The election of Mustafa Akinci as Turkish Cypriot leader in late April 2015 brought renewed vigour to negotiations to solve the Cyprus problem. At the time, the negotiations had been suspended and prospects of a settlement of the longstanding national problem looked bleak.
However, less than a year later, negotiations have intensified and both Akinci and President Nicos Anastasiades have said that a solution of the Cyprus problem is possible within 2016.
As a sign of the changing times, the Cyprus Weekly and in-cyprus.com are joining forces with the Turkish Cypriot Havadis newspaper as part of a strategic cooperation between the Phileleftheros and the Havadis media groups.
“I would like to congratulate you for this cooperation and I hope that this will be an example for others,” Akinci told the Cyprus Weekly.
“A solution this year is possible. I believe this and I am not the only one saying it. Mr Anastasiades says the same, the UN says the same. The two sides have this purpose; we have the will power… if we continue with the same will power and determination, I don’t think we need years for a solution in Cyprus.”
The Turkish Cypriot leader mentions five factors that favour a solution this year. The first relates to the fact that he and Anastasiades, both from the coastal town of Limassol, are of an age-group that remembers the two communities living together.
“Anastasiades and I are from the same generation and both of us realise that this is the last attempt by our generation,” Akinci said.
“If we cannot do it, the younger generation will start discussing different models of a solution,” he adds, noting that surveys show it is the older generation that is more interested in a federal solution.
“Unfortunately, younger generations have inclinations to remain more separate … What I am trying to say is, this is not only our generation’s last attempt, but is the last attempt for a federation.”
A second factor is the unprecedented cooperation among all the leaders of the main religious communities on the island: Greek Orthodox, Muslim, Armenian, Maronite and Latin.
“Another factor is that religious leaders are coming together. They support a solution and are looking for different ways to contribute to a solution.”
The third factor is recognition of the economic opportunities.
“The economies on the island should be linked. New prospects will come about because of the solution, new investments…this prospect is now better understood by business people on both sides,”he said, noting that the Turkish market is huge.
Preparations on the economic aspects of a solution are also new.
“For the first time, as the negotiations are continuing, there are experts from the World Bank, and IMF in Cyprus and they are making serious efforts about this issue.”
European Commission experts are also working with the bicommunal EU ad-hoc committee formed as part of the UN-sponsored negotiations.
“The EU experts come, tell us about the EU acquis, we look at how much we have harmonised our laws with the EU, we tell them about this, and the Greek Cypriots tell us about their experience or difficulties they had during the harmonisation process.
“These things are not visible. However, there is a very serious effort. The main reason all these things are taking is the belief that a solution will take place.”
A related factor to the economy is energy, water and interdependencies in the Eastern Mediterranean.
“Maybe the most important factor is the energy issue,” said Akinci.
“Israel and Turkey want to restore their relationship. If that happens, Israel’s and Cyprus’ natural resources could be transported to Turkey, through Cyprus and then be transported to the EU,” he said, adding that this is the “fastest and cheapest” option.
Moreover, since Turkey and Greece are already interconnected “we will automatically get connected to Europe”.
“Electricity, water, natural gas cooperation and the mutual interdependencies are created by this. But it is a positive interdependence with cooperation possibilities.”
Akinci also emphasises that creating a modern state is a process. The idea that a country joins the EU and suddenly becomes modern is mistaken, he says.
“A modern country does not become a modern country just by calling itself modern. Behaviours make it modern, education makes it modern, solidarity makes it modern. And it becomes modern in a process.”
The fifth factor alluded to by Akinci is the atmosphere in which the negotiations are conducted.
“This time is different from any other time.
“We have a different situation. Both leaders are avoiding accusing each other, they are trying to take the same path…we are not playing the blame game. We see each other as the partners of the future and we will continue to see each other in this light.
“We want bizonality, this is important. We want political equality, this is important to us,” he said, referring to some of his own community’s concerns.
“We want freedom. We want a structure where nobody is superior to the other. And we want this for both communities. All these for both communities: safety, equality, freedom.”