2018 Was Yet Another “Lost Year” for Cyprus Settlement Efforts
Cyprus issue, just as it has been since its ignition since 1963, has wrapped 2018 without any solution.
In fact, the whole year has passed by without any formal negotiations. While 2017 had seen many firsts regarding discussions about a rotating presidency, the 1960 guarantee system and security even going as far as the submission of a road-map towards some kind of resolution, 2018 fell short of even kickstarting the negotiations, let alone an agreement of any kind.
Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus (TRNC) President Mustafa Akıncı and his Greek-Cypriot counterpart Nikos Anastasiades were unable to agree on a basis for any meaningful negotiations that would target some sort of a sustainable resolution based on political equality of the two people, bi-zonality and bi-communality.
In such an atmosphere without a common vision for the future of the island, the only promising act was that by American diplomat Jane Holl Lute, the temporary Cyprus special advisor to the United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, when she visited both sides and also began talking with the officials in both Ankara and Athens towards a solution. Alas, nothing came out of that initiative either.
Lute paid another visit to Cyprus near the end of the year, raising hopes yet only ending in disappointment once again, when her intervention achieved nothing more than talks on the agreeing on the “reference points” towards negotiations and an eventual road map. She is expected to fly to Cyprus once again in January of 2019 to continue her efforts to that end. Sources with insight, however, ay the January trip of Lute might be to announce that her efforts failed to produce a common vision and thus she did not believe any new round of Cyprus talks might produce any result other than failure as has been the fate of all Cyprus initiatives since 1968 start of Cyprus talks.
All throughout the year, Anastasiades put the blame on the Turkish side claiming they were asking for unacceptable terms and conditions for the negotiations to begin. TRNC side, on the other hand, spent the year criticizing the Greeks for trying to truncate the political rights of Turkish Cypriots and conducting unilateral drilling and explorations around the island in a manner incompatible with the spirit of talks aimed at producing a compromise resolution.
It was all the way back in March when TRNC President Akıncı was speaking about the possibility of sitting down with Anastasiades to better understand each other’s intentions, while stressing that they would not be part of negotiations that were vague, open ended and would keep the Turks in limbo as to their status and future. UN complained about the lack of trust between the two sides following the collapse of the Crans-Montana process, and noted the need for the reestablishing of some kind of trust between the Turks and Greeks before the talks could continue.
The two leaders met once again in April at a social dinner, for the first time since the five-party Crans Montana talks collapsed back in July of 2017. But hopes were quickly pushed down as both sides explained this was nothing more than discussion on intentions, and not the start of negotiations. Following the dinner, both sides said there were no forward steps taken, and official discussions were not in their immediate future. Following this disappointment, TRNC asked that the Greeks proclaim they have not violated the Guterres Articles that include right to political equality, while the Greeks asked that Akıncı clarify his position on UN General Secretary’s parameters for talks to continue.
So, the Guterres principles quickly became a topic of disagreement. TRNC argues that they were talking about the article released on June 30th, while Greek Cypriots insisted on the one that came out on the 4th of July. It was apparent that the two sides were talking about two completely different set of points to begin with.
During the final quarter of 2018, Anastasiades began circulating a loose federation model in which the flanks, rather than the center, would hold power. This “decentralized” model suggested by the Greeks was said to be aimed at minimizing disagreements by settling the Greeks’ concerns about functionality while easing the Turks’ unease regarding their active participation in issues that concern them. TRNC did not concur. They said the reason the Greeks were shying away from a centralized federation was so they could continue to disregard the Turks’ demands for equal political access, arguing that they were all for a federation with egalitarian political flanks for both parties. Discussions regarding the federation model kept on going throughout November as well. Akıncı and Anastasiades met yet once more to clarify their positions. Though nothing concrete came out of this meeting either, discussions pursued. Anastasiades said Akıncı was pushing for a state model that would simply not work, while Akıncı insisted that they would never agree with a solution that would keep the Turks in their second-class citizenship status.
There was a lot of talk on natural gas during 2018. The Greeks denied the rights of Turks regarding the natural resources of the island, whereas TRNC stressed the need for them to have equal rights to Cyprus’ riches. The disagreements came to a head near the end of the year when Greeks started new explorations to be conducted within their unilaterally announced Economic Exclusive Zone. Turkey sent seismic research and drilling vessels to the Mediterranean. The tensions rose when there were reports of a Greek frigate harassing a Turkish vessel came out, and Turkey began sending warships to the region. Turkish officials spoke loudly about their unyielding stance for equal representation.
With all these negative developments, there were a few positive ones as well. Thanks to the efforts put forth by NGO’s the Aplic and Derinya Border Points were finally opened. With that, the number of open entry points along the border increased to 9, since the first one opened back in 2003. This was a positive as it deepened the social and economic ties between the two nations of Cyprus.
There were also the constructive actions taken by the UNDP (Est: 2008) and the Cultural Heritage Technical Committee (Est: 2012) where churches, mosques and other civil buildings were restored in a joint effort. This simple act of unison showed that the two nations can work together for a common future. The Committee is scheduled to work towards many more concrete projects for 2019.
Let us also mention the actions of the Committee on Missing Persons established back in 1981 by the participation of UN and the leaders of the two Cyprus nations. The Committee continued to work to excavate the remains of missing persons on both sides and delivering them to the concerned parties and families. The CMP which had successfully identified 673 of the 1510 missing Greeks, and 241 out of the 492 missing Turks, has further identified 19 Greeks and 27 Turkish Cypriots.