Puzzling news recently hit the stands: According to information released on FIFA’s website, the Greek and Turkish soccer federations on the divided island of Cyprus agreed to unify their teams by signing a provisional arrangement for the organisation of soccer in Cyprus.
Indeed, soccer diplomacy was the forerunner of the bigger news that came this week in a joint statement announcing that an agreement had been outlined over the basic principles for a solution consisting of a bizonal, bicommunal federation.
So the Cyprus stalemate is back on the agenda after having undergone yet another ice-age with appalling consequences for all parties. Reunification talks will resume after an 18-month break and we may see landmark developments in the course of the coming years. These may trigger the commencement of a new process whereby disputes over assets and liabilities are properly addressed through a conflict resolution exercise with the involvement of all parties, including third ones.
The present era started just a year ago with the election of Nikos Anastasiadis, a pro-solution liberal, as president of the south. Anastasiadis has always made his intentions clear to resume reunification talks with new ideas and parametres and convincingly conclude them.
He also intends to apply for NATO membership. That move as such constitutes a major development as it represents a sea change from the traditional “non-aligned” policy of Cyprus; first, by engaging with NATO member Turkey, but also with others such as the UK and US.
Moreover, it offers a viable solution to the issue of “third party guarantees on security” for the two constituent communities of the island.
Anastasiadis’ election has triggered a positive development in the north with the arrival of the pro-solution Republican Turkish Party to the government. Two new factors are now on the track. The arrival during 2014 of pipelined water to the north from mainland Turkey with a capacity to meet the needs of the entire island and the discovery of significant natural gas reserves in the territorial waters of the south.
Two new factors are now on the track. The arrival during 2014 of pipelined water to the north from mainland Turkey with a capacity to meet the needs of the entire island and the discovery of significant natural gas reserves in the territorial waters of the south.
Several US officials have been mentioning the “gas factor” as a new parametre to be taken into account in any conflict resolution process pertaining to the island and beyond as the gas fields are prolonged in the Israeli territorial waters.
Yet Turkey’s strained relations with Israel could benefit from the Cyprus deal as well. Let’s stress that the most likely buyer of the eastern Mediterranean gas is energy-hungry Turkey. Turkey seems to be willing to be cooperative, rather than be conflictual, to the gas factor, which, in return, could create a possibility of a joint venture on water and electricity.
Another key factor is the economic situation of the Republic of Cyprus which has agreed to a financial rescue package from the Troika composed of the EU, the ECB and the IMF. The fragile economic situation of the south is a liability which could be transformed into an asset within a broader economic framework by removing the existing economic obstacles amongst the parties, like with the soccer. Similarly, the north’s economy is in no better shape. Embargoed for decades, living on Turkish subsidies, the economic engine never functioned in the north.
The side-effects of such a dynamic are multifold. Ankara’s costly and futile economic and political tutorship over Turco-Cypriots could ease, as they become EU citizens. Turkey would shift its much-needed European pre-accession talks to a higher gear with the removal of obstacles created by the Cyprus stalemate.
Turkish troops in Cyprus would return to Turkey thanks to the island’s NATO membership. This would also make a great contribution to the ongoing demilitarisation process in Turkey. The search for normalisation between Greece and Turkey would certainly benefit as well. Peace dividends could be saved through the mutual reduction of military spending. Last but not least, a normalised Cyprus would be a new hope in view of the chaotic atmosphere of the eastern Mediterranean.
All these parametres – and certainly many others – have neither been duly assessed nor considered within a broad package. Attention to new parametres requires strong will on the part of both parties, and the support of third parties as well as the right timing.
It looks as though it is the right time to lay the foundations of such a package approach that would duly assess all assets and liabilities. A two-fold effort for a solution is needed. First, a short-term effort is needed to reenergise talks with productive methods to ensure that all parties negotiate and deliberate with one another. In this sense, the resumption of bilateral talks followed by talks between Greco-Cypriots and Turkey, as well as between Turco-Cypriots and Greece is very encouraging.
Secondly, a longer term effort is required, involving in addition to the four parties (two islanders, Greece and Turkey) all potential friends of a federal united Cyprus. In that sense, the rush by the EU, UN, UK and US to firmly support the new process following the announcement of the agreement on the joint statement is also very encouraging.
Today, no party in the conflict has the luxury to waste time in negotiating on mini-packages, which only serve to maintain the status quo. What is needed is a multi-dimensional and multi-actor talk for a comprehensive solution.
Sir Winston Churchill’s aphorism on the Balkans befits Cyprus, a tiny piece of land that “produces more history than it can consume” until today. One hopes that the indigestion extravaganza is nearing an end.
Professor Cengiz Aktar is Senior Scholar at Istanbul Policy Center. As a former director at the United Nations where he spent 22 years of his professional life, Aktar is one of the leading advocates of Turkey’s integration into the EU.