NICOSIA – The election of moderate Mustafa Akinci as President of the Turkish-Cypriots is giving rise optimism about a deal to reunify the island that’s been divided since an unlawful Turkish invasion in 1974.
Akinci, who replaced nationalist hardliner Dervis Eroglu, is an advocate of compromise, as is Cypriot President Nicos Anastasiades, although the wild card is Turkish President Reccep Tayyip Erdogan, who doesn’t recognize Cyprus and said he’ll have the last word on his side.
Turkey still keeps a 35,000-strong army in the northern third it occupies in violation of international law and which only it recognizes and Erdogan has already slapped down Akinci for saying he wanted a freer hand from Ankara, which supplies the Turkish-Cypriots with their budget.
“While Turkey is still a determining player, the combination of Akinci and Anastasiades is probably the most pro-solution duo we’ve ever had,” Tasos Ziziros, head of corporate finance at Cyprus-based engineering contractor Joannou & Paraskevides (Overseas) Ltd. told the Bloomberg news agency in a feature on Cyprus’ hopes.
“Together, they can agree on a solution, most importantly get voters to pass it and then implement it. If they can’t do it, I don’t see who can.”
Cyprus gained its independence from the United Kingdom in 1960 and entered the European Union in 2004, which Turkey wants to join even while refusing to recognize that Cyprus already is.
Economic output in a reunified Cyprus could reach 45 billion euros ($50.5 billion) by 2035 compared with about 25 billion euros for the two sides together without a solution, Fiona Mullen, director of Nicosia-based Sapienta Economics and co-author of the report The Cyprus Peace Dividend told the news agency.
“A solution to the longstanding Cyprus problem could expand the size of the whole island’s economy by around 20 billion euros over the next 20 years and add on average 2.8 percentage points to real Gross Domestic Product growth every year over that period,” her report said.
“For Greek Cypriots, the peace dividend would be about 12.5 billion euros and for Turkish Cypriots about 6.5 billion euros,” Mullen said.
The economy would be boosted by an increase in the value of tourism, construction, financial services, trade and transport, while recently found gas deposits in the eastern Mediterranean could be exported to Europe via a pipeline to Turkey, she says.
IS THIS FOR REAL?
Akinci said he’s ready to listen, unlike Eroglu who kept digging in his heels. “My policy will be focused on reaching a peace settlement,” he said at a victory rally on April 26. “This country cannot tolerate any more wasted time.”
Anastasiades was similarly hopeful, although decades of negotiations have failed to take a single step toward a solution with so many issues still irresolute.
With the selection of Akinci “there are hopes unfolding at last for this homeland to be reunited and for us to actually establish a modern state that will be guided by the principles and values of the EU,” he said April 27. “I look forward to meeting with him.”
Anastasiades had suspended the United Nations-backed talks in October 2014 after Turkey sent a seismic research vessel to an area of Cyprus’s offshore exclusive economic zone, where the country had already licensed companies to drill for oil and gas.
Turkey withdrew the ship in March and he said he would talk again. Then came Akinci.
Espen Barthe Eide, special adviser of the UN Secretary General on Cyprus, will host a dinner on May 11 for the two leaders in the UN-controlled buffer zone that divides Cyprus, their first since Akinci’s election after a May 2 meeting was postponed.
Eide is visiting Cyprus until May 12 “to finalize arrangements for the resumption of full-fledged negotiations,” his office said.
Akinci was mayor of the northern part of Nicosia, Europe’s only divided capital city, from 1976 to 1990.
His election is “very significant, but is only one part of the puzzle,” James Ker-Lindsay, Senior Research Fellow at the London School of Economics, told Bloomberg.
“Now is the real test, as the Turkish Cypriots have elected a politician with the best track record in working with Greek Cypriots, so the pressure is on Anastasiades” he said.
Anastasiades has offered to hand over maps of 28 minefields, giving management of Muslim monuments and religious sites in Cyprus to the Turkish-Cypriot Evkaf Foundation and welcoming efforts to unite soccer leagues from both sides of the island.
Akinci has said he’s ready – subject to Erdogan’s approval – to allow Greek Cypriots to return to the ghost resort of Varosha, the beachfront area of the port city of Famagusta that’s been sealed off since 1974, in exchange for the opening of Turkish-Cypriot sea and air ports to international traffic.
There’s not been any word yet though from Erdogan on whether he’ll also allow Cypriot ships and planes to enter Turkey, from which they’ve been barred.
“Recent remarks from Erdogan show that things aren’t going to be easy for Akinci and that Turkey will try to secure its strategic interest in Cyprus,” Theodore Panayotou, Director of the Cyprus International Institute of Management, told the news agency.
So it’s not done yet and a long line of envoys, diplomats, officials and international players have failed for years despite occasional glimpses of hope.