The events of this past week call for the most radical of actions: the president should resign
Last Tuesday, Turkey announced the long-anticipated, much-discussed opening of part of fenced-off Varosha.
However, the opening was not accompanied by the expected drumroll and it was confined to 3.5 per cent of the fenced-off area, which will be “demilitarised”, in order to facilitate the re-settlement of Greek Cypriots. This area is located between the churches of Ayia Katerina and Ayia Zoni, which means that it is confined to a purely residential area. It does not extend to cover Democratias Avenue (the commercial road, which runs through the centre of the city) or Evagoras Avenue (which intersects Democratias Avenue and leads to Famagusta port).
The announcement was made by Ersin Tatar, not by President Erdogan, and was described as a pilot scheme. One cannot rule out the possibility that the apparent downplaying of this event was the result of the pressure that was exercised by the European Union, the US and the UN. Nevertheless, it is evident that the idea has not been abandoned and that Turkey will revert on the issue to exercise further pressure and to create new faits accomplis, for as long as the Cyprus problem remains unsolved. These tactics by Turkey, on-going for 47 years, have led Cyprus from bad to worse.
It is noteworthy that in his speech before the Turkish Cypriot ‘parliament’, Erdogan again accused the Greek Cypriot side of not seeking a solution. “Negotiations have been going on for 50 years, in the course of which Greek Cypriots were unwilling to accept the Turkish Cypriots on an equal footing. This is the cause of the deadlock. We noted that the Greek Cypriots do not wish to have a partner and they are simply hiding behind the United Nations. There is no reason to wait for another 50 years”. And he added: “The Greek Cypriot side continues to ignore the Turkish Cypriot rights over the maritime zones of Cyprus”.
My assessment is that the Turkish side’s goal is to keep the door open for a mutually acceptable solution. One may say that this conclusion is incompatible with the fact that the Turkish side appears to be adamant on the issue of two states. However, the truth is the Turkish side constantly emphasises that this position has been adopted as a result of the Greek Cypriot side refusing to accept the sought-after “political equality and effective participation”. The Greek Cypriot insistence on managing the underwater wealth of Cyprus is cited as a good example of this denial. To reinforce this argument, they cite the shift of Nicos Anastasiades from an ardent supporter of a ‘tight’ federation to an advocate of a ‘loose’ federation, while failing to explain what this means in concrete terms. Nor has he reconciled the apparent contradiction of being ready to accept the one positive Turkish Cypriot vote on important issues but is unwilling to do so over issues of secondary importance.
The assessment of all those in a position to judge objectively the situation converge. Even at this last hour, we must convince the international community that we remain steadily focused on and attached to a federal solution with political equality and effective participation – not in words but in deeds – and that, not only we are ready to accept the participation of the Turkish Cypriots in the management of Cyprus’ underwater wealth, but we believe that such an arrangement will secure the desired transparency and will lead to a better managed public sector.
Based on the actions by the president and his close associate, the foreign minister, to date, I have come to the conclusion that there is no way of convincing the international players that we are genuinely committed to a solution that is based on what had been agreed with the Turkish Cypriots while Mehmet Ali Talat and Mustafa Akinci were in power. Whether this impression of the international community is correct or not is irrelevant. What counts is the fact that this impression has been created – one way or another – and must be reversed.
This is essentially the position expressed by Nicos Tornaritis, Disy’s parliamentary spokesman, on CyBC’s From Day to Day programme last Tuesday. On the same programme, Giorgos Loucaides, from main opposition Akel, reached a similar conclusion and so did numerous other commentators.
Even President Anastasiades himself was heard saying that “July 20 is a day of recalling all the mistakes we have committed and a day on which to reflect on how we can confront this Turkish aggression”.
My response is that the scale of the crisis confronting our country is so great and the resulting threats so serious that there is no room for attempting to assign blame for what is happening, nor identify the persons responsible. What is of critical importance is what can be done – at this late stage – to avert catastrophe.
I believe that there is only one escape route which will enable us to radically confront the problem with the desired speed and effectiveness. The president and his foreign minister should resign immediately. Elections should be declared to elect a president, whose competence and moral standing would be acknowledged by both the Cypriot voters as well as the international community. And that candidate must be one acceptable by at least the two major parties.
I would suggest Christos Stylianides. Christos Stylianides has distinguished himself as one of the most successful commissioners of the European Commission and is undoubtedly regarded highly within the European Union. He also has a good grip of the Cyprus problem and enjoys a reputation as an honest, hard-working person, willing to put his country above any other interest.
I believe that such a candidate can be elected through a low-key, speedy election process, in the course of which all those involved in the Cyprus problem (including Turkey) will commit themselves not to do anything to upset the status quo. A newly elected president, having a fresh mandate in his hands, will be able to seek and hopefully quickly secure a comprehensive solution before it is too late.
I know that there are many candidates who aspire to occupy the presidential seat in 2023. I hope that such candidates, for the sake of serving the national interest, will recognise the critical hours we are going through, and will rally to support their country by deferring their ambitions to 2026.
I beg all my compatriots to acknowledge the threats which are confronting us and to rise to the occasion. Everyone must assume their responsibilities and be prepared to confront their consciences if, and when, the disaster strikes.
Christos Panayiotides is a regular columnist for the Cyprus Mail, Sunday Mail and Alithia