By Jean Christou
Turkey is maintaining a hands-off policy during the current Cyprus negotiations, according to the Turkish Cypriot ‘foreign minister’ Emine Colak.
In an interview with Hurriyet, Colak said that during the recent visit to the north by Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan, her impression from private meetings with him was that Ankara was sincere in wanting a Cyprus settlement.
Colak said Turkey “of course” had its own interests and the Cyprus issue was a major headache in terms of its EU path “and there are a lot of reasons why Turkey wants to see the problem resolved,” she said.
“I see this support. Turkey is not intervening or trying to manipulate or being part of specific content that are being discussed between our leaders. There is no pressure, intervention or any paranoia about what is being agreed at the table,” Colak said.
“I get the feeling that they are thinking that if the Turkish Cypriots are able to reach a consensus, that would be okay with [Turkey] – with the provision that when it comes to the guarantees, in the same way that Greece and Britain have a say, Turkey will also have an opinion in relation to the new united Cyprus.”
Commenting on Erdogan’s “harsh reaction” towards Turkish Cypriot leader Mustafa Akinci’s statement earlier this year that relations should be on an equal basis, Colak said though relations with Turkey were very important to the Turkish Cypriots, they had “strong feelings that we want to be masters of our own home”.
“Turkish Cypriots will respond to anything that Turkey does or says which makes them feel this is under threat. Following Erdogan’s statements that were seen as offensive to our newly elected leader, Turkish Cypriots reacted to it, saying he should not speak to our president like that. We want to have Turkey on our side, but we also want to stand on our feet,” she added.
Commenting on the current negotiations, Colak said she was hopeful.
“There is a positive climate, in which there are active, frequent, constructive negotiations. The issues are being discussed and, as far as possible, convergence is being secured. There is good speed; we can see that progress is being made,” she said
The combination of Akinci and President Nicos Anastasiades “two leaders who want peace and a solution” was important, Colak said.
“It needs courage. People have a lot of concerns. In order to face [criticism] and gain confidence, it needs courage and a lot of commitment,” she added.
Turkish Cypriots she said, with all these uncertainties, were fed up with the situation and did not think they had lost the desire for a solution, though they were sceptical that it would happen.
“If there is hope for peace, then you get enthusiasm for peace, but if there is nothing happening, people get on with their lives. I believe that a solution is still preferred by at least more than 50 per cent or 60 per cent. There is not pessimism but lethargy. But they are able to compare with past processes. I think they feel this change in the climate, the good chemistry between the two leaders,” she said.
“I see on the Greek Cypriot side a mind more open to a solution. I think many minds were closed in the past because there were maximalist expectations and bad leadership discouraging people from a solution; there was the influence of history teaching and the church, which still sometimes has a negative impact on the prospects for cooperation. These are all slowly changing in addition to the need created by economic circumstances,” Colak said.
On the fenced-off ghost town of Varosha, Colak said she could not see it being removed completely from discussions on a comprehensive settlement because it was such a big issue in terms of practicalities. She added that since there was hope about solving the Cyprus issue in six months to a year at the most, and that breaking Varosha away from the talks at this stage would be counterproductive.
Commenting on the property issue, she said the issue was not about giving back Greek or Turkish Cypriot property but of finding a solution about respecting property rights.
“There are European court decisions which say you can respect property rights by returning them, exchanging them or by compensating them. These are the headings that are being discussed,” Colak said.
Property, territory and guarantees were, she said, sticky issues.
“They are technical but also to a large part emotional issues. They are not things the two leaders can sit and decide. There are three guarantors also involved. It is emotional in that we are looking for a solution where Greek Cypriots and Turkish Cypriots would feel safe. To my knowledge it is being left until the last points to be discussed,” she said.
“We should not think of anything as unchangeable. If we are talking about guarantees put in place in 1960, does it necessarily mean they have to be exactly the same or have to be completely thrown away? I think we are looking for something in between.”