A distinction without difference?
Is there a difference between a two-state solution and ‘TRNC’ recognition? A webinar organised by the Council of Turkish Cypriot Associations last week addressed this impossible question and the difficult choices facing Turkish Cypriots who feel their international isolation is unjust and has to end.
It was billed as The Future for Cyprus: two-states? federalism? recognition?
There was a special video message from ‘TRNC President’ Ersin Tatar to the effect that the way to end isolation is to press for two states, which he said is now the policy of his administration.
Contributors included among others professor Huseyin Isiksal, a key member of Tatar’s negotiating team and a strong advocate of two states; and the former Conservative MP and international lawyer Michael Stephen, who argued that as all routes to a federal solution were now exhausted, the only avenue left is a two-state solution though he conceded there was no realistic prospect of ‘TRNC’ recognition.
He argued that the ‘TRNC’ satisfied the Montevideo statehood criteria – people, territory, administration and capacity to engage in international relations – but as the US, UK, EU and Russia were against two states in Cyprus it was not going to happen in any shape or form.
At first blush the distinction between ‘TRNC’ recognition and a two-state solution is a distinction without a difference, but on close analysis there is an important difference. Basically, the Turkish side wishes to put two states on the table in the belief that the RoC is not averse to a two-state solution, whereas recognition involves third states agreeing to recognise the ‘TRNC’ as a breakaway state without the consent of the RoC.
‘TRNC’ recognition had gone into voluntary hibernation for many years after it was slapped down by the UN Security Council in 1983-84 until it was revived recently as the fall-back position if a federal or two-state solution were not agreed.
RoC consent to a two-state solution is necessary because, as Catalonia found out and as Scotland would find out if she goes it alone, breakaway states do not get recognised internationally if the metropolitan state they wish to exit does not consent to secession.
Melvut Cavusoglu, the Turkish foreign minister, was apparently told by RoC President Nicos Anastasiades at Crans-Montana in 2017 that the Greek Cypriot side preferred a two-state solution to sharing power in a federation. Anastasiades vehemently denies this but it looks as though he did float the idea. He was probably bluffing but the Turkish side latched onto what he said and decided to call the bluff. Hence the Turkish government’s decision to sideline Mustafa Akinci and hence the election of Ersin Tatar to pursue a line which the Turkish side believes may corner the Greek Cypriot leader into accepting two states – an amateurish misreading of the Greek Cypriot psyche in my view. The idea that a Greek Cypriot leader would give up RoC for two states is for the birds!
The Turkish government has form in sidelining Turkish Cypriot leaders. They previously sidelined Rauf Denktash because he was opposed to the UN-EU plan for a federal Cyprus. Recep Tayyip Erdogan made a long speech at Burgenstock in Switzerland explaining in detail his reasons for accepting the 2004 UN federal plan; in the event the Greek Cypriots voted against it to the delight of Denktash. This may be apocryphal but apparently he publicly thanked Greek Cypriot leader Tassos Papadopoulos for persuading the Greek Cypriots to vote it down.
Tatar has yet to thank Nicos Anastasiades for avoiding a federal solution at Crans-Montana in 2017. So a federal solution is still on the cards, and at the next CTCA webinar in February I shall make the case for federalism. It is no secret that I favour the American federal model for its proven efficacy in countries with multiple ethnicities.
In 2004 the Turkish Cypriots voted for a federal solution and membership of the EU. What they got was an indefinite suspension of the EU legal order – the acquis – in northern Cyprus and feel they have been isolated and betrayed for doing the right thing, and it is indeed unfortunate that the EU has neglected the Turkish Cypriots who are after all EU citizens.
However, the inclusion of northern Cyprus was based on RoC membership. The RoC had the foresight and initiative to achieve membership; alas northern Cyprus was not under its effective control, so enforcement of the acquis in northern Cyprus was not legally possible. It is just one of those things – basically you can’t have your cake and eat it.
The same holds true about Cyprus’ hydrocarbon wealth. The Turkish Cypriots moved north in 1974 and declared an independent breakaway state. Then the RoC had the good fortune and enterprising spirit to discover hydrocarbon deposits to the south of Cyprus and the nous to agree exclusive economic zones with Cyprus’ southern neighbours, including Israel.
Truth to tell the Turkish side looks a bit of a Johnny-come-lately in relation to the discovery of hydrocarbon wealth. Nevertheless, every Cypriot should benefit from Cyprus’ hydrocarbon wealth equitably. All that is expected of Turkish Cypriots sometimes is a little loyalty to Cyprus above and beyond the Cyprus problem.
Yet Turkey and the Turkish Cypriot leadership are pushing for a two-state solution without even trying out a federal arrangement. They do not appear to have thought it through. Think about it: the two-state alternative was apparently floated by Greek Cypriot leader Anastasiades at Crans-Montana in place of a high intensity power sharing federation. Assuming he was serious and not bluffing, has it not occurred to Cavusoglu that there may be method to Anastasiades’ conversion to a two-state solution?
In the event of a two-state solution the Turkish Cypriot state would find it difficult to claim an EEZ to the south of Cyprus or disturb the agreements the RoC has already reached south of its coastal baselines where the gas deposits are situated.
Anastasiades is a consummate politician with a high business acumen; metaphorically speaking he is also a keen angler for why else would he tempt the Turkish foreign minister with the two-state bait? Food for thought.
Alper Ali Riza is a queen’s counsel in the UK and a retired part time judge