Hürriyet Daily News

Greek Cypriots have long hesitated about signing a final settlement over Cyprus’ division, but the necessity of a lasting solution is slowly dawning on the island’s southern half, according to Turkish Cyprus’ foreign minister. Economically, the only way forward is a solution, Özdil Nami says

Southern Cyprus is coming to the realization that it can accrue more benefits from a peaceful solution to their island’s division than maintaining the status quo, according to Turkish Cypriot Foreign Minister Özdil Nami.

Greek Cyprus has the realization that “it may be a better idea to tackle the real problem and reunite Cyprus and start benefiting from what peace can offer,” Nami recently told the Hürriyet Daily News.

Where do we stand on the efforts for a settlement?

We are engaged in a process that will result in the formation of a joint statement, to be read by both leaders at their first meeting which will signal the start of the new round of negotiations that will be a continuation of past efforts with the goal of establishing a bi-zonal, bi-communal federation in Cyprus with political equality with Turkish Cypriots and Greek Cypriots.

What are the remaining hurdles that have prevented a finalization of it?

It is the final phase. The Greek Cypriot leader put forward some concepts as vital issues for him. These included the issues of single sovereignty, single citizenship and a single international identity. The Turkish Cypriot side counteracted by saying that though it is true these concepts are important, concepts like political equality, internal citizenship and residual powers are also very important. At the stage we are at, we have managed to overcome difficulties we faced and created a common language on these issues. Having said that, both sides are trying to inject a few sentences that will reassure their voters that the deal has not jeopardized their well-known positions. I think it is natural that both leaders are attempting to do this; it is also natural that some suggestions while being accepted some may not be. In particular, the Turkish Cypriot side attaches a lot of importance that after our federation is established, the bitter experiences of the past when Turkish Cypriots were kicked out of the republic they co-founded will not be repeated. From our point of view, we would like this to be addressed in a clear fashion.

Greek Cypriots have their own needs for clarification; they are afraid that any wording that may indicate a potential for two independent states be formed with a settlement is dangerous so they are acting very cautiously to avoid any sentencing to that direction; so the final touches are being done right now.

As someone who has been witness to so many failed past initiatives, how would you describe the current chances for settlement?

We now have the potential to finalize the statement within the coming days; we don’t need months of negotiations; we are nearly there. It is going to be a historic document that addresses many of the controversial issues that have been in dispute between the two sides. This in itself is both good news but it also carries a lot of responsibility and if we are unable to finalize it despite the fact that a lot of work has been done and a lot of convergence has been achieved, this will be a signal in particular to the United Nations that we are unable to solve our own problem. At that point, how will the international community react? We don’t know. I think both sides would act responsibly and take the matter in their own hands instead of delegating it to third parties and bring it to a successful conclusion. I feel this spirit existing on both sides of the island and that’s what I am counting on.

What would make it different from past initiatives?

We had similar opportunities in the past. In the history of states, sometimes people do not grab the opportunity there and that’s what happened to Cypriots before. This time around, there is another golden opportunity presenting itself to us. It’s totally up to the Cypriots to grasp it or not; so we would have nobody to blame but ourselves if we don’t make good use of it. It is an important opportunity not to be missed.

Turkish public usually believes that Greek Cypriots don’t genuinely want a solution that will be acceptable to both sides since they are better off and they are EU member?

They are not well off; they have lost almost half of their bank deposits, their pension funds have evaporated. Without a comprehensive settlement, it will take them 20 years to fully recover. Youth unemployment is reaching 40 percent; it is a dire situation. Although they attained EU membership, their aspiration to use that membership to the detriment of Turkish Cypriots has turned to be futile expectation. At least on these two counts, there is a realization that rather than chasing these empty dreams, it may be a better idea to tackle the real problem and reunite Cyprus and start benefiting from what peace can offer.

On the other hand, we have the natural resources being discovered around Cyprus. The best way; the way with the least cost and risk would be to sell it through Turkey and the only way to achieve that will be through finding a solution to the Cyprus problem. Energy can be one of the game-changers if handled properly; it can be an incentive for a solution.

In comparison to the last decade, circumstances have changed, you say. How about the terms of the agreement? Usually, it is said that everybody knows what the solution looks like, but it is a matter of taking the decision. Is the new initiative bringing about surprises?

There will be no surprises. There already exists a very important U.N. body of work; there are guiding principles defined by Security Council resolutions, and room to maneuver is well-defined. Negotiations will not resume from scratch but it will be built on what has already been achieved by the past leaders. What it will look like is already well-known.

Greek Cypriot leader Nicos Anastasiadis is known to be pro-solution. Has he acted in line with that view about him so far?

One would hope they would act in a more courageous way and by now we would be talking about finalizing a settlement, not finalizing a joint statement. But both sides have political realities; on the Greek Cypriot side there are big agenda points regarding the economic crisis; the loss of confidence in Anastasiadis is a reality, so there is this level of caution. It is important not to lose the balance and not to go overbroad because that would trigger deep suspicions on the Turkish Cypriot side. It already started; we had much higher expectations from him which were not fulfilled, if he fails to show the necessary leadership to finalize the joint statement that he initially requested, then that would send a signal that Cypriots have tried but failed to reach a settlement. At that point, the U.N. would have to take a look at want is going on exactly.

The economic crisis could increase nationalist feelings and might poison the negotiation spirit.

From what I can gather talking to the business community on the Greek Cypriot side, they are seeing great potential for economic development with a settlement. Especially looking at Turkey like the rising star of the region, they see big economic benefit. During economic hardship, nationalist sentiments also come to the fore, but if I am to judge, the expectation of economic benefit from a settlement is higher now and at least the business community is looking forward.

There is a coalition in Turkish Cyprus and the president is coming from a different party? Has it been difficult to forge a common position?

We are using it to our benefit and telling Greek Cypriots that although we have a president coming from a right-wing party and a government dominated by a socialist party, all these political forces are united in supporting the peace talks and achieving a rapid solution. We are giving the message that on the Turkish side, with its government, main opposition, president and Turkey, we are all in.

You are relatively from a younger generation; is the passing of time making it easier or more difficult to reach a settlement?

It is a mixed picture. Younger generations do not carry the same bitter experiences with them; they don’t have good experiences of the past generations either. But as time passes there are more realities created on the ground like more property development and that will make many issues like territorial adjustments or a property regime more difficult to tackle in the future.

I don’t think it is a good idea to play for time and hope that future generations will find it easier to come to a settlement. Each generation gets more used to the status quo and lives and grows up with the status quo, and it is very difficult to convince people to change what they are accustomed to. As time passes, our job is getting more difficult, not easier.