Turkey’s Two-State Proposal Riles Divided Cyprus Before Vote

Turkey on Thursday explicitly floated the concept of a two-state solution for divided Cyprus, a proposal sure to alarm the Mediterranean island’s internationally recognized administration and hobble a proposal to resume reunification talks.

United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said Wednesday that he was looking to restart reunification negotiations after the Oct. 11 presidential elections in the northern third of the island, which is dominated by Turkish Cypriots and hosts tens of thousands of Turkish troops.

But in a statement Thursday, Foreign Ministry spokesman Hami Aksoy said Turkey sees no common ground or vision for a solution in Cyprus.

If talks aren’t based on the concept of equal power-sharing between Greek and Turkish Cypriots in the island’s governing institutions, “then there is need for a new negotiation process based on sovereign equality of the two sides,” Aksoy said. “Otherwise, Turkey will not go into a new negotiation process based on methods that proved to be unsuccessful in the past.”

While Turkey has previously hinted at such a resolution, it’s never articulated it so explicitly. Only a day before, Cypriot President Nicos Anastasiades said “we believe that only an overall solution and a reunification will ensure peace once and for good.”

Thursday’s proposal drew a swift response from the Cypriot governmen.

The announcement makes clear that “Turkey is trying to torpedo, before it even starts, a new effort” by the UN, government spokesman Kyriakos Kousios said in an emailed statement. Furthermore, it ignores the agreement to restart dialogue from where it stopped in Crans Montana, he said, referring to the Swiss resort where a round of talks in 2017 failed to reach a deal.

The Cypriot government officially has sovereignty over the entire island, yet Cyprus has in effect been divided since Turkish forces captured its northern third in 1974, following a coup attempt in which a military junta in Athens sought to unite Cyprus with Greece.

The Turkish minority’s self-proclaimed state in the north, formed in 1983, is recognized only by Ankara. Frictions between the sides and with Turkey have grown over competing claims to any energy resources discovered off the island’s shore.

The shift in Turkey’s rhetoric came shortly after the U.S. unsettled Ankara by easing an arms embargo on the island and announcing plans to build a military training center there. Turkey could increase its military presence in the north of the island depending on its needs in the eastern Mediterranean, Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu told CNN-Turk television late Wednesday.

Ankara’s hardline stance also reflects the rising nationalism among Turkish Cypriots. An early September poll of almost 5,000 people showed 81% supported the creation of two equal states, with the rest backing a federation with the Greek Cypriot side, said Murat Gezici, head of the Gezici polling company.

Some of the presidential candidates, including leading contender Prime Minister Ersin Tatar, are challenging incumbent President Mustafa Akinci with campaigns focusing on an independent Turkish Cypriot state rather than a power-sharing model. If no candidate wins a majority, a runoff will be held.

“Right after the elections, I will bring alternative suggestions for a solution other than a federation,” Tatar said in statement on Wednesday. “There will be a new era during which our relations will be strengthened with Turkey.”

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