Please, God, no!
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