NICOSIA, Cyprus — Cypriots got on with their lives this week — disappointed by the failure of the umpteenth UN negotiation to reunite their island, but not dejected.
Greece and Greek Cypriots on the one hand and Turkey and Turkish Cypriots on the other blamed each other for the collapse in negotiations announced by UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres in Switzerland on July 7. Hard-liners on both sides were relieved that no concessions would have to be made.
But academics and peace activists on both sides of the Green Line that has divided Cyprus since the 1974 Turkish invasion saw positive signals in what had transpired. Yes, two years of hard bargaining had come to naught, but positions had shifted in the conference chamber — if only for a few hours.
For the first time, Turkey had shown flexibility on its right to intervene militarily in Cyprus, a privilege Greek Cypriots have long sought to abolish. Greek Cypriots were prepared to accept a Turkish Cypriot president of a reunited Cyprus.
In an unusual development, the Greek Cypriot leader, President Nikos Anastasiades, came under fire from his own side. Greek speakers constitute 75% of the 1.2 million people of Cyprus, and they tend to rally behind their leader when he faces Turkish Cypriots.
This week, Andros Kyprianou, the leader of Akel, the most moderate of the big three parties of Greek Cyprus, said Anastasiades went to Switzerland not to reach a solution but “to play the blame game.”
A Greek Cypriot columnist who writes under the name of Patroclos accused Anastasiades of “working for the collapse of the conference.”
Turkish Cypriot political scientist Ahmet Sozen told Al-Monitor the failure was “not the end the road.” If Greek Cypriots replace Anastasiades with a more moderate president in February elections, the negotiations could resume, said Sozen, who teaches at the Eastern Mediterranean University. Turkish Cypriot leader Mustafa Akinci is recognized as being the most pro-solution negotiator Greek Cypriots have ever faced.
What this correspondent found inspiring was the enthusiasm of the activist group UniteCyprusNow. Anybody walking between the Turkish and Greek Cypriot checkpoints in central Nicosia from 7 p.m. to 8 p.m. these days encounters a party.
People are banging drums, blowing whistles, waving white flags bearing the Turkish and Greek words for peace, and holding placards with slogans such as “The future generations deserve a united island.”
UniteCyprusNow aims to push the two leaders to make the painful compromises that Cypriots have resisted for 43 years. A Greek Cypriot member, Tina Adamidou, told Al-Monitor she was saddened by the collapse of the negotiations, but she added, “Am I giving up? No frigging way!”
She refused to apportion responsibility, saying, “We need to show compassion and not blame each other’s side.”
There is work to be done.
In his report to the Security Council this week, Guterres eschewed blaming either side, but he did refer to the long-delayed prosecution of Greek Cypriots who stoned Turkish Cypriot cars in November 2015 — they will stand trial only later this year. “A clear resolution of such cases would serve to build confidence between the two communities,” Guterres said.
This raises the toughest issue in Cypriot politics: security. Turkish Cypriots remember the bloodshed of the pre-invasion years and regard the Turkish army as the only force capable of deterring Greek Cypriot extremists. Greek Cypriots remember the bloodshed of the invasion and insist the Turkish army must leave.
Today, Greek Cypriots say they have changed. Their laws are tougher, and their extremists are no worse than the neo-Nazis found in any country.
“I don’t believe that,” said Sukru Kaptan, a pharmacist in Turkish Nicosia.
“If I had a car accident [in south Cyprus], it would become a Greek-Turkish confrontation,” he told al-Monitor. “I don’t trust them.”
Doros Polykarpou, the head of KISA — a Greek Cypriot group that monitors ethnic violence — said every week there is a case of vandalism against Turkish Cypriot cars — whose license plates are different than those of Greek Cypriot cars — or property in the south. He estimates that six to 12 Turkish Cypriots are assaulted every year in the south.
“We have the legal tools [to stop this],” he told Al-Monitor. What is needed is a political decision. “Without clear instructions, without the appropriate training, the police will not deal properly with this.”
The talks collapsed on the issue of security. Sources close to the negotiations say Turkey offered to give up its right to intervene. Turkey had exercised this right in 1974 when it invaded in the name of restoring the status quo that had been overturned by the Athens-inspired coup against Cypriot President Archbishop Makarios III.
Turkey has not admitted to this concession, but Hubert Faustmann, a political scientist at Nicosia University, and the Cyprus Mail, a Greek-Cypriot-owned paper, say Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu offered to give up intervention rights in private conversations with UN intermediaries.
Anastasiades demanded Turkey put the offer in writing, but Cavusoglu refused, Faustmann and the Cyprus Mail reported. This was understandable, as the offer was intended as an incentive — a concession dependent on other concessions — and the conference was conducted on the basis of “nothing is agreed until everything is agreed.”
“What is absolutely clear is that Turkey, finding itself having no support for continuation as a guarantor power with the right of intervention, gave up that claim,” Faustmann told Al-Monitor, adding that his source attended the conference.
Anastasiades agreed the presidency could rotate between Greek and Turkish Cypriots, a core demand of Turkish Cypriots. But this was conditional on Turkey's giving up intervention rights and agreeing to withdraw all troops.
Turkey accepted a UN proposal that Greece and Turkey reduce their troops to 950 Greek soldiers and 650 Turkish soldiers, a huge drop from the 40,000 Turkish soldiers on the island at present. After 15 years, the troop levels would be “reviewed” by the guarantor powers: Greece, Turkey and Britain.
For Anastasiades, that was not enough. A review gave Turkey the chance to say no. He wanted Turkey to commit to a withdrawal, the so-called “sunset clause."
Diplomats believed they could have negotiated further with Turkey for an eventual withdrawal, but “this is where Anastasiades got stubborn, and that’s what made the UN and the British delegations very angry,” Faustmann said.
In the Cyprus Mail, Patroclos rebuked Anastasiades: “He could have chosen the presence of 650 Turkish troops, with a review rather than a sunset clause, instead of opting for the presence of 40,000 Turkish troops without any clause. How smart was that?”
Faustmann said if the blame were to take the form of a cake, “I believe that the biggest portion of that cake would be Anastasiades.”
It took Anastasiades three and a half days to face the press on what had happened. On July 10, he denied Turkey was prepared to give up intervention rights, said Turkey wanted a “permanent” garrison in Cyprus and dismissed reports that blamed him as ‘‘malicious."
What reinforces the mistrust in Cyprus is the lack of contact between Greek Cypriots and Turkish Cypriots. Charis Psaltis of the University of Cyprus Center for Field Studies surveyed Greek Cypriots in April and found that 80% had no Turkish Cypriot friends and — since the Green Line opened in 2003 — 55% of Greek Cypriots had not crossed to the north more than once.
Sozen has long urged the leaders to implement “confidence-building measures” that would enable Greek and Turkish speakers to rub shoulders and see the advantages of reunification. The foremost candidate for a confidence-building measure is Varosha, the Greek-Cypriot-owned suburb of Famagusta that is now controlled by the Turkish army and deserted.
Sozen would like to see Greek Cypriots return to Varosha and live under a Turkish Cypriot civil administration. In his words, it would “prepare the people on the ground for a federal solution.”
In 2015, the leaders discussed this idea but decided to focus on the negotiations. Many believe that was a mistake.