are completely weak,” said Pope.

He added: “It is time for Turkey to start a charm offensive, but the fruit will not come tomorrow or next month, but in a year or two or three.”

Asked whether Greek Cypriots gained self-confidence and a culture of compromise after joining the EU, Pope said most view the EU as a disaster right now.

Referring to the Eurogroup’s March decision on the eurozone’s first ‘bail-in’ bailout, he said: “They were not expecting this. They feel humiliated by the treatment of the Europeans,” adding, “I suspect that there is an element of punishment for the Greek Cypriots by the EU.”

The analyst said after Cyprus joined the EU, “the Greek Cypriots used every leeway over the EU to try to punish the Turks, just like the Greeks did in 1980s and the 1990s”.

While not saying anything openly, it reached a point a few years back where EU officials felt sick of Greek Cypriot actions and the way they would be representing Russian points of view.

“The Greek Cypriots tested everyone’s patience. But they did not realise they were doing it.”

The lack of support for Cyprus in Europe during the financial crisis is partly due to the way the Greek Cypriots abused their position in getting into the EU, he said.

“Basically they blackmailed their way in – they failed to respond to the very legitimate requests of Turkish Cypriots, for instance, for direct trade.”

While the EU could not do anything at the time, “it is remembered”, said Pope.

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