* Analyst on social and diplomatic issues
In 1978 I wrote a book analyzing the causes of the catastrophe which had befallen Cyprus in 1974. The sub-title of the book was “Nationalism and International Politics”, and the basic thesis was that to explain what had happened, one had to understand a complex inter-relationship of internal developments within the two communities of Cyprus, with regional and global factors.
Nationalism had been set aside by the government of President Makarios in 1974 and the majority of Greek Cypriots, but not by EOKA B, which cooperated with the Greek Junta to mount the coup which was followed by the invasion of Cyprus by Turkey, and the partition which Cyprus still suffers from.
The understanding of interaction between internal social, and international factors, is also necessary today, when we try to understand and mend re-unification talks which had appeared to be going well, but have broken up into a climaxing war of words.
In its wisdom, the House of Representatives chose, while crucial talks were taking place about the reunification of Cyprus, to adopt a regulation requiring the commemoration by schools of the plebiscite in favor of the union of Cyprus with Greece in 1950.
The proposal was made in the House by the extreme right-wing ELAM party with only two members in the House.
They are a party which most Greek Cypriots find scary, so it must be even scarier for Turkish Cypriots.
Populism is sufficient to explain the vote in favor of the regulation amendment by the small parties of “the intermediate space”, and the abstention by the “governing party”, which made its adoption possible.
Strains since Geneva
Concurrently, as we have been informed by the Foreign Minister, since the Geneva Cyprus Conference in January, the Turkish Cypriot side has been “dragging its feet” and there has been no further progress in the negotiations which are due to resolve the remaining crucial issues, including the withdrawal of Turkish occupation troops and the radical modification of a self-assumed right of Ankara to intervene in Cyprus militarily.
However, some journalistic analyses also describe the normal but intense tensions and negotiating tactics, which inevitably strained the initially friendly, even cooperative, relationship between Anastasiades and Akinci.
So the presentation of the Enosis commemoration pretext was immediately seized on by an unrecogniseable Mustafa Akinci.
Both Akinci and Ankara reacted as if the House of Representatives had resolved to unite Cyprus with Greece forthwith.
Akinci has demanded “retraction” and walked out of the negotiations, setting impossible preconditions for his return.
For the moderate and urbane Akinci, this is out of character.
It is likely that he has been under considerable strain, under the pressure of Anastasiades’ negotiating tactics on the hammer side and nationalist attacks from within his own community on the anvil side.
It is also clear that he has been under pressure from Ankara, since his new demand is connected with rights of Turkish not Turkish Cypriot citizens, as well as Turkey’s so-called “rights of intervention”.
History and teaching history
People and governments of good will hope that the negotiations can reconvene and lead to an agreement for the reunification of Cyprus, and the United Nations are working in that direction.
But even if this happens, and there is finally agreement, there are two issues which now are highlighted and need attention.
The difference in language and religion between the two communities in Cyprus has never been a cause for conflict, and there is no reason to believe that it will be in the future, despite some efforts by the AKP Turkish government. But history is a divisive factor.
It is enough to see this not only with the vote in the House of Representatives, and the Turkish Cypriot reactions to it, but also the enormous Turkish flag disfiguring the Kyrenia mountain range, and the military celebrations on July 20, the anniversary of the Turkish invasion in 1974, and a date for mourning for the Greek Cypriots.
This issue needs to be confronted in history teaching. History cannot change. But teaching can. The view of the other can be taught in parallel with national, communal history.
Some Greek Cypriots have forgotten that Turkish Cypriots feared Enosis. Some Turkish Cypriots have forgotten that the Enosis struggle of the Greek Cypriots was the anti-colonial fight of Cyprus and resulted in independence.
A new glue for Cyprus
And also in the negotiations. Since language, religion and history will not change, and cannot change, the main instrument for dealing with the problem is to create a new kind of “glue” for reunified Cyprus, and this glue, as with other modern states, can be the glue of constitutional loyalty and equal citizenship.
This issue can only be overcome by minimising the ethnically based and divisive elements in the new constitutional arrangements.
“Bicommunal, bizonal federation with political equality as defined by the United Nations” cannot now be changed as the basis for the internal constitutional arrangements.
But the interpretation of this formula must not be such as to negate Western democratic principles connected with citizenship, citizen as against communal equality, and constitutional loyalty.
So the worst deformations of this formula need to be avoided.
These include a rotating executive presidency, any excessive and permanent limits on basic rights of Cypriot citizens, and veto-like executive arrangements which are involved in some interpretations of “effective participation” of the Turkish Cypriot community in executive decision-making of the future federal government.
The second issue is related to the reasons for Ankara’s interventions which tend to postpone progress, a postponement which may prove lethal, and is probably connected with President Erdogan’s need for support from the Nationalist Action Party (MHP) at the April 16 constitutional referendum. (There is also the possibility that Ankara is creating for itself the circumstances in which it would implement the catastrophic “Plan B”).
In both cases one sees how Ankara, through the Turkish Cypriot community, can dramatically affect developments on Cyprus, and may continue to do so after an eventual solution.
On these two issues, the European Union and the wider international community have an important role to play. Because it is about whether Cyprus will continue and augment its role as an island of stability and cooperation in the Eastern Mediterranean and a positive paradigm for the region, or morph into a dysfunctional satellite of Ankara.
Meanwhile, the loss of time has allowed other issues to come into play. Greek-Turkish relations have deteriorated considerably for reasons unconnected with Cyprus, but connected with the slide to totalitarianism in Turkey, making the necessary agreement between the two “guarantors” much less likely.