Negotiations to solve the Cyprus problem, which resumed in May shortly after the election of the Turkish Cypriot leader, Mustafa Akinci, have continued to defy the sceptics. Old taboos are being broken and, given the uncharacteristic absence of leaks and public mudslinging, it seems that all involved are on their best behaviour.
In an interview with the Cyprus Weekly, Akinci’s spokesperson, Baris Burcu, outlined how the talks are going to date and expressed his hope that a settlement can be achieved early next year.
One of the latest taboos to be broken came on Monday during the commemoration of the events of July 20, 1974. Greek Cypriots mourn this date as the marking of the first phase of the Turkish invasion which led to the physical division of the island.
The Turkish Cypriot leadership has traditionally celebrated it as the ‘peace operation’, which they believe saved them from near certain destruction after the Greek-inspired coup that overthrew President Archbishop Makarios a few days earlier on July 15.
However, this year, Akinci surprised many by saying: “There is no doubt that, even to us who refer to it as a Peace Operation, it really was a war.”
“It’s not the first time that Mr Akinci makes such statements,” Burcu explained.
“He has devoted himself to a peaceful future of Cyprus and the best way of doing it is to show empathy, to understand and share the feelings of the other side. It doesn’t matter what is the theme or the title… He’s always the same Akinci.”
Akinci repeated the statement in front of Turkey’s president, RecepTayipp Erdogan, who was visiting for the July 20 commemorations.
After an initial public difference of opinion between Erdogan and Akinici about the relationship between Turkey and the Turkish Cypriots, Burcu indicated that relations have improved.
Referring to their first visit to Erdogan in Ankara, Burcu said: “His intentions were also good on Cyprus problem… we received more energy and synergy from [Erdogan].”
Guarantees are not taboo
Burcu noted that Erdogan “didn’t mention the Treaty of Guarantee in his statement”.
The full retention of the 1960 Treaty of Guarantee, which gives unilateral rights of intervention to Turkey, Greece and the UK, has traditionally been one of Turkey’s red lines.
Burcu said that Akinci’s proposals will be put forward at a later stage when all parties (meaning the three guarantors as well as Turkish Cypriots and Greek Cypriots) are at the table.
“Guarantees are not a taboo. It has to be touched, discussed and negotiated. Not now but at the right time, when all parties are at the table.”
Governance almost finished
Burcu hinted that some details of the private negotiations could be revealed soon.
“On the issue of governance and power-sharing we have almost come to a finalisation, with the exception of some small details.
“When we come to the same stage on the property issue, which our Greek Cypriot colleagues are very interested in, maybe we will decide to make joint detailed statements to the people.”
Burcu added that they were focusing heavily on making progress on the property issue “in the coming days”.
As regards the chapter of territory (the delineation of constituent state borders in the united Cyprus federation), only some issues are being discussed at present.
“There are two aspects in the territorial issue. The one is the criteria and the other is the percentages and the names of villages, the maps. We discuss now the criteria, but we don’t mention the percentages and the name of villages, we’ll do that later,” he said, adding that “it is a very sensitive issue for both sides”.
Financing the solution
Another break with the past is that there is a greater focus on financing the solution.
Burcu said that they had spoken both to UN Special Adviser Espen Barth Eide and European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker about it.
“Let me remind you that Juncker, talking on behalf of EU, said that there will be a contribution,” he said.
“Nowadays, the international community needs a good example for the region. We live in a volatile region and by solving the problem, Cyprus could be a good example of stability.”
Solution early next year?
Burcu confirmed that the atmosphere in the negotiations is positive.
“We have a good feeling, and I’m talking for both sides not only ours, we have good trust,” adding that tete-a-tete meetings between the two leaders are “very productive”.
Asked when there might be a meeting with Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon (which would be an indication of significant progress in the negotiations), he said he hoped that they could “possibly reach this stage by the end of October, early November”.
“And hopefully by the end of the year, or the first months of the next year we will have reached a solution. You [the Greek Cypriots] have elections in May 2016 and we need to take this into account.”
“We have to preserve the positive atmosphere. Because if there is no positive atmosphere, if there is no hope, if there is no trust, nothing can be delivered.”