Has Erdogan embarked on a no-return journey in Cyprus?

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Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has exhausted the proceeds of his Syrian, Libyan and Eastern Mediterranean ventures and has turned to long-divided Cyprus for the nationalist fuel he needs in domestic politics. In 2004, Erdogan supported the so-called Annan plan to reunite the island, but now he is going in the opposite direction, advocating a two-state solution contrary to the long-standing settlement parameters in the conflict.

Accompanied by a large delegation, Erdogan visited the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus (TRNC) on July 19-20 to mark the 47th anniversary of Turkey’s military intervention in 1974, which followed a Greek Cypriot coup d’état aimed at Cyprus. with Greece and left the island divided. since. “It doesn’t matter if 47 years or 147 years or 247 years pass, the Turkish Cypriot people will never shrink from their independence,” Erdogan said in Nicosia regarding the TRNC, which only recognizes Ankara.

Erdogan’s visit was preceded by much speculation about the “good news” he said he would bring to the Turkish Cypriots. A widespread guess was that he would announce the full reopening of the coastal town of Varosha, a bustling vacation spot before it was shut down after the Turkish intervention. Despite the outstanding issue of Greek Cypriot properties and a 1984 UN Security Council Resolution banned the resettlement of Varosha, the area was partially reopened in October. Yet Erdogan’s visit saw an announcement of a “second phase” in the partial reopening rather than a bolder move. under the schedule, 3.5% of Varosha will be reopened and demilitarized, while Greek Cypriots who own real estate in the area can apply to a Turkish Cypriot Recovery Commission to reclaim their properties or seek barter or compensation, even as financial strains have left the work of hindered the commission.

Another guess about Erdogan’s “good news” was that Azerbaijan and Pakistan might recognize the TRNC. But he just said the problem is a… constant subject in his talks with Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev.

Some speculated that Erdogan’s renaming of the TRNC to the “Cypriot Turkish State” or the discovery of gas reserves in its waters. Others pointed to the prospect of a move to establish a permanent Turkish Air Force base and a naval base in the TRNC to bolster Ankara’s position in the energy rivalry in the Eastern Mediterranean.

None of those guesses even came close. What Erdogan announced was a project to build a “beautiful” complex consisting of a presidential palace, a parliament building and a park for the Turkish Cypriots, which was essentially a recycling of existing plans. He described the current presidential office as “a slum” left by British rule and the existing parliament building as “unsuitable” for the TRNC, adding that he was personally monitoring the project and that construction would begin soon. His words must have been offensive to the Turkish Cypriots, as both buildings, despite their modest architecture, have a high symbolic value and bear witness to critical moments in the island’s history. Erdogan had built himself a gigantic palace in Ankara several years ago, but Turkish Cypriot leaders had never asked for it.

Erdogan had already suggested plans for a new presidential palace during his visit to Nicosia in November, and funds were allocated for its construction in March in a financial cooperation agreement between Turkey and the TRNC. So the project was hardly anything new, and many wondered if Erdogan intended to announce something different, but should take a step back. Earlier this month, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said she had warned Erdogan how sensitive the European Union was about what his visit to the island would entail. Meanwhile, a group of US senators urged President Joe Biden “to” busy Turkey to stop the provocations in Varosha.”

Whatever the truth behind the “good news”, Erdogan has taken an open and contradictory course on the Cyprus issue. On the one hand, he argues that the Greek Cypriots have continued to hinder settlement attempts since their rejection of the Annan plan and the two-state solution is now the only option left. In a clear signal that he is after Turkish Cypriot independence, he praised the presidential complex project as a symbol of the state and noted that Ankara no longer wanted to use the term “Northern Cyprus”, but instead “Cypriot Turks”. “. On the other hand, some see his moves as an attempt to put pressure on Greek Cypriots to force them into a settlement, amid reports that the Turkish Cypriot negotiating team is working on a proposal to reunite the island on a confederation basis. .

And while his steps are not crass tactics to enforce a settlement, but genuine efforts for a two-state solution, his treatment of the Turkish Cypriots belies that goal. He treats Turkish Cypriot President Ersin Tatar as his private secretary and the TRNC government and parliament as stamps of Ankara’s decisions, while actively promoting a Islamist-Conservative Transformation in the decidedly secular Turkish Cypriot society. This attitude inevitably calls the Turkish annexation of Northern Cyprus as the ultimate scenario in his mind.

No doubt Turkey has always had a decisive voice in Turkish Cypriot affairs, but Erdogan feels entitled to dictate and eat away at the autonomous space Ankara has traditionally left to the Turkish Cypriot leadership. Former TRNC Chairman Mehmet Ali Talat said in a recent interview that the current situation was “as if Turkey has seized the government”.

Tatar, who became TRNC president last year after a stint as prime minister, has shown unprecedented docility and understanding in relations with Ankara. The Turkish Cypriot opposition likens him to the administrators Ankara has appointed to run dozens of local governments seized by Kurdish mayors. Erdogan openly threw himself behind Tatar in the two-round elections in October. Others prominent contenders as Mustafa Akincic and Serdar Denktash said they came under pressure from Ankara to withdraw from the race. Akinci even claimed that he received threats from Turkish intelligence services. There were also allegations of vote-buying for Tatar and, according to Denktash, Erdogan sent a special team to guide and supervise Tatar’s campaign on the ground.

Yet Ankara’s interventions have not been without resistance. Two opposition parties and Talat and Akinci boycott Erdogan’s speech in the Turkish Cypriot parliament amid mounting pressure on opposition leaders to stand up to Ankara’s disregard of the Turkish Cypriot will.

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