Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has said peace talks on the future of Cyprus can take place only between “the two states” on the divided Mediterranean island.
In a speech delivered on Tuesday in the divided Cypriot capital of Nicosia, Erdogan reiterated Ankara’s support for the self-declared Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus (TRNC) amid a dispute that is damaging Turkey’s relations with the European Union and Greece.
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“The new negotiation process can only be carried out between the two states. We are right and we will defend our right to the end,” he said.
Greek Cypriots, who represent the island internationally and are backed by the European Union, reject a two-state deal which would imply a sovereign status to a breakaway state they view as illegal.
Turkey is the only country in the world to now recognise the TRNC and keeps 35,000 troops there.
Erdogan’s remarks came as the TRNC marked the 47th anniversary of a Turkish invasion that split the island in two.
Decked out in red and white Turkish and Turkish Cypriot flags, the celebratory mood in north Nicosia stood in stark contrast with the sombre mood in the south, where Greek Cypriots were woken by air raid sirens marking the day Turkish forces landed nearly half a century ago.
The 1974 Turkish invasion came five days after a Greek Cypriot coup engineered by the military government then ruling Greece.
Decades of disagreement
For decades, the United Nations has been attempting to piece Cyprus back together as a two-zone federation – the only thing the two sides had, until recently, been able to agree to in principle.
But in April, the world body failed to bridge disagreements over restarting peace talks, which collapsed in acrimony in 2017.
The simmering dispute has come into sharper focus in recent years because of competing claims over offshore energy reserves, and a recent reopening by Turkish Cypriots of part of Varosha, a ghost resort that was the hub of Cyprus’s tourism industry prior to 1974.
Erdogan was expected to visit Varosha, which has been a Turkish military zone since 1974 and is widely viewed as a bargaining chip for Ankara in any future peace deal, later on Tuesday as part of his two-day official visit to the TNRC.
Turkish Cypriot officials on Tuesday announced plans for the potential resettlement of Varosha, a move likely to infuriate Greek Cypriots as essentially staking ownership over an area the UN says should be placed under the control of peacekeepers.
Turkish Cypriot leader Ersin Tatar said his administration would scrap the military status of about 3.5 percent of Varosha and allow beneficiaries to apply to a commission mandated to offer compensation or restitution of properties.
The moves came after Erdogan said on Monday that a “permanent and sustainable solution” to the island’s division “can only be possible” by taking into account that there are “two separate states and two separate people”.
“The international community will sooner or later accept this reality,” Erdogan told Turkish Cypriot lawmakers in Cyprus’s breakaway north, adding that Ankara would build a new government complex to symbolise the state of northern Cyprus.
Cypriot President Nicos Anastasiades said Erdogan’s remarks were “an expected repeat of Turkey’s unacceptable positions”.
The EU has also ruled out a two-state deal.
European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said in Nicosia earlier this month that the 27 member-bloc, which Cyprus joined in 2004, would “never, ever” accept such an arrangement.