Turkish Cypriot leader Ersin Tatar and his predecessor Mustafa Akinci exchanged barbed statements over their respective stances on the Cyprus problem on Friday and Saturday.

Akinci began the tit-for-tat, making a rare public intervention to criticise Tatar’s refusal to agree to a tripartite meeting with United Nations envoy Maria Angela Holguin and President Nikos Christodoulides.

He said, “for many years, late President Denktash defined as his policy to not hold talks without our sovereignty being recognised. Clerides’ and the UN’s recognition of the TRNC was sought while the Turkish Football Federation wouldn’t even play a football match with us.”

“The years which passed without a meeting only worked to serve one purpose: the Republic of Cyprus under Greek Cypriot rule became a member of the European Union on behalf of the whole island in accordance with international law,” he added.

Moving to the present, he said, “for the past three years, the 40-year-old policy has been put back on the market again as if it is new. The continuation of this once again only serves one purpose: turning [the north] into a province of Turkey.”

Tatar responded in kind on Saturday, saying, “contrary to Akinci’s claims, we and Turkey are fighting for the TRNC to be perceived as a sovereign state, for our status to be equal to that of the Greek Cypriot side, for us to take the place we deserve in the world, and to rid ourselves of embargoes and isolations.”

He pointed out that Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan had called for the north to be internationally recognised in speeches to the UN General Assembly in 2022 and 2023 “so that the TRNC does not become anyone’s province”.

He added, “for three years, we have been calling for the recognition of the TRNC’s sovereign equality and equal international status with the Greek Cypriot state.

“We have put forward the equalisation of the two states for the purpose of it forming the basis of talks for a two-state solution.”

He went on to say, “so what are the Greek Cypriot administration and those who want to help it doing? They are forcing us to give up our sovereignty and to come under the umbrella of the so-called Republic of Cyprus, which they usurped as if we were just a province and turned into a Greek Cypriot state.

“This is what Akinci should really react to. It is the Greek Cypriots whom he accused in 2017 and said, ‘there is no federation with them’, not us.”

Tatar and Akinci had faced off in a bitter Turkish Cypriot leadership election in 2020, with Tatar dethroning then-incumbent Akinci in the election’s second round, winning 52 per cent of the vote to Akinci’s 48 per cent.

Akinci had said at the time that the election had been the subject of undue intervention on the part of the Turkish government, even claiming that Turkish MPs from the country’s ruling Ak Party had visited villages in the north and told locals, “Do not vote for Akinci”.

He had also claimed the Turkish authorities had “threatened” him in an attempt to have him withdraw from the race.

Turkish Cypriot newspaper Ozgur Gazete had alleged that a team of 20 people from Turkey’s leading party’s marketing division were holding daily meetings with Tatar and his campaign team at the Lord’s Palace hotel in Kyrenia for over a month before the election took place.

That contingent reportedly included then Turkish vice president Fuat Oktay’s press advisor Ali Genc.

Alongside the article, Ozgur Gazete shared several photographs which showed then ‘economy minister’ Hasan Tacoy exiting the hotel accompanied by Genc and a team of others at 2:30am on October 2, 2020, and Tatar arriving at the hotel with a dossier at 5:30pm the following day.

Tatar, ‘prime minister’ at the time, had his office release a statement accusing the newspaper’s employees of being “spies and agents” and of working with foreign intelligence organisations.

Last September, he was ordered in court to pay 20,000TL (€1,036 at the time) in damages to the newspaper for his remarks.