Which One Is It: Division or Solution on Cyprus?

03/29/2013 07:54 am ET | Updated May 29, 2013
  • Yavuz Baydar Columnist, co-founder of Punto24, Contributing Commentator: The Guardian

These interesting times, it seems obvious, exert enormous pressure for most of the countries in the east Mediterranean and the Middle East to make historic, almost existential, choices.

With Egypt increasingly rudderless, and helpless about its economy; Israel finally apologizing to set the record straight with Turkey for a new political opening; the destructive economic contamination having now spread from Greece to Cyprus; and, of course, Syria and Iraq spreading considerable amount of negative energy all around, the real challenge is how to be able to steer towards win-win solutions for, at least, the key democratic, regional players.

If Israel and Turkey really convert the apology into constructive positive will, a game-changer will have taken place. But, elsewhere, not far away, another problem, partly tied to this context, threatens to make things more complicated than they are.

It all centers around the question of whether tiny Cyprus, with a problem much bigger than itself, will be persuaded and be able to shift from petty regional politics to a benevolent partner for the much needed stability in the east Mediterranean. Needless to say, given the Russian involvement in both Syria and Cyprus, both politically and economically, it is primarily in the interest of NATO and should definitely be in the interests of the EU.

It can be said that much of the suffering imposed upon of the poor Cypriots, now having spilled over from the north to the south (for which an inconsistent and immoral EU policies are also to blame), depends a great deal on the defiant, blockheaded policymaking of Cypriot administrations.

More importantly, the current crisis of Cyprus has also declared a bankruptcy of its Turkey politics. It has hit a wall.

A recent, excelllent analysis by the International Crisis Group (ICG) is spot-on when it says: "If Europe truly wants to help fellow EU members Greece and Cyprus in their hour of need -- to put these damaged economies back on a healthier path, and to guide Turkey's EU relationship onto a more normal track -- its leaders should turn their attention once more to the mother of all obstacles to stability and prosperity on the southeastern edge of Europe: settling the division of Cyprus."

Without a doubt, the Cyprus crisis offers a great opportunity, despite hardship for Greek Cypriot President Nicos Anastasiades, to grab the bull by the horns. It is not only about energy, trade or a reconfiguration of democracies, but also about working out new modalities on cooperation across cultural and religious divides. It presents a chance for Greece, Cyprus, Turkey and Israel to construct a hinterland of peace for the EU.

Yet, in the picture of this grand opportunity, old reflexes, stubbornness and "win-lose" mentality (which almost always means lose-lose at the end of the day) looms.

Shouldering the huge burden of undue pro-Russia policies and EU-skeptic attitudes of Dimitris Christofias administration, Anastasiades still shows desperate signs of turning the energy resources issue in the region into a mess. He will reportedly visit Israel to discuss energy cooperation, as Benjamin Netanyahu was also keen to assure Athens about deepening Greek-Israeli ties.

All this is fine, as long as Anastasiades and Greek Prime Minister Antonis Samaras devote a much larger portion of their time to settling the mother of all problems in the region: the conflict of Cyprus.

Otherwise, all the efforts to sideline Turkey, a continuation of old policies of "Turkey isolation" will set new stumbling blocks to achieve stability in the region; -- inevitably lead to a division of the island and further entanglement of who has what right in the seas.

Turkey's Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu pointed out in his latest move, which includes three proposals the immediate resumption of talks for a comprehensive political settlement between the Turkish and Greek Cypriots within a set timeframe; or if this were to fail, the establishment of a joint committee of Turkish and Greek Cypriot representatives to decide on how to share the hydrocarbon reserves between the two communities in the absence of a political settlement; and finally a two-state solution that would mean permanent partition of the island.

"This is the first time in 30 years that Turkey has openly talked of supporting a two-state solution," Davutoğlu said. "We don't put it [two-state solution] on the table as a threat. We put it forward as positive leverage. But it is not possible for us to accept an understanding that 'all resources belong to us'."

The question is do the EU, Samaras and Anastasiades really want a division or a solution? Stability or an abuse of this seemingly endless, costly "conflict of luxury" for further, dangerous tension? Creating fruitful economic cooperation, with fair shares for all citizens around, or feeding further hatred?

Objectively, they could not have found a more pragmatist, fiercely market-driven government in Turkey than than the ruling AKP. This momentum should not be wasted.

The Economist also has its finger on the spot. In an analysis, it underlines the most logical exit; a quick settlement that reunifies the island. There are two carrots: gas finds off-shore present huge opportunities. But the second carrot is, linked toit, is much bigger: a political solution would make a pipeline from Cyprus to Turkey and Europe not only possible, but also it would be '$15 billion cheaper than the $20 billion alternative of building a liquefied natural-gas plant'.

"Could Mr Anastasiades do it after so many have failed?" the weekly asks. "The political obstacles are large; Mr Christofias got nowhere. Yet unlike his predecessors Mr Anastasiades voted for the Annan plan in 2004. And a desire to exploit the Mediterranean gas, which is also claimed by the Turkish-Cypriots, makes a settlement far more pressing. Turkey has just mended its fences with Israel, which shares some of the gasfield. Relations with the EU are also improving."

It concludes:

"Next year sees the 40th anniversary of the island's division. Young people on either side of the "green line" have no memory of a united Cyprus, so a settlement is not getting any easier. Yet if Mr Anastasiades misses this opportunity, the island may be mired in economic gloom for decades to come. Inept handling of the EU bail-out may have weakened his chances. Even so, he needs to try."

Well, in short, it is the time for new thinking, and realism. Political boldness is required, and as shown by the Swedish foreign minister Carl Bildt by paying a very timely visit to the island and Athens, with Turkey, east Mediterranean and the EU enlargmenet on the agenda, genuine engagement, benevolent will and encouragement.

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