Cyprus Mail
CM Regular Columnist Opinion

Akinci is the only natural leader

Mustafa Akinci, prepared to stand up for democratic values
He has stood up to Turkey, opposes moves on Varosha, is respected internationally and supports having another stab at reaching a federal solution

There are many candidates in this Sunday’s elections for ‘president’ of the ‘Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus (TRNC)’, but there is only one natural leader, and it is Mustafa Akinci. He may yet pay the price of refusing to follow whatever firman falls from Ankara but at least he offers the Turkish Cypriots a choice either to follow an independent democratic line or to kowtow to Turkey.

Every Turkish Cypriot leader has to take into account and often follow the views of the Turkish government in accordance with the obvious truth that he who pays the piper calls the tune; it is just that Mustafa Akinci is instinctively less inclined to do so and has the courage of his convictions whether to do so or not.

Natural leaders have a vision and Akinci’s is fundamentally Cypriot and Eurocentric. It is that the conflict between the two communities in Cyprus has run its course. It is time to patch things up with the Greek Cypriots in a federal state within the EU in a damage limitation exercise to salvage the mess left behind by the stupidity of the nationalists of yesteryear.

The UN, the EU and many Greek Cypriots trust and respect Akinci for his vision as a Cypriot patriot who understands the requirements of give and take in compromise – a rare characteristic among Cypriot politicians.

So the Turkish Cypriots have a choice to return Akinci a second term, or might as well vote in the Turkish ambassador. Akinci is prepared to stand up for democratic values and the rule of law; he will strive to solve the Cyprus problem by having another go at reaching some sort of federal solution; is prepared to defy Turkey if necessary; and vigorously opposes the latest threat to develop Varosha in breach of a UN Security Council prohibition.

The Varosha saga is an absurd state of affairs whereby a whole town has been fenced off for 46 years and rendered a ghost town, is now being threatened with adverse possession through some imagined legal loophole. International law is clear on Varosha: attempts to settle people other than its residents is inadmissible, which is diplomatic-speak for in flagrant breach of international law.

It is unfair and unjust to visit Greek Cypriot political inertia on the Cyprus problem on the inhabitants of Varosha, when it should have been transferred to them under UN administration a long time ago. And, yes, it is true that the embargo on the Turkish Cypriot community is also unfair, but as any child would tell you: two wrongs don’t make it right.

I hope the threat to develop Varosha is more mischievous than avaricious. It is probably an election gimmick without a real intention to follow it through beyond the election. What is refreshing, however, is that Akinci opposes developing Varosha in principle, which is that in a rule-based world, international law has to be obeyed because it is the law rather than because it can be enforced.

In the last chance saloon bar called Cyprus, the usual lounge lizards will be waiting with bated breath tonight for the outcome of the first round of the Turkish Cypriot elections for ‘president’ of the ‘TRNC’. The role is a non-executive, ceremonial one except that as leader of the Turkish Cypriot community he has conduct of the national question. The question is a national question across the divide presumably because consciously or unconsciously Cypriots have still to decide on their true identity.

Mustafa Akinci’s great gift as leader is that he identifies himself as a Cypriot leader and nation builder, not like Kemal Ataturk exactly but certainly inspired by him in his western orientation. Ataturk was a soldier statesman and a natural leader if there ever was one. He founded modern Turkey as a secular republic and reformed her institutions root and branch.

Love him or loathe him President Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey is also a natural leader. He is a tall imposing man as fearless as he is pugnacious. But he is no Ataturk. He does not have the great man’s hinterland or his strategic progressive imagination.

Ataturk changed the alphabet from Arabic to Latin, which made literacy much more accessible to the masses; he liberated women, and pushed religion into the private sphere between the individual and his God. He propounded peace at home and peace in the world as his basic credo as a statesman. Unlike Erdogan, he had no time for Arab tribal conflicts or their petty squabbles, and having gathered what remained of the Ottoman State, he built a new Republic within the confines of Asia Minor, and then in a final coup de grace he abolished the Caliphate and deported the Sultan.

Virtually all of Ataturk’s strategic policies are being eroded in Turkey under President Erdogan, but not in Cyprus. Mustafa Akinci is the champion of Ataturk’s values in northern Cyprus in this election. So in a way a vote for Akinci is a vote for Ataturk.

By contrast Turkey under Erdogan is a work in progress and the direction he is carving out for her is very different to the one the Turkish Cypriot community agreed should guarantee Cyprus in 1960.

Too many adventures in too many directions. The conflict between Azerbaijan and Armenia the last two weeks is the latest involvement pursued by Turkey regardless that it is inconsistent with the Turkish position on Cyprus. The Armenians in Nagorno-Karabakh in Azerbaijan are an unrecognised entity within the internationally recognised state of Azerbaijan in the same way as the Turkish Cypriots are an unrecognised entity within the recognised state of Cyprus. Compare and contrast.


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

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