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Rationality and the Cyprus Dispute
Rationality and the Cyprus Dispute
Defusing Tensions in the Eastern Mediterranean
Defusing Tensions in the Eastern Mediterranean

Rationality and the Cyprus Dispute

One of the joys of the dealing with the Cyprus dispute is the good humour of the Cypriots – a much needed antidote to the determined unwillingness of politicians to reach out and compromise over a frozen conflict whose origins stretch back more than half a century.

I therefore enjoyed reading a tongue-in-cheek critique of Crisis Group’s conflict-resolving work on the island in the pages of the Cyprus Mail, arguably the whole region’s standard-bearer for irony and campaigns against hypocrisy. On 27 February, commentator Loucas G. Charalambous declaimed (“Forget Rationality. Demagoguery Wins Every Time”) that Greek Cypriots do not want a settlement – and that we at International Crisis Group have failed to spot this, labouring pointlessly to produce six reports on ways to resolve the Cyprus problem since 2006.

Indeed, we have been outed. Our new report  — “Cyprus: Six Steps Toward a Settlement”, – is revealed by Mr. Charalambous to make an “objective evaluation”, to contain “political wisdom”, and to recommend “balanced” and “useful” measures to lever the reunification talks out of the rut in which they are stuck.

Now that our real intentions have been so publicly exposed, we feel obliged to point out another truth. Mr. Charalambous’s satire — and his critique of hypocritical politicians who claim to want a Cyprus settlement, and yet won’t compromise to reach one — in fact shows his passion for ending this long, wasteful dispute. We believe that his wish to reach some kind of compromise settlement is quietly shared by most Greek Cypriots and Turkish Cypriots, and wiser heads in Turkey too. Indeed the latest Interpeace poll of 15 December shows that two-thirds of people on both sides want this, while two-thirds despair that the current process will ever get there.

Which brings us to the one charge by Mr. Charalambous that we would dispute: that Crisis Group has “not grasped the fact that rationality is the last thing that the politicians of this country take into account”. In fact, footnote 59 of our report quotes a Turkish official as admitting very frankly that “Rational suggestions won’t work, since the Cyprus problem is irrational”.

This shared Greek Cypriot/Turkish judgment – actually, an utter frustration with the dead end of the current standoff – underlines once again a simple idea at the core of our recommendations: Greek Cypriots and Turkey must find ways to start not just trading together but talking and listening to each other. They will find, as we do when we talk to both sides in private, that they share many more interests in resolving the situation than either side currently realizes.

Greek Cypriots are not powerless in this matter. They could, for instance, ask Greece to invite the Turkish Cypriot negotiator Kudret Özersay to brief officials in Athens. For sure, this would result in an invitation to Greek Cypriot negotiator George Iacovou to brief officials in Ankara. Everyone’s status would be preserved. Nobody would lose anything. And – as the Cyprus Mail has good humouredly already allowed us to point out – a meaningful, more rational dialogue would start.

Defusing Tensions in the Eastern Mediterranean

This week on War & Peace, Olga Oliker and Hugh Pope talk with Crisis Group’s Nigar Göksel about the nationalist tensions fuelling a maritime standoff between Turkey and Greece, and how coordinated efforts by regional powers can help de-escalate their dispute over the eastern Mediterranean.

Tensions flared in the eastern Mediterranean in mid-2020 when Turkey sent seismic research ships into waters contested with Greece and the Republic of Cyprus. While neither Turkey nor Greece seeks war with the other, competition over sovereignty and natural resources is reviving long-running geopolitical rivalries.

To discuss the various interests at play in their maritime standoff and how actors such as the EU and U.S. can help push the parties toward reconciliation, Olga Oliker and Hugh Pope are joined by Nigar Göksel, project director for Turkey. Together, they draw on key findings detailed in Crisis Group’s latest report on the issue – “Turkey-Greece: From Maritime Brinkmanship to Dialogue” – and assess whether recently restarted talks between President Erdogan and Prime Minister Mitsotakis signal a positive turn in strained relations and might lower the risks of regional conflict.

Click here to listen on Apple Podcasts or Spotify.

For more information, explore Crisis Group’s analysis on our Eastern Mediterranean Rivalries page.


Former Director of Communications & Outreach
Program Director, Europe and Central Asia
Project Director, Türkiye