Under the current political climate, there is a slim possibility that a conciliatory resolution to the Cyprus problem may not be far off. If successful, the island would be administered as a bizonal, bicommunal federation. President of the Republic Nikos Anastasiades, a devout Europhile, seems quite receptive to signing a compromise deal; just like he did with the EU IMF-Troika agreement, which heralded the calamitous ‘bail-in’ that crippled the economy.
Irrespective of what may transpire from the talks, it is most certain that Turkey will not abandon its trophy entirely. As for the 250,000–400,000 Anatolian settlers and 40,000 Turkish troops imported to alter the demographic character of the island, their repatriation is doubtful, and so is the return of the 200,000 Greek Cypriot refugees back to their ancestral homes. With the exception of the probable conditional return of Famagusta, the rest of the refugees will be used as sacrificial lambs by the government who will re-introduce a revised UN Annan Plan, a plan rejected by 76% of the electorate only a decade ago.
Historically, Turkey always felt duped for losing the island to the British Empire in 1914 and has never stopped planning its reoccupation. It is said that: “it will never leave its underbelly unprotected ever again”. On the other hand, Mr. Eroglu, the Turkish Cypriot leader and Ankara’s lapdog, in his own words announced that: “the sun rises every day in Cyprus over two peoples, two cultures, two religions and two sovereign states with certain borders and there could be no return to the pre-1974 period”. On the other hand, Turkey’s foreign minister has warned this is the “last chance” for Cyprus to settle the dispute or face a new Turkish Cypriot state under the protection of Turkey…a warning Cypriot politicians failed to take seriously.
Oblivious to political condemnations of its military occupation of part of the island, Turkey’s wait-and-see policy paid off handsomely: Prolong a problem long enough; admit nothing; do nothing; and in time it is no longer a problem. Demographic changes will transmute events and take care of new realities. Memory has a habit of forgetting.
Without a doubt the proposed talks – with or without a BBF agreement – will influence the final carve-up of the island. The Anastasiades government could not have picked a worse time to start the talks, especially now that the country is in economic ruin. Negotiating from a position of weakness is the worst possible way to start.
The discovery of natural gas deposits within Cypriot waters has altered the entire geopolitical scene. There is a diplomatic, perhaps even cunning battle in progress to secure a major gas route through Turkey and Syria towards the energy-hungry European markets. In fact, the power struggle in Syria is not a co-incidence, but is a calculated strategic move for control; one that involves oil and gas routes. The EU desperately wants to reduce its reliance on Russian energy flow, and Cyprus, like manna from heaven, now offers a secure alternative and has become the ultimate hydrocarbon prize.
The Cyprus government, however, has put its hopes in salvaging the ghost city of Famagusta as part of the overall agreement based on BBF. If successful, inevitably will allow the people to decide the fate of the island in a Referendum. That however raises additional questions: Will the 550,000-strong Cypriot diaspora (of either ethnicity) get the chance to cast a vote on the proposed referendum? Or, will they be treated as absentee victims of circumstances? Also, will the 160,000 foreign nationals and citizens of the Republic be permitted to register and vote? In a democracy, voting rights of permanent citizens cannot be forsaken for political expediency.
Nonetheless, the political landscape has changed: Turkey has unilaterally decided to enact its plan to secede a Turkish Cypriot state and will do so with the full blessing of the EU in a landmark decision by the European Court of Human Rights. In accordance with the provisions of law No.67/2005, this could pave the way for a de-facto solution to the Cyprus problem. The ECHR upheld that Turkey’s Immovable Property Commission TRNC (IPC) “was an accessible and effective remedy for the complex matters of property ownership, valuation and assessing financial compensation.”
The EU, with that decision, granted its seal of approval to the IPC North Cyprus, which officially began its activities on 17th March 2006. The precedent has opened Pandora’s box; nobody knows what will pop out.
The plan is a conniving one: Turkey has set out to purchase as much land and property owned by Greek Cypriot refugees in the occupied territory, predominately in Famagusta, Kyrenia, the Karpas peninsula and other prime areas. The objective is to build up a land bank – complete with clear titles – to increase the majority share of land ownership by Turkish Cypriots, or rather Turkey, who finances the program. Once they have accumulated enough land, they can then apply to the UN and international courts for statehood, which cannot be refused given the ECHR ruling.
The criteria to establish a state are: language; population; land ownership; religion; culture and overwhelming popular desire for statehood. Given the demographic transformation of the occupied area, those requirements will easily be met.
The campaign to purchase land from the refugees is the final piece in the jigsaw before the TRNC is officially recognized and, under the very noses of the Republic of Cyprus government, which so miserably failed to prevent it. In panic, it has now set out to dissuade refugees from selling their land to the IPC Commission. Yet it offers no financial assistance or any compensation to ease their economic plight in exchange for their occupied properties. Opening the crossings at the green line has proven to be a grave political mistake. It offers the refugees easy access to the IPC Commission yet, still, no provisions are being considered to stop the flow by closing the crossings until a solution is signed.
When people make contact with the IPC North Cyprus, they soon discover that, void of the hype, paid compensation averages 8%-10% of a property’s market value. That is a steal; a property worth one million euros changes hands for less than ´100,000, but desperate people make desperate decisions. According to Halkin Sesi newspaper, IPC chairman Gungor Gunkan confessed that it has so far paid out 138 million pounds sterling (167 million euros, 231 million US dollars).
Under the prevailing economic conditions, refugees often find themselves without a choice and sell their lands to survive. Nearly 40 years after the invasion, many of the original owners have passed away and it is their inheritors who are applying for compensation. Many don’t even know where the land is located and want only to take the money and run.
Not so long ago, applications to the IPC were but nominal in number, but they have skyrocketed this year, according to Mr. Gunkan, who says more than 5,400 submissions have been launched in the past 12 months. If the economic austerity continues indefinitely, those applications will quadruple and effectively help Turkey establish a new Turkish Cypriot state; negotiations or not, the fate of Cyprus is caught in a Turkish mousetrap, and the cheese is being nibbled away.
Could there actually be a sinister scheme to destroy the Republic of Cyprus as one unitary country, and if so, why? Under the present political scenario, Cyprus finds itself in a dilemma: if a BBF is adopted, the island will inevitably be carved into two component states and Greek Cypriots will eventually become an ethnic minority overwhelmed by a Muslim population. If, on the other hand, an agreement collapses, then Turkey will execute its annexation threat; a dilemma, indeed.
Can Cyprus escape its predicament? There are always alternatives but they demand bold decisions followed by bold actions. Getting out of the EU and the euro may well be one alternative. This will offer Cyprus the freedom to make such bold decisions – financial and political – without requesting permission from Brussels bureaucrats.
Another option is for Cyprus to block Turkey’s entry into the EU until Ankara changes its intransigent position. Equally, the government should take steps immediately to correct its failed foreign policy and begin to formulate long-term policies for the good of the country.
Realistically, the demographic character of Cyprus has gradually been transformed into a multi-cultural EU member-state. This new society demands a system similar to all other western democracies that provide: one citizenship, one-man one-vote, the rule of law, justice and equality. This is the only way Cypriots can survive, prosper and live in peace. All other solutions carry great danger and could prolong the suffering for years to come.