Cyprus reunification talks – drowned out by shouting?

June 16, 2009

After months of Cyprus reunification talks, what comes out of the negotiating room more often than anything else, is shouting.

Greek Cypriot President Demetris Christofias and Turkish Cypriot leader Mehmet Ali Talat, appear to have made little headway in the conundrum that has defied generations of international diplomats.

Western diplomats and analysts on the divided Mediterranean island are starting to wonder if the euphoria that surrounded the launch of the talks in September 2008, was justified.

“They went back to the drawing board, that’s the main problem,” said Mete Hatay, a researcher for the PRIO peace institute in Nicosia.

High hopes were pinned on the two men, who come from leftist parties and enjoyed a strong relationship as opposition leaders, to make more progress than their predecessors – Glafcos Clerides
and Rauf Denktash, British-trained lawyers whose careers were identified with the Cyprus problem.

“Both of them have trouble grappling with the language and terms. They are not lawyers like Clerides and Denktash,” said a senior Western diplomat. “Christofias wants to lead by consensus but you can’t operate like that as president and Talat is in a tight corner.”

Christofias moves too slowly and Talat, anxious not to give up too much, stepped back from agreed positions, hoping to meet somewhere in the middle but frustrating his opponent, he said.

“The U.N. will not fill the gaps this time. The two leaders must finish the job and put the plan to a referendum,” the diplomat added.

Turkish Cypriots, tired of seeing little of the EU benefits enjoyed by Greek Cypriots and angered by European Court decisions on key property cases, voted in April parliamentary elections for a hardliner, Dervis Eroglu.

Talat, whose term ends in April 2010, may not be around to clinch a deal after that. With the April deadline looming, the pressure is rising for the two leaders.

“I’m not sure they can do it by April,” said Hatay. “It’s not hopeless but when Turkish Cypriots feel cornered, they can do unpredictable things.”

A case in point was the failure to open the Limnitis crossing on the eastern part of the green line dividing the island, at a time when any good news from the process was key to sustaining
momentum. Turkish Cypriot demands that petrol trucks, not just people, should be allowed to cross, have delayed agreement.

The European Union must be more directly involved and the talks must be intensified to have a chance of making it, diplomats said.

Some say there are some positive signs on the horizon – 70 percent of Greek Cypriots, who overwhelmingly rejected the last U.N. reunification plan in a 2004 referendum, voted for parties
backing a solution in the June 7 European Parliament election.

And the screaming that people close to the talks say often comes out of the negotiating room may not be all that bad either.

“Shouting and screaming is part of their intimacy,” said a Turkish Cypriot journalist. “The fact that they come out of the room smiling is proof of their strong relationship.”

(Turkish Cypriot leader Talat and Greek Cypriot leader Christofias shake hands after reunification talks in Nicosia)

9 comments

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The reason for the lack of any progress in the negotiations is clearly stated in the above-article, i.e. “Talat is in a tight corner” and “Talat, anxious not to give up too much, stepped back from agreed positions..”.
Talat cannot move because he must answer to Turkey and more importantly the Turkish Army, the latter of which has shown no signs of wanting to relinquish the occupied area of Cyprus that it regards as being within its jurisdiction.
The slogan ‘a solution by the Cypriots for the Cypriots’ will only work if all the Cypriots, which includes the Turkish Cypriots, are allowed a free hand and not constrained by Ankara or the Turkish Army.
At this stage Turkey and its Army are using that slogan as a means to distance themselves from their occupation of the northern part of Cyprus and non-agreement – the outcome if Talat is prevented from making concessions – will be used by Turkey and its supporters (i.e. the US and the UK) to criticise the Cypriots and attempt at a later stage to impose a solution which legalises the illegal occupation and divides Cyprus in two.

Posted by Andreas E. Alexandrou | Report as abusive

I am not sure reuinification can take place in Cyprus due to the historical animosity and mistrust of both peoples which goes back to 1571 when the Turks first arrived on the island.

I personally believe the Irish model of having two states on the one geographic area makes more sense. Today we have a Northern island and a Republic of Ireland and no one is pushing the two to unite.

What is needed here is land adjustments, compensation for lost lands or properties from both sides and eventual acceptance of one another with secure borders. As its stands, we Greek Cypriots control 63 per cent of the total area and the Turkish Cypriots 37 per cent. Prior to 1974 the Turkish Cypriots never amounted to more than 20 per cent.

I suggest a 70-75 per cent control of the overall area to the Greek Cypriots. In return recognition by the Greek Cypriots and the international community.

I do not think Turkey has the will to pull out 100,000 settlers and the 30,000-plus troops just to join the EU. On the other hand France, Germany, Austria, Netherlands, Denmark and most EU citizens do not want Turkey in the EU and prefer a privileged relationship rather than full EU membership – thus there is no incentive for Turkey.

I truly believe both communities prefer to govern themselves than one another.

Posted by George K.Georgiou | Report as abusive

In terms of percentage control, one side attempted to achieve 100% prior to 1974.
Historical evidence and witness to the fact of such events in recent history, are significant in any current or future discussion or negotiations.
Perhaps 2044 would be a better time line to discuss such matters and in the meantime end the unfairness that still is dictated.

Posted by CyprusChill | Report as abusive

I believe that the major hurdle to overcome is the number of Turkish settlers that have occupied Greek-Cypriot properties. What will become of them?

At the recent elections in the occupied area, a Turkish mainland newspaper reported that, of the total electorate of 161,000, only 61,000 (38%) were Turkish-Cypriots.

Before blaming either side for the horrors that occurred in Cyprus between it’s independence and the first Turkish invasion in 1974, it should be remembered that these were perpetrated by right-wing lunatics, both Greek- and Turkish-Cypriots, against anybody who stood in their way; this is evidenced by the attacks on Makarios by EOKA-B after he stated that union with Greece was not an options, and by the murders of Turkish-Cypriot reporters by the TMT when they spoke out against that organisation.

I can appreciate the reason for Turkey’s intervention when the government was overthrown in 1974. However I can see no such justification for the second invasion, weeks later, when the coup had been overthrown and UN-sponsored talks were taking place in Switzerland.

Posted by Paul M | Report as abusive

My understanding is that an announcement regarding the border crossing at Limnitis may be made in the next week or so.

Lest we forget, the reason for these talks and the existing impasse is the Greek Cypriots’ rejection of the UN plan of 2004, which was voted for by the Turkish Cypriots. That plan provided the best possible equal treatment, 71% of land to the Greeks, and a form of power-sharing. One doubts whether any kind of power sharing is acceptable to the Greek majority who see the Turkish population as a minority on their island, rather than equal partners. Wait for the next vote – the Greeks of course will reject again.

Posted by Kiran Eyyup | Report as abusive

As widely expected the Greek and Turkish authorities have now announced that the remote border crossing at Limnitis will be opened as soon as the logistics are resolved.

I think there is a strong desire for the people of Cyprus to solve the problem and remove the borders. More than the leaders probably realise.
We have started a page to support the talks and for Pink Floyd to play across the green line as a symbol of the islanders desire to support their leaders. We now have 3000 supporters in less than 2 weeks http://www.facebook.com/onecyprus .

The time has come for all cypriots to unite in friendship, and put the past behind us forever