Thursday, May 6, 2010

The Cyprus Blues Again

Following the recent presidential elections in Northern Cyprus, there seems to be a fresh breeze of pessimism blowing out of the little island that couldn't.

The April 18 elections brought into power Dervis Eroglu, a hardline nationalist who has made clear his disenchantment with the current peace negotiations being held on the island. Eroglu has committed himself to returning to the negotiation table, but the concern is that he might employ a kind of rope-a-dope strategy, revisiting previous agreements and slowing things down to the point that the negotiations could very well run out of time. In an analysis released a few days after the election, the International Crisis Group's Hugh Pope makes clear why resolving the Cyprus issue matters. Pope writes:
[If the talks stagnate], everyone loses: the Greek Cypriots will suffer Turkish troops on the island indefinitely, lose the hope of winning back territory and see compensation for property made much harder; the Turkish Cypriot zone will be absorbed further into Turkey and its original inhabitants will scatter even farther; Turkey will see its EU process freeze up completely; Greece will suffer continued indefinite, expensive tensions in the Aegean; and Europe will lose any chance of normalizing EU-NATO relations.
The full piece, which offers Pope's prescription for keeping the talks on track, can be found here.

Turkish analyst Soli Ozel also takes a look at the Cyprus situation in a piece written for the German Marshall Fund. Like Pope, Ozel sees the clock in Cyprus ticking and suggests the international community step up its involvement. From his piece:
Although nobody feels any pressure for a deadline, the end of 2010 is actually a critical threshold. In 2011, Turkey will have entered its electoral campaign season and Erdo─čan will be under pressure from nationalist forces for his Cyprus policies as well. Then, at the beginning of 2012, the Greek Cypriots will have their election, usually not a good season for peace seeking
in the South.

The window of opportunity is narrow. Missing this final chance will likely stall the process. Such an eventuality will further deteriorate Turkey-EU relations. Not to mention the blockage that Cyprus presents for EU-NATO relations and European security architecture in general.

Therefore it is high time for a paralyzed, ineffectual and unimaginative European Union and the equally lethargic UN to internationalize the negotiating process and bring all the relevant parties to a Dayton style conference. The leadership for such an initiative can come from the United States as well. Although Washington has its hands full in Iraq, AfPAk, Iran, and elsewhere, tipping the scales in favor of a settlement in what is an overripe situation would be worth the trouble.
The full analysis (pdf) is here.

For some background on the election and why Eroglu won, take a look at this day after piece that I filed for the Christian Science Monitor. One interesting point that I wasn't able to get into my article was how much things have turned around in the relationship between Ankara, which very much would like to see the Cyprus issue resolved, and Northern Cyprus. As Turkish Cypriot analyst Mete Hatay put it, "It’s a very ironic situation now. The left and the yes sayers are waiting for Turkish intervention and the nationalists are opposing Turkey." The question now is how much can the Turkish government push for a solution in Cyprus before having to fend off its own nationalists?

(photo: A man sitting at the Ledra crossing in Nicosia, the divided capital of Cyprus. By Yigal Schleifer)

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