Please, God, no!

Cyprus Today - - OPINION - with Ipek Öz­erim ipekh@ex­

POL­I­TICS is never far away on this is­land, es­pe­cially when it comes to the Cyprus prob­lem, which has kept the is­land’s two prin­ci­pal com­mu­ni­ties apart for decades.

Try as it might, the good of­fices of the United Na­tions has not been able to bro­ker a deal on the premise of a bi­com­mu­nal, bi­zonal fed­eral so­lu­tion. It doesn’t mat­ter who the lead­ers are at the ta­ble, the ne­go­ti­a­tions hit a brick wall time af­ter time af­ter time.

Most in­formed on­look­ers were there­fore not sur­prised when the last round of UN-spon­sored ne­go­ti­a­tions broke down last sum­mer. Ten days of in­tense talks be­tween Greek and Turk­ish Cypri­ots at Crans-Mon­tana in the Swiss Alps failed to make a break­through, forc­ing the sym­pa­thetic UN Sec­re­tary-Gen­eral, An­to­nio Guter­res, to throw in the towel.

At a press con­fer­ence, Guter­res told wait­ing me­dia: “I’m very sorry to tell you that de­spite the very strong com­mit­ment and en­gage­ment of all the del­e­ga­tions and dif­fer­ent par­ties . . . the con­fer­ence on Cyprus was closed with­out an agree­ment be­ing reached.”

It was the lat­est in a long line of “his­toric missed op­por­tu­ni­ties” for the talks, which have been on­go­ing for more than half a cen­tury. His­to­ri­ans can tell you the Greek Cypri­ots have been re­spon­si­ble for the lion’s share of re­jec­tions, re­fus­ing over a dozen pro­pos­als to re­solve the Cyprus prob­lem. They have lit­tle in­cen­tive to com­pro­mise, be­cause to do so would mean de­stroy­ing their ef­forts of the past 55 years, to elim­i­nate any prospect of shar­ing power with the nu­mer­i­cally smaller Turk­ish Cypriot com­mu­nity. This is the crux of the di­vi­sion that dates back to De­cem­ber 1963, when Greek Cypri­ots staged a bloody coup to seize con­trol of the is­land.

To­day, the South re­mains brain­washed into think­ing that “Cyprus is Greek” and that they have an in­her­ent right to be mas­ters of the whole is­land, Greek Cypriot lead­ers pay lip ser­vice to want­ing re­uni­fi­ca­tion, but the truth is only if their com­mu­nity main­tains the up­per hand. They con­stantly re­sort to dis­trac­tion tac­tics, usu­ally blam­ing Turkey for the on­go­ing par­ti­tion. Yet in­stead of seek­ing ways to bring the two com­mu­ni­ties to­gether to fos­ter greater trust and in­ter­ac­tion, in­flu­en­tial Greek Cypri­ots pre­fer to play a po­lar­is­ing role.

One of the stark­est ex­am­ples of this came ear­lier this sum­mer, when ef­forts by some pro­gres­sive Greek and Turk­ish Cypri­ots to cre­ate a com­mon vo­cab­u­lary was roundly re­jected by the South. The new guide, ti­tled Words that Mat­ter: A Glos­sary for Jour­nal­ism in Cyprus, pub­lished in July, was de­vel­oped by the Eth­i­cal Jour­nal­ism Net­work as part of a Cyprus Di­a­logue project sup­ported by the Or­gan­i­sa­tion for Se­cu­rity and Co­op­er­a­tion in Europe (OSCE).

Maria Si­akalli, one of the Greek Cypriot au­thors in­volved, said she re­ceived death and rape threats af­ter pub­li­ca­tion of the glos­sary. Fail­ing to of­fer any con­dem­na­tion of the vi­o­lent threats against her, South Cyprus leader Ni­cos Anas­tasi­ades opted to ex­press his dis­ap­point­ment in the ini­tia­tive, calling it “un­timely”, adding that “the Cyprus prob­lem will be re­solved with ac­tions, not words”. The South’s Cyprus Jour­nal­ists’ Union also re­jected the glos­sary.

What did this guide have that was so ob­jec­tion­able? The team of four writ­ers, Si­akalli, Chris­tos Christofides, Esra Aygın and Bekir Azgın, had put for­ward al­ter­na­tives to neg­a­tive terms such as ‘”il­le­gal regime”, which they sug­gested could be re­placed with “Turk­ish Cypriot ad­min­is­tra­tion” and “oc­cu­pied ar­eas/ter­ri­to­ries” to be changed to “the north­ern part of Cyprus”.

Words shape our per­cep­tions, and I’ve long ar­gued de­mon­is­ing an en­tire peo­ple — in this case Turks and North Cyprus — does not help peace in Cyprus one iota. On the con­trary, psy­cho­log­i­cally, we are po­si­tioned as the en­emy which needs to be re­sisted at all costs. It’s why trade — a fun­da­men­tal part of bring­ing peace to Europe af­ter World War II — has failed to take off across the “Green Line”, be­cause the bulk of Greek Cypri­ots have been con­di­tioned not to buy “Turk­ish” goods. Just re­cently an­other whole­saler in the South was forced to can­cel a potato or­der from the North be­cause of the fu­ri­ous back­lash from his own com­mu­nity. This di­a­bol­i­cal sit­u­a­tion will con­tinue while those in power in the South — the politi­cians, the me­dia and the Church — main­tain their hard­line na­tion­al­ist (one could even say racist) stance against Turks and Turk­ish Cypri­ots.

Back to the talks . . . Given this back­drop, any­one with a mod­icum of com­mon sense knows that with­out a par­a­digm shift, any new ef­forts are also doomed to fail­ure. But politi­cians do not like to be bound by ra­tio­nal­ity. They hap­pily make state­ments and prom­ises to their elec­torate, know­ing full well can­not be re­alised.

In the North, we have TRNC Pres­i­dent Mustafa Akıncı itch­ing to re­sume talks. Hav­ing staked his po­lit­i­cal ca­reer on reach­ing a com­pre­hen­sive fed­eral set­tle­ment, he now sits like a lame duck in his Le­fkoşa “White House” pray­ing for a mir­a­cle that will some­how make his re­main­ing 18 months in of­fice mean­ing­ful.

His coun­ter­part, Anas­tasi­ades, has al­ready lost the re­spect of Turk­ish Cypri­ots and those Greek Cypri­ots who gen­uinely want to see the is­land re­uni­fied with their neigh­bours’ rights up­held. The poor rep­u­ta­tion of the Greek Cypriot leader con­tin­ues fol­low­ing his com­ments ear­lier this week.

Speak­ing to the press at an event hosted by the Em­ploy­ers’ and In­dus­tri­al­ists’ Fed­er­a­tion in the South, Anas­tasi­ades voiced sup­port for a more de­cen­tralised form of gov­ern­ment in a fu­ture uni­fied Cyprus, claim­ing that for the so­lu­tion to have “longevity” it needed to be “func­tional”. He tellingly also added: “Our Turk­ish Cypriot com­pa­tri­ots must un­der­stand that their in­sis­tence on hav­ing a say on all de­ci­sions of the cen­tral gov­ern­ment can­not pos­si­bly lead to a func­tional state.” And con­tin­ued: “That is why Cyprus must rid it­self of out­dated guar­an­tees, the pres­ence of oc­cu­py­ing forces and par­tic­u­larly Turkey’s de­mands that Turk­ish na­tion­als re­ceive equal treat­ment with Euro­pean na­tion­als.”

The prospect of more talks with this man? Please, God, no! Never in a month of Sun­days can we get a fair deal with Anas­tasi­ades at the helm. In fact, we should refuse to sit at the ta­ble with any­one who will not recog­nise our fun­da­men­tal rights as po­lit­i­cal equals and treat all hu­mans with dig­nity and re­spect.

A scene dur­ing peace talks be­tween both sides held in the buf­fer zone

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