Cyprus Mail

Sour grapes and stalemate in Cyprus

The talks in Crans Montana

In the end it was not to be. In the early hours of Friday morning the UN secretary-general, tired and bedraggled, made a short statement that the conference on Cyprus was closed without agreement being reached.

The Cyprus problem had exhausted the poor man and it showed. More pressing problems in Korea required his attention, and he returned to his hotel for some much-needed sleep perhaps to dream of ‘how you solve a problem like Korea.’

Guarantors and guaranteed walked away to lick their wounds and to fight another day. In negotiations it is important to be able to walk away with no deal. They could not agree on guarantees and troop withdrawals. As always, the devil is in the detail and I am sure each side will identify the devil as being the other side.

In democratic terms, however, the outcome was predictable because the hearts of the people are not yet ripe enough for an agreement to come naturally. This is not sour grapes, but the truth is that any agreement would have been rejected anyway in one of the simultaneous referendums. So why all the fuss?

The talks were misconceived in that guarantees should have been discussed and resolved two years ago when the talks began if resolution of the issue of guarantees were a condition precedent to a solution. The two communities have diametrically opposite views on guarantees and security, and this should have been identified as a problem much earlier.

The position on the Greek Cypriot side is very clear. Thirteen years ago 75 per cent of Greek Cypriots voted no to a solution that included guarantees. Even though Mr Anastasiades himself led the ‘yes’ campaign in 2004, now he had to make a judgement as president and it had to be in tune with the majority of Greek Cypriot thinking on guarantees.

In his political judgement he would not have been able to get the Greek Cypriots to vote yes to a solution containing guarantees by Turkey. That is a judgement that I respect since the Greek Cypriots  would have been seriously undermined in the EU if he agreed a solution that was voted down in a referendum a second time.

The role of politicians in democracies is to reflect the will of the people. It is what politicians do and Mr Anastasiades is a consummate politician. The fact that his calculations may have included an assessment of his prospects in the 2018 elections if he followed one course rather than another is par for the course.

The position on the Turkish Cypriot side is the symmetrical opposite. The majority of Turkish Cypriots would not have voted for a solution without Turkish guarantees. Security is a real concern for many Turkish Cypriots. In some circles it is the only concern. The majority would have voted no to a solution that had no Turkish guarantees. In their view Turkish guarantees are necessary to protect them in case the agreements do not work out and to act as a deterrent. It is borne of realism and bitter experience both in Cyprus and more recently in Bosnia.

I do not myself agree with the need for Turkish guarantees because I believe that the right to request assistance from the international community should vest  with the Turkish Cypriot community and not with Turkey, not least because of legitimate concerns about Turkey’s wish to retain a foothold in Cyprus. But I can see the reason why there are many Turkish Cypriots who would not sleep soundly in their beds at night without guarantees. After all they may be right and I may be wrong, and since these are matters touching on fundamental rights, I respect their assessment of their security requirements.

All this sounds like one of the stories of old Nesreddin Hodja, the Sufi sage, who kept telling two warring families in his village –  the Turkish equivalent of the Montagues and Capulets –  that they were both right in their hatred of each other. When his wife sternly pointed out to him that it was not right for him to be so duplicitous, in order to avoid a confrontation with her, he replied that she too was right that they indeed could not both be right.

Yet the leaders were indeed both right. What were they supposed to do? If guarantees were retained, the Greek Cypriots would have voted against the solution, and if guarantees were abolished the Turkish Cypriots would have voted against. In chess this is called a stalemate and it is a most frustrating result that is often made worse because your opponent, realising he cannot win, deliberately plays for a stalemate to avoid losing. My late brother Conrad, who was chess champion of Cyprus a couple of times, used to play for stalemate on the rare occasions when I thought I was about to check mate him and it was extremely annoying when he succeeded.

I have a feeling that a kind of stalemate was played out at Crans-Montana, and when the acrimony clears, those of us who wish Cyprus well hope against hope that not all was lost now that each side has some idea of the concessions the other is prepared to make.

But how to solve what appears to be a classic Catch 22? The answer is to redefine the premise of the problem. Take the presence of British troops in Germany. The Germans do not seem to mind the presence of British troops. Likewise the British could not care less if their troops left Germany tomorrow. The fact is that relations between the two peoples are so good – German successes in the World Cup apart – that it does not matter one way or the other to either of them. This despite the terrible things they did to each other in World War II: among many other atrocities, the Germans bombed the hell out of London and the British burned Dresden.

Terrible things happened in Cyprus too but they pale when compared with the atrocities inflicted during World War II in Europe. Relations between the two peoples in Cyprus are not so good. There will be arguments and recriminations. There may even be crocodile tears. But there is a way forward. The people need a change of heart so that it is no longer a question of whether guarantees and troops are required than that they are no longer an issue.

The Treaty of Guarantee will then go sunset clause or not if it has not been terminated already. I happen to think it can now be treated as having terminated by a change of circumstances independently of any agreement.

Alper Ali Riza is a queen’s counsel in the UK and a part time judge

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