The "peaceful period" from 2004 to 2009 in the Cyprus file is coming to an end. It was during this five year period that Turkish diplomacy, which has been subject to harsh pressure since the 1974 Peace Operation, was able to relax a little.
Both Turkey and the Turkish Cypriots had said "yes" to a UN peace plan (the Annan plan) backed by the EU in April 2004. The majority of the Turkish Cypriot public approved of this "yes."
Then Greek Cypriot leader Tassos Papadopoulos went on television and basically begged his people in tears to say "no." For the first time the world public saw Turkey and Turks in favor of a solution and the Greek administration and people as being against it. Until that day, Turkish diplomats always worried about the topic of Cyprus coming up when talking with Western diplomats. The result of the April 2004 referendum gave Turkish diplomacy a substantial upper hand.
I have been traveling through northern part of the island for a couple of days now. My observations are that the days of bliss are coming to an end for Turkish diplomats dealing with the Cyprus file. It seems the situation will turn around after the presidential elections of April 18. The reason is simple: the Mehmet Ali Talat period is coming to an end in Cyprus. The new president will most likely be a politician from Rauf Denktaş's period who served as prime minister for a total of 18 years at different periods: Derviş Eroğlu. The difference between Talat's perception of a "solution" and Eroğlu's is as big as the island's Five Finger Mountains. For Eroğlu, the "problem" is the lack of an agreement on the post 1974 actual state and the "solution" is signing an agreement that certifies and confirms this actual state.
Whether this is a correct policy is another debate. But it's certain that this policy is not defendable. There may not be a solution, but it's important that the deadlock is not blamed on Turkey and the Turkish side just as was the case in the post April 24 period. It's also known that Greek Cypriot leader Dimitris Christofias does not want a definite solution and rejects the Turkish side's negotiation parameters. This is the result after 62 meetings. As Talat said, Christofias has yet to "accept political equality." He is now keenly waiting for April 18. Eroğlu's likely victory in the presidential election will especially be celebrated in the south. Christofias will be able to abandon negotiations without having to pay any cost. After all, presenting Eroğlu as the side that doesn't want a solution to the world will be a piece of cake for Greek propaganda mechanisms. It seems that no matter what Eroğlu does, he won't be able to escape from being presented as the "cause of the deadlock."
You may ask, how do you know Eroğlu will win the presidential elections? Of course politics is always susceptible to surprises. But even President Talat does not think there will be that big of a surprise.
UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon's visit to the island under these circumstances is an achievement of Turkish diplomacy. Maybe if Ankara can delay the "fight against time," the negotiation process could be geared toward the direction of a solution. But the current UN secretary-general is no Kofi Annan. Whether he has the capacity to bring the process back from the verge of a cliff is debatable. It is for this reason that too much hope should not be put in his visit.
Cyprus is going to start being a pain for Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu and Turkish diplomats following the spring of 2010. This is a pain we are used to. We only gave it a five-year break.
30 January 2010, Saturday