Turkish Cypriot leader rules out Cyprus reunification

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The hardline Turkish Cypriot leader Ersin Tatar will push for a two-state solution at the UN next month, calling for a “reality check” after half a century of failed efforts to reunite the divided island.

Turkish Cypriots have taken an uncompromising line on possible reunification since Ersin Tatar was elected last year with robust backing from Turkey.

The two sides of the island, segregated along ethnic lines since the mid-1960s, are now too estranged to reunify, and future negotiations require recognition of his side as “equal and sovereign”, Tatar said in an interview with the Financial Times.

“It is time for the world to recognise the reality that we have two different states, [and] any effort to push us into a mixed marriage is doomed to fail,” Tatar said.

“They are Greeks, they are Christians. We are a different race. We speak Turkish; our religion is Islam, our motherland is Turkey.”

The decades-old dispute is now enmeshed in a region-wide conflict over rights to hydrocarbons in the eastern Mediterranean, with Cyprus, Greece, Israel, Egypt, and the EU squaring off against Turkey.

Only Turkey recognises Tatar’s administration and keeps tens of thousands of troops on the island.

Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan backs partition but it failed to gain traction when Tatar and Cyprus President Nicos Anastasiades attended UN-backed exploratory talks in Geneva in April.

Tatar will travel to New York in September during the UN General Assembly when he expects to meet Anastasiades again in an attempt to establish enough common ground to restart formal negotiations for the first time since UN-brokered talks collapsed in 2017.

“I’m not saying that we will shut the door,” Tatar said.

“I am here to negotiate for a fair settlement based on two sovereign states.”

Tensions in the eastern Mediterranean escalated dramatically last year when Erdogan sent a seismic research vessel, accompanied by warships, into waters internationally recognised as belonging to Greece and Cyprus to hunt for natural gas, threatening a military confrontation with Turkey’s NATO partner Greece.

Tatar said he “does not trust” a pledge from Cyprus to share a potential gas bonanza with Turkish Cypriots, and energy deals with Ankara mean Turkey may continue exploring for gas off the Cyprus coastline.

That would risk rekindling the dispute, which led to EU sanctions against Turkey in December.

Tatar rejected an offer he said Anastasiades floated in April to open the north’s airport and seaport to international trade and passengers under the control of the EU and the UN, in exchange for the return of the ghost town of Varosha.

Turkey sealed off the former luxury resort in 1974 and left it to decay after the UN Security Council passed resolutions prohibiting resettlement.

Tatar said relinquishing control of transportation hubs would be tantamount to “losing a war when foreigners take away your assets”.

Instead, Erdogan defied rebukes from the US and EU late last month by announcing that a second section of Varosha would be converted from military to civilian use after a sliver of beachfront was opened last year.

Greek Cypriots accused Erdogan of a land grab in the city; Tatar said Greek Cypriot property owners were “more than welcome” to move back or apply for compensation.

Tatar, a Cambridge university-educated former accountant, defended his efforts to forge close ties with Erdogan.

Critics have suggested Turkish interference may have swung last year’s election, but Tatar dismissed that allegation as unfounded.

Turkish Cypriots have long relied on Turkey for security, funding, and infrastructure investment.  (source The Financial Times)