On the 25th of November 2013, the respective leaders on the Mediterranean island of Cyprus met in a restaurant in the UN buffer zone for informal talks over a dinner hosted by the UN Special Envoy Alexander Downer. Breaking up after the cheese course (was it Hellim or Helloumi?) the parties may have enjoyed their meal but they were unable to come to any agreement whatsoever on the wording for a joint statement that the Greek Cypriots insist upon, before any ‘real’ talks can begin, or even be planned. Furthermore, the south Cyprus government continue to demand one-way gestures such as the opening of the city of Maraş (Varoshia), the use of ports by Greek Cypriot shipping and recognition of the south Cyprus regime by Ankara. The road to reconciliation on Cyprus is a one-way street from the mindset of Greek Cypriots: Give in and live as a ‘minority’ in a Republic of Cyprus determined by them, would be a panacea settlement for them.
To the outside observer and for those perhaps not 'in the know', the island of Cyprus lies in the Eastern Mediterranean sea and is shaped like a guitar. The southerly part of the guitar is where you usually find the knobs that need adjustment from time to time!
On December the 10th, 2013 the representatives of both countries – Greek Cyprus and Turkish Cyprus, to recognise them both – both had discussions with Special Envoy Downer the outcome of which was the delivery of something rather short of, but akin to, a Headmasters Report over the drafting of the text for this long waited joint statement. The Headmaster analogy is perhaps apposite, for Downer rather appears to perform this role, studiously observing his oft recalcitrant charges scribing after-school assignments and neither scoring very high marks for their efforts. To continue the analogy, a report on the school would not score too highly either for the UN, who have been engaged in various forms in Cyprus since 1964 have never achieved anything tangible and neither can they claim to have ‘kept the peace’ for that role has been admirably performed by the Turkish Security Forces (TSK) since 1974.
From what little has been released in terms of information – apparently the ‘fewer that details are known, the more successful the process will be’ – Downer expresses his assessment that both sides are in fact ‘working very hard’ on the text of this long awaited statement. It is a bit like waiting to put on the annual school play but the script hasn’t actually been written, much less actually learned, and this is not helped by one side changing key actors along the way with its principal man then demanding that the original script be torn up and his version being used instead, whatever that might be!
Quite what Ankara’s reaction to these recent albeit muted announcements from Cyprus will be, we do not exactly know. Turkey has previously voiced its hope for a comprehensive solution to the Cyprus dispute so that its membership negotiations with the EU can get back on track and this week, the European Union seems to be key to Ankara’s overall game plan whereas a couple of weeks ago, the Shanghai-5 (SCO) seemed to be the direction of Turkey’s political and economic focus.
If EU membership is now firmly in focus – and we hear of a possible cabinet reshuffle in the offing too – then Cyprus is key, for veto’s line up in opposition to Turkey joining as full members, two of which are wielded by Greece and Greek Cyprus respectively. If Turkey withdraws her EU accession bid (unlikely at the moment) or agrees to Preferred Partner status, then these devices are neutered. The issue continues to constitute a strong obstacle on Turkey’s path to European Union accession, with the topic frequently dominating the EU agenda, the planners of which must be as sick of the Cy-Prob as the rest of us are!
Many are suggesting that the Cyprus Question MUST be answered by March. But quite which year that March falls in is all part of the half-century old question itself