Towards the Federal Republic of Cyprus

The election of a pro-unification leader in Northern Cyprus may pave the way for the tiny island to finally be reunited.

Turkish Cypriot newly elected leader Mustafa Akinci with his wife Miral wave to his supporters after he won the leadership election in the Turkish Cypriot breakaway north [AP]
Turkish Cypriots' newly elected leader Mustafa Akinci with his wife Miral [AP]

Forty-one years have passed since the 1974 division of Cyprus.

The Turkish armed forces had invaded the Mediterranean island days after Greek troops led a coup in Nicosia, and Ankara’s military presence swiftly turned into a de facto occupation.

Over the years, the status quo has deepened, and the stalemate has become permanent – with two states, the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus, recognised only by Turkey, and the Republic of Cyprus – just 63 percent of its former territory – recognised by the international community.

Both states quickly started to look beyond the tiny island to secure their future.

Turkish Cypriots elect leftist moderate as new leader

The Greek Cypriots were sponsored by Greece to join the European Union; that happened in 2004. They were confident enough in their European future to reject the UN-sponsored “Annan Plan” reunification deal, and eventually blocked Turkey’s own membership talks with the EU for ignoring the Republic.

Economic woes

As for Turkish Cypriots, they were content and confident with the tutorship of “the motherland”, which literally fed the non-recognised republic under international economic embargo for years. Everything pointed at a de facto partition on its way to become a de jure international reality – when things started to go wrong.

The European membership of the south has been no cure to its economic woes, especially since it joined the shared currency, the euro. Although faring better than big sister Greece, the Republic of Cyprus still looks economically vulnerable as it is severed from its northern chunk – not to mention the presence of a 40,000-strong foreign army on the doorstep, constituting what is indeed a potential threat.

The isolated republic of the north became a sort of colony of the mainland – which relentlessly encouraged emigration from Anatolia – and found itself under threat of becoming merely a province of Turkey. Its economic dependence, coupled with political tutorship and military surveillance, has now reached the point of cultural and religious assimilation by Turkey.

The landslide election in the north of a veteran leftist politician, Mustafa Akinci, has created an unseen momentum where, for the first time, both sides – having extinguished all resources to continue in joint isolation – are led by politicians willing to press for a lasting solution.


Turkish Cypriots are on the verge of becoming a minority in their country, both numerically and politically. The harsh consequences of the division has continued unabated for both sides, regardless of how secure they may feel.

Recently, the discovery in the southern territorial waters of fossil fuels has raised hopes for reunification by using the economic bonanza as an incentive for all parties. But the far-off prospects for the exploitation of natural gas, as well as Turkey’s pretentions of sovereignty over a shared seabed have cooled early hopes. Turkey’s insistence on sharing the Cyprus gas, abusively arguing its guarantor rights over the northern republic, have resulted in the unilateral suspension of reunification talks by the south.

Greeks and Turks have, during these 41 years, talked and negotiated with or without the mediation of the UN – but always reluctantly. Or rather, when a party was genuinely willing to reach a deal, the other was absent or dragging its feet for a variety of internal or external reasons.

Thus, there was never a match of political will among the parties, until last Sunday.

Landslide election

The landslide election in the north of a veteran leftist politician, Mustafa Akinci, has created an unseen momentum where, for the first time, both sides – having extinguished all resources to continue in joint isolation – are led by politicians willing to press for a lasting solution.

The reunification under a new bizonal and bi-communal federal republic is now on the agenda of both Akinci and Nicos Anastasiadis, president of the republic – interestingly, and coincidentally, both native to Limassol town.

Such a deal would be under the auspices of the international community – the EU, the UK, the UN and the US are all eager to stabilise an island in total turmoil in the Eastern Mediterranean.

Nevertheless, the momentum may be jeopardised by Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. To judge by his immediate reaction to the election of Communal Democrat Akinci, no quick fixes to the reunification debacle should be expected – despite the fact that Turkey’s presence in the northern part of the island is a fiasco by all measures. According to local observers, at least 15 percent of Akinci’s electors were usually right-wing, which tells the extent of popular discontent at the status quo.

Erdogan engaged immediately in a public war of words, belittling Akinci’s willingness to negotiate with Greek Cypriots without the full blessing of Ankara, openly stating that the republic of the north was of Turkey’s making. 

Supporters of Turkish Cypriots' newly elected leader, Mustafa Akinci, celebrate his win [AP]
Supporters of Turkish Cypriots’ newly elected leader, Mustafa Akinci, celebrate his win [AP]

Turkey’s guarantorship 

Erdogan has again referred to Turkey’s guarantorship rights and duties – which nonetheless contain no clause to forbid negotiations. The 1960 Treaty of Guarantee between Cyprus, Greece, Turkey, and the UK bans Cyprus from participating in any political union or economic union with any other state and requires the other parties to guarantee the independence, territorial integrity and security of Cyprus.

Turkey has been, for some time, drifting in self-isolation, both among its regional neighbourhood and the wider world. Its diplomacy is ailing on almost every front. Relations with its traditional strategic allies and partners in the West have been downgraded.

It is becoming fast isolated in the Middle East with the re-emergence of Iran and the anti-ISIL coalition. It has withdrawn its ambassadors from Cairo, Damascus, Tel Aviv, the Vatican, and Vienna. Under these circumstances it won’t be easy for Ankara to impose its will on Cyprus, when an unprecedented momentum is emerging for a lasting solution on the island – with the backing of both communal constituencies, as well as the international community.

Cengiz Aktar is senior scholar at Istanbul Policy Center. A former director at the United Nations he is one of the leading advocates of Turkey’s integration into the EU.

The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera’s editorial policy.