Some may accuse the Turkish Cypriot leader Mustafa Akinci of talking so forcefully about the danger of the north’s annexation by Turkey for electoral reasons, but they would be wrong. Akinci’s sincere commitment to a reunified country under a federal roof cannot be disputed by anyone who has followed his political career and particularly his five years as the leader in the north.
Unfortunately, for most of this time he has been the target of the enemies of reunification on both sides of the dividing line, mercilessly attacked, slated and belittled. In the north, he was accused of giving away too much to the Greek Cypriots when the negotiations were in progress, while subsequent comments he made about the need to maintain the north’s independence were interpreted as showing disrespect to Turkey.
In the Republic, he has been systematically presented as Ankara’s ‘puppet’ or its ‘local ruler’ in a hostile campaign, behind which was often the Anastasiades government through private briefings of journalists and very selective leaks from the talks. Not that some sections of the media needed any encouragement from the government. One anti-settlement newspaper used to carry an Akinci article with a negative spin on a daily basis for at least a couple of years.
Despite the bad press from all sides Akinci has remained steadfast in his support for bizonal, bicommunal federation (much more so than President Anastasiades), even if this does not best serve his prospects for re-election. In fact he has repeatedly fallen out with Ankara over things he has said, eliciting public reprimands from the authoritarian President Erdogan, a man that does not tolerate dissent. Akinci criticised Turkey’s military offensive in northern Syria and was told, “know your limits” by Erdogan.
His warning, issued at the launch of his election campaign last Wednesday, that without a settlement the north would become a province of Turkey drew calls for his resignation from an extreme nationalist party leader in Ankara, but this did not stop him from repeating it via his spokesman on Sunday. On Monday Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu entered the fray, saying “I have never worked with such an untrustworthy politician,” with regard to Akinci, whom he also accused of “unreliable actions” and of unjustifiably attacking Turkey.
It is crystal clear that Turkey’s government wants him out, and it will be a major miracle if he manages to win re-election. If he does not, the slender hopes of a federal settlement and reunification will disappear with him. Yet this is something that is unlikely to cause great sadness to our government or the majority of the political parties.
With Akinci out of the way the two sides will be free to negotiate the final divorce.