ANKARA – Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, facing a challenge to his long reign in May 14 elections, could go as far as moving to annex illegally occupied Northern Cyprus with Turkey, warned a Cypriot economist.
Theodoros Panayotou, 2007 Nobel Peace Prize contributor, Director of the Cyprus International Institute of Management (CIIM) wrote in The Cyprus Mail of what he said is the danger.
Foreign Minister Ioannis Kasoulides had said that Cyprus is at risk because it could not stand up to Turkey and that Erdogan will find a proxy cause because he won’t make good on his threat to invade Greece, which has built an arsenal and foreign alliances against him.
With his popularity dropping over record inflation, Erdogan – said Panayotou – will need more than another intervention in Cyprus’s Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) where Turkey is drilling for oil and gas or an episode on the Green Line dividing the two sides of the island.
He said those “will not inflame nationalism in Turkey enough to raise Erdogan’s popularity to levels that will ensure his re-election to the Presidency,” as his volatility and anger rise.
“The only action that will be of historical importance is the annexation of the occupied territories to Turkey. This will expand Turkey’s territories for the first time in the hundred years since the founding of the modern Turkish state by Kemal Atatürk, the ‘Father of the Turks’, an honorific title bestowed on him by the Turkish parliament in 1934. This has a great symbolism for Erdogan, who wants to emerge as the new ‘Father of the Turks’, with an Islamic flavour this time,” he wrote.
“(…) Erdogan sees the annexation of the occupied Cypriot territories as the beginning of the revival of the Ottoman Empire or at least the ‘Blue Fatherland,’” he wrote, although Turkey refers to its imperialism as Blue Homeland.
WALKING THE GREEN LINE
Panayotou said he has sources confirming there’s a reason to worry, including from key officials in Erdogan’s government who were his former graduate students at Harvard from 2000-9, without naming them.
He said they told him that, “Annexation is the most likely scenario because ‘it contains less risk and more symbolism,’” Erdogan having an ally in hardline nationalist Turkish-Cypriot leader Ersin Tatar.
Panayotou said the annexation would be “legitimized” in a referendum noting that all attempts at reunification have failed – Tatar said he won’t even try and has instead demanded the United Nations and world accept the occupied, isolated side only Turkey recognizes.
Another argument that would be used, said the economist, is that a two-state solution with permanent partition hasn’t been accepted, the Greek-Cypriot government a member of the European Union that Turkey’s hopes of joining, that began in 2005, worsening under Erdogan’s authoritarian rule.
“Therefore, the only remaining option that will end the ‘half-century-long isolation of the Turkish Cypriots’ is the annexation of the occupied lands to the ‘motherland,’” Panayotou said will be Erdogan’s answer.
“Inside Turkey, the annexation will be presented by Erdogan as a bold patriotic act of historical and national importance on the occasion of the centenary of the declaration of the Turkish state,” and get him re-elected, said Panayotou of what he thinks is Erdogan’s end game.
Cyprus will elect a new President in February and Greece is having elections in the spring, with Turkey’s elections and Erdogan’s unpredictability seen a catalyst for creating an incident – or annexation of the Turkish-Cypriot side.
Panayotou said with Greece likely to have a caretaker government between elections because a first round almost certainly won’t bring a new administration, that Erdogan could strike for annexation in April.
“The international reactions, subdued – as always – will be limited to verbal condemnation. Greece will support us but will not risk war, and the European Union will be content with lukewarm sanctions that will not prevent Turkish plans. The UN will condemn but that’s all,” he said.