Hardliner Tatar’s victory bad news for Cyprus peace

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The election of hardliner Ersin Tatar as the new Turkish Cypriot leader has sparked a public debate over whether peace talks in Cyprus based on a bizonal, bicommunal, federal solution are dead in the water.

Newly elected Tatar has sent out the message that he is willing to meet President Nicos Anastasiades but did not refrain from announcing his very different position on the Cyprus problem.

Tatar on Sunday, after just having won the election in the Turkish occupied north, reaffirmed his stance that negotiations should not aim for a bi-zonal bi-communal federal system – as provided in high-level agreements and UN resolutions, but look for other forms of a solution.

Openly a supporter of a two-state solution, Tatar has had Ankara’s backing from the get-go of the election campaign, pulling off a couple of last-minute stunts to boost his candidacy, including the opening of fenced-off Varosha.

In comments to the Financial Mirror, Professor of Political science Ahmet Sozen explained what Ankara-backed Tatar’s victory in the election against moderate Mustafa Akinci means for the future.

“On several occasions, Tatar has proclaimed that the idea of a federal solution is dead and buried and that we should look for an alternative solution, meaning a two-state solution,” said Sozen.

He said analysts should not be quick to jump to conclusions that the idea of reunifying Cyprus under a federal state has been rejected by the Turkish Cypriot community.

“One must have in mind that Ersin Tatar was elected on a slim majority of 52%, which is the case for the past two decades with the pendulum swinging from left to right and vice versa in every election.”

Rauf Denktash’s 22-year reign up until 2005 was followed by the victory of Mehmet Ali Talat, the then leader of the social-democrat Republican Turkish Party (CTP).

Mehmet Ali Talat was succeeded by right-wing Dervish Eroglou, the then leader of Tatar’s National Unity Party (UBP), followed by left-wing Mustafa Akinci.

While the pro-solution powers had obtained 50% in the elections for the Turkish Cypriot assembly in 2003, some 65% voted yes for the Anan plan in 2004.

“Also, the late Rauf Denktash had said in 1998 when the Cyprus Republic started its EU accession talks, that the idea of a federal solution was dead.”

Two years later, he was forced to sit at the negotiation table.

“There is not a clear majority against a BBF, but there is a lot of frustration among the community after the failure of the Anan plan in 2004 and the crash at Crans-Montana.

The two-state solution is the number one preference the same way the preference of Greek Cypriots is a unitary state.”

Sozen argued the Turkish Cypriot community is split in half, between those who support a UN federal solution and those who do not.

The 48% obtained by Akinci and the pro-solution camp is a solid foundation.

“Tatar was supported by parts of society who would like to see Cyprus reunited, business circles turned to Tatar as he appeared capable of bringing money from Turkey as he is not one to pick a fight with Ankara,” said Sozen.

He said businesspeople who voted for Tufan Erhuman, the leader of social-democrat CTP who rounded up 21% of the vote in the first round, voted for Tatar in fear that a conflict between Turkey with a re-elected Akinci could lead to financing from Turkey coming to a halt.

Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan had directly intervened when a few days before the first round which saw Tatar coming out on top with 32%, followed by Akinci with 28%.

After inviting Tatar to Ankara on the night he was supposed to appear at a public debate with his fellow candidates, he announced that Turkey would be giving an additional €11 mln to the Turkish Cypriot administration to fend off financial difficulties inflected by the coronavirus outbreak.

The duo, a week later, announced that the Turkish side would be opening a part of the fenced-off town of Varosha for the first time in 46 years.

“And at time of such instability in the broader region, where everything is up for grabs, it is even harder to predict how Erdogan will act.

We could see him doing anything from cutting a deal on the Cyprus problem to taking further steps to intergrade the north of the island with Turkey,” said Sozen.

Easily manipulated

Professor in Middle Eastern Studies Nicos Moudouros, in comments to state radio CyBC, said developments on peace talks are closely linked to future developments in Ankara as “Tatar is easier manipulated than his predecessors”.

“He does not carry the weight of previous right-wing leaders who could impose policies on Turkey such as Rauf Denktash,” said Moudouros.

Commenting on Turkey’s meddling in the north’s election, Moudouros said that Turkey and Erdogan’s AK Party were particularly active in Famagusta and Trikomo, where there is a high concentration of Turkish settlers who have been “naturalised” by the regime.

“Erdogan had turned the elections in the north into a personal matter, as he wants to do away with any opposition to his greater plan for the region.

Mustafa Akinci was a big obstacle for him as he opposed not only Turkish interventions in the north, but also criticised Turkey’s interventions in the broader region, namely in Syria and Libya.”

Moudouros argued that the election result reflected a deep split within the Turkish Cypriot community, between two camps with different approaches on the Cyprus problem and world views.

Asked if the camp supporting a federal solution could survive under the new climate, Moudouros said that it would be difficult if the Turkish Cypriots cannot see the light at the end of the tunnel when it comes to solving the Cyprus problem.

“Without prospects in sight or even talks conducted, the Turkish Cypriot community will be left in despair and will have nowhere to turn.”

“The latest incident with the opening part of Varosha, making the issue of property and territory at the negotiation table more complicated, along with issues such as the electricity interconnector between Turkey and the north are just some indications of what’s to come.

Turkish Cypriots and Greek Cypriots will increasingly find themselves faced with the political system implemented in Turkey”.

Turkish Cypriot journalist and political analyst Esra Aygin is concerned over what is on the cards following Tatar’s victory over Mustafa Akinci, a politician who has become a symbol of struggle against Turkey’s meddling in the north.

“There is disillusion among Turkish Cypriots who have lost hope for a Cyprus solution, which will make things harder for the pro-solution camp when it comes to standing up to Turkey’s plans on the Cyprus problem”.

Aygin believes the situation will become more difficult for those fighting against Turkey’s interventions, as she expects a campaign to pass undemocratic laws to clamp down on any opposition to Turkey’s Erdogan will be launched.

“In the next couple of years, I expect to see a campaign to pass laws restricting freedom of speech, restricting freedom of the press, leading to the adoption of a presidential system similar to the one in Turkey where the President has all the power.”