Four years after the latest failure, Greek Cypriots and Turkish Cypriots meet from Tuesday to Thursday in Geneva for “informal talks” under the auspices of the UN, without great hopes of an agreement on the reunification of the Mediterranean island.
Cyprus has been divided since the Turkish army invaded the northern third in 1974, in response to a coup that aimed to rejoin the island with Greece.
In 2004 it entered the European Union, but the acquired community rights apply only to the southern part of the island populated mainly by Greek Cypriots and whose authorities are the only ones recognized by the UN. In the north, the self-proclaimed Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus (RTNC) is only recognized by Ankara.
On Saturday, three days before the dialogue in Geneva, hundreds of Greek Cypriots and Turkish Cypriots demonstrated in Nicosia, on both sides of the world’s last divided capital, calling for peace and reunification.
All previous attempts at reunification failed, with the regional rivalry between Greece and Turkey as a backdrop.
“We are going to Geneva firmly determined to resume the negotiations for the reunification of Cyprus in the form of a bicommunitary and bizonal federation, in accordance with the (resolutions) of the UN”, stressed Nikos Christodoulides, the head of diplomacy of the Republic of Cyprus.
But the RTNC defends a quite different discourse. “The solution … is an island, two separate states,” Tahsin Ertugruloglu, “minister” of Foreign Affairs, for whom there is no “common ground” of understanding, told AFP.
– Turkish soldiers –
The UN Secretary General, Antonio Guterres, who will oversee the dialogue, wants to “show that he has exhausted all his options,” says Kemal Baykalli, a Turkish Cypriot analyst for the citizen outlet Island Talks and an activist for the NGO Unite Cyprus Now.
He “needs to hear officially that the two camps will not find an agreement in the currently proposed framework,” he adds.
The UN has been present in Cyprus since 1964 due to the violence and ten years later, after the division, it inherited the surveillance of a buffer zone.
Under his aegis, the last negotiations in Switzerland, in July 2017, took place under the principle of reunification in a federal state.
But they ran into disagreements over the withdrawal of tens of thousands of Turkish soldiers from the north of the island and the maintenance of Ankara’s right of intervention.
Turkey was invited to Geneva, as were Greece and the United Kingdom, the other two “guarantors” of the island since its independence in 1960.
After the failure of 2017, several discussion topics were added to the already traditional ones: security guarantees, political equality, territorial adjustments and property rights of the displaced.
Cypriot President Nikos Anastasiades has hinted that he could renounce the principle of federation and propose a “decentralization” of some powers.
On the Turkish Cypriot side, the pro-reunification “president” was replaced in 2020 by the nationalist Ersin Tatar, a protégé of Ankara.
– “Little boat” –
“Turkey has changed the paradigm”, judges Giannis Ioannou, journalist and founder of the Geopolitical Cyprus think tank.
First, according to him, carrying out gas exploration operations in waters claimed by Cyprus and Greece. Then, opening before the “presidential” in RTNC the streets of Varosha, a very symbolic abandoned district since it was closed by the Turkish army in 1974.
Cyprus is “a small boat in the game of the great powers”, considers Kemal Baykalli.
According to him, Ankara “could use the discussions” as an instrument in the service of its doctrine of the “blue homeland”, aimed at establishing its sovereignty over disputed areas of the eastern Mediterranean.
Cyprus does not ooze optimism. The border crossings between the north and south have been largely closed due to the coronavirus pandemic.
In the north, the health crisis has hit the economy, which is highly dependent on Turkish investment, making it difficult to oppose the “motherland”. In the south, corruption scandals have fueled distrust of the political class.
The objective in Geneva is “to open a gap (…) The parties could agree to continue discussing”, concludes Giannis Ioannou.
This would perhaps allow, according to Kemal Baykalli, to create a “new framework”.
mdz / gk / tp / erl / rev