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New Hardline Turkish-Cypriot Leader Seen Barring Reunifcation Hopes

Αssociated Press

The leader of the Turkish-Cypriots, Ersin Tatar. (AP Photo/Nedim Enginsoy)

The stunning election of the ultra-nationalist Ersin Tatar as leader of the Turkish-Cypriot side of the divided island could set back – if not kill – any hopes of reunification as he signaled he'll follow the line of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who has been stirring provocations.

Tatar unseated incumbent moderate Mustafa Akinci who complained of election interference by Erdogan, who opened a beach front at the abandoned Varosha resort to play to his and Tatar's hard-core base.

Turkey doesn't recognize Cyprus, a member of the European Union that Turkey has fruitlessly been trying to join since 2005 and the last round of talks collapsed in July, 2017 at the Swiss resort of Crans-Montana.

That happened when Akinci and Edogan said a 35,000-strong army on the occupied side would never leave and as they demanded the right of further military intervention, standing together.

But Akinci had at times broken with Erdogan, leading the Turkish President to move to oust him by backing Tatar, which narrowly worked, giving the Turkish leader an essential straw man heading the Turkish-Cypriot side.

Cypriot President Nicos Anastasiades said he was willing to talk to Tatar after earlier saying there would be no further negotiations as long as Turkey keeps drilling for oil and gas off the island's coast which is still ongoing.

In an analysis The Cyprus Mail tried to makes heads-or-tails of what Tatar's election on Oct. 18 meant as he has been mostly quiet since, leading to more questions than answers about his strategy.

United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, who presided over the Swiss debacle and secret talks to keep Cypriots and Turkish-Cypriots from knowing their fate, has set talks to also include the guarantors of security: Greece, Turkey and the former Colonial ruler the United Kingdom.

“The messages coming from Turkey are quite mixed at the moment,” Ahmet Sozen, Professor of International Relations at  Eastern Mediterranean University, on the occupied side told the newspaper's reporter Agnieszka Rakoczy.

“There are statements by Turkey’s Vice-President and the Foreign Minister as well as the new Turkish-Cypriot leader that the federal solution is no longer on the table,” he said.

But he added that Erdogan has told the UN General Assembly that he is prepared to accept any solution that will safeguard the safety and political equality of Turkish-Cypriots, which to the Turkish leader means getting only his way.

“Right now I don’t think we can come to any definite conclusions. All we can say is that this informal meeting will give us some good indicators,” Sozen said of the upcoming UN-brokered ice-breaker.

He said a lot more issues will be on the table apart from the drilling conundrum that has proved a vexing dilemma, further complicating hopes of reunification that have eluded a long line of diplomats, envoys, negotiators, politicians and UN chiefs.

“On the surface, it will be Turkey trying to bring other solutions to the table and Anastasiades digging his heels in and saying he is only interested in the bizonal bicommunal federation. But behind those closed doors, there will be a whole stable of East Med horse trading,” he said.

He said that could put Anastasiades in a tough spot but said the Cypriot President put himself there with his tactics.

“If he thinks that this will be a simple case of Turkey insisting on the two-state solution while he puts forward the federation, it won’t just happen. Turkey has an accumulated 600-700 years of foreign policy making, a strong army and some strong arguments,”he said.

He added: “Greek Cypriots will have to go further than just declaring their willingness to support a federation, they will have to talk about the political equality and power sharing and some sort of security arrangements.”

Dimitris Triantaphyllou, Associate Professor of International Relations at the Kadir Has University in Constantinople said Anastasiades will face a harder line than he'd seen in trying to deal with Akinci.

Istanbul, it will be a different Turkey that comes to the table than the Ankara that has been involved in previous Cyprus problem negotiations.

“For Turks, the whole EU thing is over and done with — the EU is not wanted any more, the accession criteria cannot be met. So what has replaced the EU dream is a concept of a strong independent country that can fight on five or six different fronts simultaneously, one with a strong military industry,” he said.

He added ominously that Turkey now “is a country that is strategically reorienting itself towards Asia and wants to become one of the key poles of a new order,” Erdogan seeing himself as one of the world's most influential leaders.

Hubert Faustamann, Professor of History and International Relations at the University of Nicosia, told the paper of the difficulties of Cyprus becoming a permanently partitioned island, only Turkey recognizing the occupied side.

“No Greek-Cypriot politician can negotiate a partition deal,”  said Faustamann.  “Partition has to be imposed on him or it has to be seen as having been imposed on him. I don’t think Anastasiades has the political capital and the political will to negotiate partition.”

“Turks are happy with the status quo here because they know that time works in their favour. Now they feel more in control of the north than ever and they know that in the next elections they will be calling the shots,” he said.

Cengiz Aktar, a Turkish political scientist, journalist and writer, was pessimistic. “The reunification talks were dead and now they are dead and buried. The Turkish Republic of North Cyprus that they created in 1983 is dead too. Now Turkey rules the north and if there are still any problems they will simply annex it. It is over,” he said, adding the only game changer might be if Joe Biden wins the US President election.