Cyprus reunification talks given urgency by Turkey coup tension

Talks ‘poisoned’ by Turkish prime minister’s statement on Greek Cypriots

Graffiti is seen on a wall outside the UN-controlled buffer zone in Nicosia, Cyprus. The graffiti on the wall reads “Peace in Cyprus”. Photograph: Yiannis Kourtoglou/Reuters

Graffiti is seen on a wall outside the UN-controlled buffer zone in Nicosia, Cyprus. The graffiti on the wall reads “Peace in Cyprus”. Photograph: Yiannis Kourtoglou/Reuters

 

The Turkish coup and crackdown on dissent has added urgency to this week’s talks on the reunification of Cyprus, which has been divided since Turkey occupied the north of the country in 1974.

The Greek and Turkish Cypriot leaders, Nicos Anastasiades and Mustafa Akinci, have already discussed the critical issues of the territory of the proposed federal states, security and external guarantees. They are set to tackle sticking points today as uncertainties multiply over the unsettled state off affairs in Turkey.

Anastasiades said the positive atmosphere prevailing over the past few months has been “poisoned” by a statement from Turkey’s prime minister, Benali Yildirim. He blamed the Greek Cypriots for the failure of previous negotiations and warned that the current UN-mediated effort is the “last chance” for a settlement.

Tugrul Turkes, the Turkish deputy prime minister, restated Ankara’s position that any agreement “should guarantee the political equality, legitimate rights and security of the Cypriot Turks”. He called this a “national case”.

Under Ankara’s guidance, Turkish Cypriots have insisted on both a Turkish guarantee and the deployment of Turkish troops, demands rejected by Greek Cypriots.

No guarantees

Ioannis KasoulidesGreece

Greek Cypriots also demand the adjustment of the boundary between the Greek Cypriot-majority south and the Turkish Cypriot north, repatriation of a proportion of mainland settlers, and Ankara’s write-off of €17 billion spent to subsidise the north.

Events in Turkey have made Greek Cypriots all the more wary of making concessions on existential issues and Turkish Cypriots more eager than ever for an early deal.

Both sides fear Ankara could unilaterally annex the northern breakaway state by conducting a referendum, which would be decided by devout, conservative mainland Turkish settlers who support Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

Generally secular and liberal, Turkish Cypriots have become increasingly concerned over Erdogan’s authoritarianism and his efforts to replace the Turkish secular system with a sectarian religious state.

Purge fears

Akinci initially tried to reassure his community by saying the attempt would have no impact in the north. Nevertheless, several senior Turkish army officers who had served there and three Turkish Cypriot students at an Istanbul military academy have been detained.

A team is set to come to the island to investigate mainland military personnel deployed here, the Turkish Cypriot force, the police and the civil service. Arrests and firings are feared.

The Turkish Cypriot prime minister, Huseyin Ozgurgun, said the movement headed by exiled Turkish cleric Fethullah Gulen, blamed by Ankara for the coup, has been designated as a terrorist organisation in the north.

Charred pamphlets issued by the Gulen movement were found in the north, indicating there are Gulenists among the Turkish Cypriots or settlers.

The Turkish coup took place at a sensitive time for Cyprus: on the 42nd anniversary of a failed putsch against the Cyprus government by the Greek junta. This was followed by a Turkish invasion and occupation of the north.

Since then, 30,000-35,000 Turkish troops have been deployed there, dividing and militarily dominating the island.

The internationally recognised Greek Cypriot-majority republic is an EU member, while the north is regarded by the EU as a region outside the control of the government.

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