By Esra Aygin
The rift between Turkish Cypriot leader Mustafa Akinci and Ankara over the nature of a Cyprus settlement has escalated in recent weeks with the two sides exchanging increasingly barbed messages in the media.
In a recent interview with the Greek Cypriot daily Politis, Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu laid bare his disagreement with Akinci.
Describing federation as the Turkish Cypriot leader’s “personal opinion” he stated that the Turkish Cypriot ruling coalition and Turkish Cypriot people should also have a say on the issue.
Speaking to several Turkish media outlets during the past week, Akinci, in a clear response to Cavusoglu, insisted that no realistic alternative to a federal solution in Cyprus exists.
“At the end of the day, I am accountable to my community,” said the Turkish Cypriot leader. “These people voted for me by 60 per cent to lead this process.”
Since the failure of the Cyprus conference in Crans-Montana in July 2017, there has been an evident divergence between Akinci, who is standing his ground for a federal Cyprus, and Cavusoglu, who has been arguing that other alternatives should also be discussed.
The relations between the two were badly damaged during Cavusoglu’s visit to northern Cyprus last April, when Akinci told him that he would rather resign than table any model of solution other than a federation. Akinci’s public call on Greek Cypriot leader Nicos Anastasiades to start negotiations within the framework outlined by UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, shortly after this confrontation with Cavusoglu, served as the death blow to their relations.
“Cavusoglu is clearly not happy with Akinci’s unfaltering insistence on federation,” said professor Niyazi Kizilyurek of the University of Cyprus. “But to downgrade the position of an elected leader to a ‘personal opinion’ is politically and diplomatically very inappropriate and extremely disrespectful. It is disrespectful of the leader and disrespectful of the community.”
During the last round of negotiations in 2017, Akinci took a number of bold steps despite Ankara’s objections, like increasing the percentage of areas that would be subject to territorial adjustments and giving maps before securing political equality, a source close to the issue said on condition of anonymity. His argument was “that this is the final push for a federation and we have to give it all we can.”
In fact, on the day talks collapsed in Crans-Montana, Akinci stated that this was the last effort by his generation and it had been unsuccessful.
“But then, he returned to Cyprus and continued to insist on a federation,” the source said. “Ankara feels deceived.”
One exchange in the Turkish media last week is particularly telling.
“Forgive me, but when I hear your name, I think of someone fighting windmills… You are raising eyebrows at the Turkish foreign ministry,” a reporter told the Turkish Cypriot leader.
Akinci responded: “Is there any other alternative to a federal solution? If there is, I should also know about it. I get the exact opposite message from the Greek Cypriot side… Wasting time by discussing the impossible only maintains the status quo, which is to the disadvantage of Turkish Cypriots.”
It has been revealed that Cavusoglu and Anastasiades have met a number of times – first in Crans-Montana during the Cyprus Conference – to discuss “a more relaxed federation and new ideas”, according to the Turkish foreign minister’s statements to Politis.
And as Ankara distances itself from Akinci an evident accord is growing between Turkish officials and Kudret Ozersay – the Turkish Cypriot official responsible for foreign affairs. While his contact with Akinci has been non-existent, Cavusoglu has met with Ozersay a number of times including on the sidelines of the UN Assembly in New York in September. Despite an understanding that the Turkish Cypriot ruling coalition would not express views about the Cyprus problem and restrict itself to supporting Akinci, Ozersay has been increasingly vocal on the issue.
“Unless the Greek Cypriot mentality that rejects power-sharing changes, insisting on negotiations based on a federation would only lead to the continuation of the status quo and further disappointments,” Ozersay told the Turkish Cypriot news agency last week.
In a clear snub to Akinci, Ozersay added: “Saying ‘they are not ready to share,’ and at the same time insisting on a federal solution that is based on sharing does not seem like a consistent behaviour to me.”
Cavusoglu’s recent outburst has also encouraged other Turkish Cypriot political parties and politicians, who are against a federal solution in Cyprus.
“The failure of the Crans-Montana summit was not only the collapse of a negotiation process but also the collapse of the concept of a Federal Cyprus,” Serdar Denktas, the head of another coalition partner Democratic Party DP, said during a TV programme last week.
“The five-party conference was the final stage of a 50-year process… And it’s over. What else are we going to discuss? The period of trying to do something jointly with the Greek Cypriots is over. We tried for 50 years and it wasn’t possible. We have to look for a new way out.”
Ersin Tatar, the newly elected head of the main opposition National Unity Party (UBP), joined in the discussion and told the media earlier this week that his party is not bound by Akinci, but the policies developed through consultations with Turkey.
“Mr Akinci may be the president. But the parliament should not be bypassed,” said Tatar. “It is obvious that there cannot be a power-sharing agreement in Cyprus. There has to be a new policy.”
Although there is a lot of talk about ‘alternatives’ there has been no clear explanation of what they exactly are.
“Let’s look at the options that would be acceptable to the world and the Greek Cypriot side,” Akinci said during one of his interviews with the Turkish media. “We don’t want a unitary state and the Greek Cypriots, who are not comfortable with political equality even in a federal solution, would never accept a two-state solution.
“Let’s leave aside the negotiation table. Is there any country that would accept us becoming a separate, sovereign state? Even Azerbaijan does not recognise us. I can’t travel to Azerbaijan. So we go rounds in circles and arrive at a federal solution again. I am saying that we need to have one more try within the limits of logic, reason and the UN framework.”
But according to Kizilyurek, the silence of the federalist parties – namely the Republican Turkish Party CTP and the Social Democracy Part TDP – have added to Akinci’s isolation.
“Parties that have traditionally supported a federal perspective, that have made federation their raison d’etre are not doing anything,” said Kizilyurek. “They are not in any kind of action or engagement for a federal solution. The most they are doing is expressing hope.”
With Ankara and – apparently – Anastasiades placing themselves outside the federal framework, and the Turkish Cypriot left apparently passive, it remains to be seen whether Akinci will be able to follow through with one more try for a federal Cyprus.