Cyprus Mail

Pitfalls of the velvet divorce

By Christos P. Panayiotides

THOSE who talk about “the velvet divorce” as being the second-best solution to the Cyprus problem apparently have never gone through the process of a divorce.  Those who have will assure you that it is a particularly painful process.  They will also tell you that the words “divorce” and “velvet” constitute an oxymoron.

From reading between the lines of what the President is reported to have said, it transpires that when he refers to the possible need for exploring the available alternative solutions – everybody appears to agree that the maintenance of the status quo is unfeasible – he has some sort of a divorce in mind, a kind of “them on that side and us on this side” arrangement, a form of “neither sleeping nor eating together”.

It is this kind of divorce that the president is conceivably aiming at, and this is the reason for his adoption and his adherence, ever since his re-election to the presidency, of the tactical approach of stressing that we certainly aim at a solution of the Cyprus problem, which, however, must be a solution that adequately addresses all our needs, goals and objectives; a solution that would not entail unacceptable sacrifices.

The refrain to all such statements being that, to date, the responsibility for failing to solve the Cyprus problem entirely rests with Turkey.  The fact that, nowadays, few third parties appear to share this view is a secondary issue, which does not particularly bother us.

What really annoys me is the apparent failure of the president and his advisors to invest the necessary time and substance for a detailed analysis of these “thoughts”, in order to identify the problems that would arise under such arrangements or, if they have made this investment, their failure to share their findings and conclusions with the people of Cyprus, so as to offer us the opportunity to challenge their validity or, as a minimum, to know where we are going.

What the president and his advisors probably fear is that if the people of Cyprus come to realise what the divorce entails, the prospects of securing their consent for such an arrangement would diminish.  This is a possible explanation of the absence of any briefing on the issue.

But let us look at what such a divorce would mean in practice:

The thinking behind the divorce is that it will allow the two divorcees to manage their own affairs, without the need to secure the consent of the other party.  In practical terms, this would mean that Turkey will secure an absolute grip over the northern part of Cyprus, given that the north will end up being dependent on Turkey for its economic and political survival as well as for its defence.

The absolute control of Turkey over northern Cyprus will facilitate the transfer of a large number of settlers from Turkey, thus altering the demographic composition of Cyprus.  Such changes will pave the road for the ultimate conquest of the whole of the island.

The complete dependence of the north on Turkey and the alteration of the composition of the Turkish-speaking population will gradually lead the Turkish Cypriots to emigrate to other European countries as long as this option, which will ultimately disappear, is available.  Such a development will further accelerate the demographic mix changes of the Cypriot population.

The domination of Turkey in the north and the change in the population mix at the expense of the Greek-speaking Cypriots will render it necessary to set up a hard (impenetrable) frontier between the south and the north, which would extend over 200 kilometres.

The guarding and protection of these borders will inevitably lead to a form of a permanent economic bleeding for the southern part of Cyprus but also a threat for the security of the Greek-speaking population that will be living literally within breathing distance of superior, unfriendly military forces.

The resulting insecurity and uncertainty will lead to the gradual emigration of many Greek-speaking Cypriots to other European countries for as long as this facility is available.  These trends are already visible with the children of many Cypriots opting to stay away from Cyprus at the end of their studies abroad, in order to pursue a career beyond the frontiers of Cyprus.

It is a well-known fact that Turkey considers itself as having been unfairly treated in terms of the sharing of the hydrocarbon resources in the region.  As a consequence, it is certain that Turkey will seek to capitalise its dominance in the north to secure for itself a “fairer” piece of the petroleum “cake”.  A 50:50 sharing of the Cypriot EEZ would probably be considered by Turkey as a perfectly reasonable proposal.  Turkey has recently tabled its claim before the EU-Turkey Association Council.  Alternatively, it is not inconceivable that Turkey may propose an arrangement under which all her claims in the Aegean Sea will be relinquished in return of Greece “assigning” the whole of the North-eastern Mediterranean Sea to Turkey.

Under these conditions the future of Cyprus in the European Union is uncertain and blurred.  Given that the entry of Turkey into the European Union, as a full member, is inconceivable by the vast majority of the members of the Union, how can anyone exclude the possibility of Cyprus being used as the sacrificial lamb for securing a permanent solution to the Cyprus problem and for the retention of Turkey’s loyalty to the West?

Some may hasten to say that the significant risks outlined above are worth taking, if the divorce would lead to the return of territories under the Greek Cypriot administration.  I am afraid that the prospect of this happening is remote.  With the sole possible exception of the return of the enclosed city of Varosha, the return of substantial pieces of land looks like a remote prospect.  And I ask you directly in a forthright manner: Who is the Greek Cypriot politician who will have the guts to propose the permanent alienation of Kyrenia, Morphou and the Karpas peninsula from the rest of Cyprus in order to assign this territory to Turkey with the parallel setting up of an impenetrable wall between the two?  How will a resident of Kato Varosha or Ayios Loucas consent to certain Famagustians returning to their homes while they, along with many thousands of other refugees, irrevocably being branded as refugees forever?

On many occasions I hear the Greek-speaking champions of partition arguing that we cannot seek a federal solution to the Cyprus problem because Turkey is not trustworthy and, in practice, it is impossible to secure any guarantees that Turkey will behave in a responsible fashion and will honour its undertakings.  I would reverse the question and address it to the proponents of a divorce.  If Turkey is as unreliable as they claim, why are they not worried that the terms of the divorce will similarly be infringed and violated?

Christos Panayiotides is a regular columnist for the Cyprus Mail, Sunday Mail and Alithia

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