NICOSIA - With unity talks still stalled two years after they collapsed, the head of the Turkish-occupied northern third of Cyprus said he fears the island now will be permanently partitioned unless both sides agree quickly to an “equitable” Federal solution.
Turkish-Cypriot leader Mustafa Akinci didn't say what that would entail nor mention that the last round of negotiations in July, 2017 at the Swiss resort of Crans-Montana came apart when he and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said they would never remove a 35,000-strong army.
They also insisted on the right for further military intervention, which led Cypriot President Nicos Anastasiades, who presides over the part of the island that's a member of the European Union, to walk away, and as he said Turkish drilling for oil and gas in Cyprus' waters is a deal-breaker.
In an interview with the British newspaper The Guardian, Akinci said the two sides are drifting apart although hopes were high when he and Anastasiades took power in their respective governments – only Turkey recognizes the occupied territory.
“We need to hurry up. After all these years we have come to a crossroads, a decisive moment,” he said as he kicked off a re-election campaign, adding that the only solution is a Federal “roof.” Otherwise, he said, the occupied territory would come even more under the power of Turkey.
Akinci met Anastasiades on Feb. 3 in the United Nations-controlled buffer zone on the Green Line that splits the island's capital, as it has since Turkey invaded in 1974. All attempts to get them back to the table have failed so far.
Despite both sides accusing the other of intransigence, he said he had some hope serious talks would resume, but said it needed to happen soon. Referring to the Swiss resort where the discussions ended, he said, “The train was derailed in Crans-Montana. I think we have relaunched it again on a realistic and mutually acceptable path,” although there's been no real progress.
Both sides agree in principle on Cyprus’s future: as a bi-communal, bi-zonal island with political equality and a single “personality,” but the insistence on Turkey keeping an army on an island whose legitimate government is in the EU has been a barrier that can't be hurdled.
Ak?nc? said conditions were being created for lasting division. “It’s becoming more consolidated each year, physically, demographically, economically. It consolidates in the mind of youngsters.” He said he and his wife – both born on the Greek-Cypriot side, had a closer, more emotional relationship with Greek Cyprus than a newer generation including their own children.
He spoke out as he faces a rival in Ersin Tatar, a provocative, pro-Turkey populist who doesn't want reunification. Tatar, the self-declared Prime Minister, is backed by Erdogan and more settlers from Turkey.
While it's generally believed Erdogan has the last word, there's been tension between him and Akinci on some issues, with the Turkish President saying Turkish-Cypriots would teach Akinci a “lesson” after he criticized a Turkish invasion of northern Syria.
Ak?nc? said he disagreed with Erdogan’s vision of the relationship between Ankara and Nicosia as one of “mother and baby..”
“I want independent, brotherly relations,” he told the paper, saying the Turkish-Cypriots need to become less reliant economically on Turkey, which pays the government’s bills. He said Turkish-Cypriots have their own identity.
This was secular, democratic, and plural. “We want to keep this,” he said, as some activists said they fear growing Islamic influence, which has included building mosques, establish schools using the Koran and teaching creationism instead of evolution in schools.
As Anastasiades had already said that Turkey is invading Cypriot waters, Akinci said it's not out of the question for Turkey to take over the occupied territory militarily and annex it as a province of Turkey, the almost certain death knell for any hopes of reunification.