Anastasiades Says Erdogan’s Power Vote Blocking Cyprus Unity Talks

Nicos Anastasiades, President of the Republic of Cyprus and Mr. Polys Hajioannou, Chairman of the Board of Directors & Chief Executive Officer of Safe Bulkers inc. Ring the closing bell at the New York Stock Exchange. Photos: Costas Bej

NEW YORK – Cypriot President Nicos Anastasiades said Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s seeking of near-dictatorial powers in an April 16 referendum had put up a roadblock for collapsed unity talks on the island.

Anastasiades met with United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres and said the new leader of the institution agreed with him that the referendum has pushed back negotiations until the results are known.

The Cypriot leader said after talks with Guterres that peace negotiations which stalled amid a dispute over Cyprus’ tumultuous history could resume soon despite their collapse after Turkish-Cypriot Mustafa Akinci walked away, angry over a Cypriot Parliament vote to commemorate a 1950 referendum seeking Enosis, or unity, with Greece and with Turkish demands to keep an army on the island and the right to invade when it wants.

Erdogan is seeking more power in the wake of a failed July, 2016 coup against him, followed by a crackdown as he sought the death penalty for conspirators, anathema to the European Union which Turkey is seeking to join.

Anastasiades said because of the referendum, “it may not be time” for Turkish and Turkish Cypriot officials to “make those necessary decisions” that would move the process forward on key issues preventing an accord.

Cyprus was split in 1974 when Turkey unlawfully invaded after a coup by supporters of union with Greece.

“We did not in any way engage in apportioning blame, but we entered the substance of important issues that remain outstanding (in the Cyprus problem talks) and a solution must be found so that questions or demands raised are answered, if there is to be hope for a settlement of the Cyprus problem,” Anastasiades told reporters after the meeting.

He and Akinci have been talking on-and-off for more than 22 months in a bid to find a solution to a dilemma that has foiled two dozen envoys, politicians, and power brokers over the decades and left the island on the verge of permanent partition.

UN Special Envoy Espen Barth Eide has been constantly repeating an answer was at hand even though there isn’t and that significant progress was being made even though it wasn’t, and recently said even he is losing hope – only to immediately rebound and again predict a deal coming.

Erdogan’s power grab has been both a catalyst and divisive factor even as he refuses to recognize Cyprus and bars its ships and planes and has been stepping up a Turkish military presence in the Aegean and around the island in what critics said was deliberate bellicose behavior to stake a claim.

In New York, Anastasiades was trying to find some way to kick-start the talks while blaming Turkey for the breakdown – and trying not to blame Turkey so as not to rile Erdogan and Akinci anew.

Asked what Guterres might do to restart the talks, Anastasiades referred to a “shared expectation that the dialogue could restart soon, but also mutual agreement that the period until the (April 16) constitutional referendum in Turkey is probably not right for those on whom progress depends to make the necessary decisions,” the Cyprus Mail reported.

Turkey is also demanding that any solution include the so-called Four Freedoms in which the minority Turkish citizens have all the same rights as Cypriots and as Akinci wants a Turkish leader to be the country’s President every other term.

Cypriots are citizens of the European Union but Turks in the occupied northern third are not and Anastasiades said, “The view that a way must be found to address the concerns of Greek Cypriots, as well as the Europeans, was clear,” but didn’t say what it was.

The president denied having identified any difference in attitudes on the four freedoms demand between Guterres and Eide.

“But, in any case, I want to clarify something. This is not a matter for any special adviser, or even the EU. If there is a risk to the Greeks of Cyprus from a demand that could alter the demographics on the island, no third party can impose acceptance or compromise,” he said. 

(Material from the Associated Press was used in this report)