Turkish Foreign Minister Melvut Cavusoglu described Turkish Cypriot leader Mustafa Akinci as "unreliable," after the later said the prospect of Crimea-style annexation with Turkey was “horrible.”
“I’ve never worked with a more unreliable politician,” he said in a press conference on Monday.
Speaking to the Guardian in an interview published last week, Akinci warned that Cyprus runs the risk of permanent partition, and highlighted that the differences between the two sides of the island are growing more entrenched, diminishing the prospect of reaching an equitable federal solution that would reunite the island.
Akinci, who launched his re-election campaign last week in view of presidential elections set to take place in the north in April, stressed the urgency of reaching a viable solution.
If one is not found, he said, the north would grow increasingly dependent on Ankara, and could end up being swallowed up, as a de facto Turkish province - a prospect he called “horrible”.
The Turkish Cypriot leader said that a solution would help disentangle the north from Ankara’s grip, especially financially, and would allow for the development of a more independent relationship with Turkey, rather than Erdogan’s vision of a ‘mother and baby’ relationship.
Slamming Akinci in a press conference on Monday, Cavusoglu referred to his comments a pre-election stunt.
“We’ve been calling for the political equality of Turkish Cypriots, but he [Akinci], prefers to attack Turkey,” Cavusoglu said, adding that he’ll be giving examples of his unreliability in the coming days.
Akinci’s comments were also widely condemned by top Turkish officials.
Turkey’s Vice President Fuat Oktay said on Twitter that he “[condemns] the remarks that target Republic of Turkey which stands by the TRNC in every way and protects its rights and interests.”
Akinci’s main rival in the April 26 elections, outspoken pro-Ankara populist Ersin Tatar, followed suit in a written statement: “That Akinci criticizes Turkey via non-existent claims is wrong behavior, with the aim of winning the election.”
Relations between Akinci and Ankara have been deteriorating recently, with Akinci growing increasingly outspoken over Turkey’s actions in the region.
Last summer, Akinci attempted to bridge the divide between the Republic of Cyprus and Turkey as regards their maritime borders, which continue to be in dispute, through a natural gas cooperation proposal, where the two sides would share the revenue from hydrocarbon discoveries.
The proposal was rejected by the Greek Cypriot government, which said that such cooperation could only come about in the framework of a comprehensive peace solution, though Turkey swiftly lashed out, sending its drillships to the Cyprus EEZ it says are under dispute.
The Greek Cypriot government more recently also rejected a call from Turkey, which called all sides to cease natural gas exploration until a settlement is reached, leaving Turkey to retain the presence of its drillship off the shores of Limassol in what is views as a means of guaranteeing of the rights of Turkish Cypriots.
With elections in the north expected in April, the leaders of the two divided communities have pointed to the period following the elections for a possible resumption of peace talks, the last round of which crashed in 2017 in Crans-Montana.
“The train was derailed in Crans-Montana. I think we have relaunched it again on a realistic and mutually acceptable path,” Akinci told the Guardian.