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Our View: Knee-jerk criticisms of Turkey dangerous and unproductive

Turkey's Prime Minister Binali Yildirim

AS SOON as a Turkish official says something about Cyprus all our political parties take the moral high ground and issue strongly worded announcements in response. TV and radio then take up the matter, inviting politicians to give their indignant views, while newspaper columnists pen scathing articles about Turkey’s intransigence and unrelenting efforts to undermine the Cyprus Republic.

A week never goes by without us being witness to such collective outbursts of indignation. In the last few days there were two. On Wednesday the parties, media and our government took great exception to critical remarks by a Turkish foreign ministry official about the third hydrocarbons licensing round, while a day later they directed their fire at Turkey’s Prime Minister Binali Yildirim who said that the issue of guarantees could not be resolved at the negotiations.

All the parties responded as did the government which makes a point of almost always joining the chorus of disapproval so that it does not also become the target of the political onslaught, for failing to take a stand against Turkey’s ‘provocative’ statements. The politics of the knee-jerk reaction have been practised for decades, without any sign of abating. If anything, things are getting worse with the parties regularly competing over who issues the most uncompromising, hard-line response.

Sometimes they do not even comment on all the remarks, choosing only those that are offered for a negative spin; nor is there any caution shown given that they read text translated into Greek from Turkish. Yildirim’s comment was made to a Turkish Cypriot television station and aimed at reassuring its audience.

According to the translation published, he said that “whatever the conditions, Turkey would continue to be present in order to ensure the security of our brothers there.” All our parties took this comment to mean that Turkey would insist the system of guarantees remained after a settlement and declared the position unacceptable.

Was this a correct interpretation of his words? Saying that the issue of the guarantees could not be resolved at the negotiations, did not exclude the possibility of it being resolved at the meeting of the two sides and the guarantor powers that would finalise an agreement. A more legitimate question would have been how Turkey would continue to be present to ensure the security of the Turkish Cypriots? The problem is that we are ready to pounce whatever a Turkish official says, as if tough statements could resolve any dispute.

On Tuesday a Turkish foreign ministry official asked about the third licensing round said that foreign companies should not have expressed interest in Block 6 as Turkey claimed part of this in its EEZ. He also repeated the usual Turkish arguments about the “Greek Cypriot administration” behaving as if it owned the whole island and taking unilateral actions, completely ignoring the Turkish Cypriots. He also said that Turkey would take the necessary actions to defend its rights.

This was interpreted by everyone as a threat, one newspaper going as far as to say on its front page that Turkey was “threatening with heated incident over Block 6”. Even the Cyprus foreign ministry, which should know better, issued a defiant and terse statement, saying it was “determined to move forward with exploiting its natural resources”. Was a foreign ministry response even necessary when Turkey was, in the words of energy analyst Charles Ellinas, “going through the motions, reiterating their well-known positions with regard to Cyprus’ maritime jurisdiction”.

The reality is that Turkey’s public reaction over the third licensing round, both when it was first announced and now, has been very restrained by past standards and very much a case “going through the motions”. Our foreign ministry should be analysing this change and looking for possible explanations that would help it re-formulate policy to the country’s advantage, instead of regurgitating the tired defiant rhetoric that serves no purpose other than to appease our parties and newspapers, programmed always to think the worse.

If our foreign ministry and government adopted a more considered approach, studying and analysing Turkish statements/positions rather than panning them in the most predictable way, they could identify openings for a fresh, more productive approach that could lead to breakthroughs on some long-standing disputes. This might not be the answer to all our problems and disputes with Turkey, but it would have an infinitely better chance of achieving some results than the sterile, childish practice of issuing one indignant, copy-paste statement after another and angrily protesting on radio shows.

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