NICOSIA – After decades of irresolution and division, dreams of a unified Cyprus are rising again now that Cypriots and Turkish peers have leaders committed to finding an answer.
The recent election of moderate Mustafa Akinci to head the Turkish-occupied northern third of the island seized by an unlawful invasion in 1974 pairs him with Cypriot President Nicos Anastasiades, of a similar persuasion: they want a solution.
Akinci could yet be blocked by Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who reminded the new leader that his budget and marching orders come from Ankara. But so far Akinci has already made some symbolic concessions, being matched by Anastasiades.
Anastasiades and Akinci, Cyprus’ new A-Team. Will they be the ones to find the way toward a reunification after a raft of international diplomats and envoys have thrown up their hands in frustration and walked away?
In an interview with the British newspaper The Guardian, Akinci said this could be the last, best shot because time is not on the side of either party. The paper said he could be the game-changer to solve the elusive riddle of reconciliation.
“The passage of time is not helping a solution,” he told the paper, mourning the loss of common memories of co-existence. “The more time passes, the more the division becomes consolidated. This is a fact that everyone should understand.”
Both men have moved swiftly so far. Anastasiades gave his counterpart a map of mines placed in the mountains outside the capital during the invasion and they’ve already talked about having a common sewerage system crossing the dividing line that’s patrolled by United Nations buffer zone forces.
Also in progress are plans to link mobile phone and electricity grids, have closer political, business, cultural and sports ties even as they said they will also talk directly and not leave the negotiations to appointed technocrats.
They took a widely-publicized arm-in-arm stroll through Nicosia’s dividing line and seemed closer than any previous leaders on both sides who spent most of their time taking verbal shots at each other without making an iota of progress.
Tough obstacles remain, of course, and Greek President Prokopis Pavlopoulos signaled his country wouldn’t go along with any prospective deal that doesn’t include Turkey removing a standing army in the occupied area.
The toughest part of talks will come in areas which have brought previous attempts to find an answer to a screeching halt: what to do with property confiscated by Turkey and which still, European courts have ruled, belong to the rightful Cypriot owners forced out by the invasion.
THE TWILIGHT ZONE
Akinci has especially strong motives: his part of the island is recognized only by Turkey and is essentially isolated from the rest of the world while Cyprus is part of the European Union and enjoys diplomatic and financial support, including a 10-billion euro bailout in 2013 when the country’s banks were brought to the edge of insolvency by bad loans to failed Greek businesses and big holdings in devalued Greek bonds.
“On every level, economically, socially, politically, it’s as if we don’t exist,” Ozdil Nami, the Turkish Cypriot negotiator in talks, told The Guardian’s Helena Smith. “We live in a country where regular contact with the rest of the world is severely jeopardized.”
After decades of irresolution and division, dreams of a unified Cyprus are rising again now that Greek and Turkish Cypriots have leaders committed to finding an answer.
With yet another UN envoy, Espen Barth Eide from Norway, now the new interlocutor and the United States pressing for a resolution, there is for the first time in a long time more than wan lip service being paid to the talks.
Erdogan could still be the wild card, saying he won’t recognize Cyprus nor allow its planes and ships into Turkey, which wants to join the EU but keeps undercutting its own hopes with an irresolute stance.
Akinci is getting indirect support from his constituents who flock to the Cypriot side to take children to schools there and enjoy restaurants and services. He agreed to end visa requirements and the two men agreed to open more border crossings to allow more integration.
Akinci and Anastasiades have seen an array of leaders fall before, especially hardliners who were simultaneously intransigent and refused to buckle, believing compromise was issuing unilateral conditions demanding the other side accept.
“What we shouldn’t have is yet another disappointment,” asserted Akinci who has been positively received by Greek Cypriots. “We have to be careful in our messages. We have to have empathy. When we look at them, and they look at us, it is important that it is not enemies but future partners that we see.”
With reunification, would come international law and order. “The younger generation has a very blurred picture of the future. They don’t know what tomorrow will bring.”
He added: “It is our fate as Turkish Cypriots and Greek Cypriots to live together on this island. The Cyprus problem has been negotiated exhaustively. All that is needed, now, is determination, political will and a shared wisdom and vision.”