In mid-2020, Turkey and Greece put their Mediterranean fleets on high alert, dramatically raising tensions in their long-running dispute over air, water, rock and now seabed gas deposits as well. Talks have been frustrating but remain the best way to contain the risk of conflict.
Greek Cypriot and Turkish Cypriot leaders discussed reigniting talks, while tensions persisted over hydrocarbon exploration. UN Sec-Gen Guterres 27 Sept held meeting with Greek Cypriot and Turkish Cypriot leaders during which sides discussed how to overcome stalemate in efforts to relaunch formal settlement talks; Greek Cypriot leader Anastasiades subsequently announced that Guterres was considering appointment of special envoy who would search for common ground and work on confidence-building measures within pre-existing UN parameters. After Exxon Mobil/Qatar Petroleum consortium late Aug announced plans to begin work late Nov-early Dec in Republic of Cyprus’ offshore block 10, Turkish VP Fuat Oktay 4 Oct said Turkey would also commence hydrocarbon activities if Greek Cypriots commence drilling in eastern Mediterranean. In letter to Cypriot MEP Niyazi Kızılyürek, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen 7 Sept called on Turkey “to reverse the actions undertaken in Varosha since October 2020”, called 20 July statement from Turkish President Erdoğan and Turkish Cypriot leader Ersin Tatar to reopen section of Varosha/Maraş, area under Turkish military control since 1974, “an unacceptable unilateral decision” to change status of fenced-off area, also reiterated EU’s commitment to solution based on a bi-zonal bi-communal federation with two sides having political equality. Tatar 10 Sept said he continues to work for recognition of “Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus” (“TRNC”) and reiterated on several occasions during month that only viable solution to overcome deadlock on island is two-state formula based on sovereign equality of two political entities on island. In contrast, Republic of Cyprus President Anastasiades 14 Sept said that he would brief UN Sec-Gen Guterres on his proposal on return to 1960 constitution; proposal envisions “Turkish Cypriots returning to the executive, legislative, judicial authority and the other services of the Republic”.
To avoid another failed effort at federal reunification in the new round of Cyprus negotiations, all sides should break old taboos and discuss all possible options, including independence for Turkish Cypriots within the European Union.
Though newly discovered gas reserves off Cyprus are currently driving the Greek and Turkish Cypriot communities further apart, they could offer both newfound wealth if, together with Turkey, they would start a new dialogue.
To capitalise on twelve years of normalisation, and at a time when both could benefit from a foreign policy success, Greece and Turkey should settle their expensive, outdated and stressful stand-off over Aegean Sea maritime zones and related issues.
With stalemate looming in the UN-sponsored Cyprus reunification negotiations, parties to the dispute need to take dramatic, unilateral steps to break the decades-long distrust that is suffocating them.
Stability in the Eastern Mediterranean will remain hostage to full settlement of the Cyprus dispute, but the property issue – one of its most intractable knots – can be solved now if Greek and Turkish Cypriots compromise on new proposals currently before them.
Originally published in Transatlantic Academy
Originally published in The Majalla
Originally published in IP Journal