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Michael Jansen: Erdogan too cussed for peace
January 16, 2017
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Exclusive to The Gulf Today

Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan seems to have thrown a spanner into the UN-operated works churning out a plan for the reunification of the divided island of Cyprus. In comments after four days of talks, he said Turkish troops would never withdraw from the north of the island, occupied by Turkey since 1974, and deemed unacceptable the proposal for the presidency to rotate between Greek and Turkish Cypriots.

Considering Erdogan’s attitude, it is hardly surprising that three days of negotiations between Cyprus President Nicos Anastasiades and Turkish Cypriot leader Mustafa Akinci failed to achieve agreement on the fundamental issues of security, governance, territory and property. It had been hoped that the leaders, who have been involved in intensive discussions for 15 months, would be able to agree in three days on a framework which would be presented on a fourth day to the UN, European Union and Britain, Greece, and Turkey, the three powers which appointed themselves guarantors of the Cyprus Republic at independence in 1960. If the UN plan for the Geneva conference had been realised these external actors would have approved the framework which would be elaborated over three months by the Greek and Turkish Cypriots and presented to both communities who would vote in separate referenda, perhaps, by mid-2017.

However, Erdogan was always the invisible elephant in the room in negotiations whether in Cyprus or Switzerland. Akinci is a decent man determined to achieve a deal with Anastasiades, but the Turkish Cypriot is Erdogan’s prisoner and Erdogan has no intention of realising Akinci’s dream of a reunified Cyprus. Erdogan does not get on well with Akinci who faces a right-wing “loyalist” Turkish Cypriot prime minister and parliament. In addition to troops, Turkey provides millions of dollars in subsidies to the Turkish Cypriot breakaway statelet, recognised only by Ankara. Therefore, this entity is wholly dependent on Turkey.

By contrast, Anastasiades consults Greece but operates as a Cypriot and is committed to Cyprus as an independent country rather than to Greece.

After a flurry of cries of foul over Erdogan’s statement on troops, he said Turkish troops would remain on the island as long as Greek troops are present. This remark was disingenuous because the total number of mainland Greek troops in the Republic is 300.

Their job is to train the Cyprus National Guard, made up of 10,000 Greek Cypriot conscripts.

According to the UN, Turkey deploys 30,000 regular army officers and men in the north, 36.6 per cent of the island. The troop figures reveal that Turkey’s well-equipped Nato army keeps to the traditional attack ratio of three-to-one vis-a-vis the forces in the Republic which are small and poorly equipped. Furthermore, Greece has called for an end to all foreign forces on the island as well as the right of Greece, Turkey, and Britain to intervene, allegedly, to maintain security and stability on the island.

Turkey invaded and occupied the north in 1974 after the Greek military junta mounted a coup against the Republic’s President Archbishop Makarios. Britain, which should have intervened to counter the junta’s action and pre-empt the Turkish invasion, was told not to take action by then US Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, who was determined to oust Makarios, whom he regarded as a dangerous non-aligned leader.

The coup failed and Britain watched from the sidelines as Turkey seized the north, expelled Greek Cypriots and began to flood the area with mainland Turks, who today are equal in number to Turkish Cypriots.

Turkish commentators argue Erdogan cannot compromise over Turkish troops while he is trying to secure support from parliament constitutional amendments transforming the country’s parliamentary system into a presidential model and upgrading the ceremonial office of president to an executive presidency.

The changes are backed by Ergodan’s fundamentalist Justice and Development Party and the far-right National Movement Party but opposed by the main opposition secular Republican People’s Party and the leftist pro-Kurd Peoples’ Democracy Party. Ergodan’s party needs the ultra-nationalists to secure the assembly votes needed to submit the amendments to a referendum.

While this explanation for Erdogan’s hard line on Cyprus satisfies some, it hardly suffices. Thanks to his party’s majority in parliament, he has already expanded the powers of the presidency to the point where he rules unopposed. Furthermore, since the failed mid-summer military coup, he has wiped out all serious opposition to his rule by imprisoning 40,000 and suspending or dismissing from their jobs 125,000 army personnel, civil servants, judges, policemen, and intelligence agents. He has closed down newspapers and television stations and jailed journalists and is waging war on Turkey’s dissident Kurds.

Edogan is said to regard himself a latter-day Ottoman potentate who seeks to restore the glories of the Ottoman empire. Since Cyprus was part of that empire from 1571 until 1878, he has no intention of ceding the north. Erdogan has also dispatched Turkish troops into both Iraq and Syria with the aim of asserting Turkey’s influence in both these war-torn countries, which had been under the Ottomans until the empire was dismembered after World War I.

When asked about Turkey’s position by The Gulf Today at a public meeting convened soon after talks between Anastasiades and Akinci began, UN mediator Espen Barth Eide, a former Norwegian foreign minister, said, cheerfully and confidently, “Turkey is on board.”

Israel was on board also when Norwegians negotiated the 1993 Oslo Accord between Israelis and Palestinians, launching a process without end which the Israelis exploited to colonise the occupied Palestinian territories.

With this in mind it is necessary to recall the ancient saying, “Beware of Greeks bearing gifts,” and apply it to the Cyprus situation, “Beware of Norwegians bearing plans.”

The author, a well-respected observer of Middle East
affairs, has three books on the Arab-Israeli conflict

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