Talat shifts stance

Had Rauf Denktash, the former president of northern Cyprus, heard the remarks of his successor Mehmet Ali Talat at a meeting with a foreign ambassador, he would have had tears in his eyes. «Why don’t you say there is one Cypriot people but two communities on the island?» an ambassador asked Talat. The latter’s reply was: «I used to talk like that. But after having seen the attitude of the Greek Cypriots, I realized that there are two people on the island.» This is a striking case of how Talat’s stance has come to resemble that of Denktash’s. For years, Talat was «persona non grata» for Ankara. The reason why he is now on good terms with the Turkish government is not only due to the latter’s reversal of state policy on Cyprus, bringing it closer to Talat’s line. It is also due to the gradual change in Talat’s views, which have come closer to Ankara’s classical line. The same situation is obviously not valid as far as relations with the military are concerned. In particular, relations between the Turkish-Cypriot government and the armed forces were strained to the point where General Hayri Kivrikoglu, the Turkish top commander of the armed forces on the island, even refused to shake the hand of Turkish-Cypriot Prime Minister Ferdi Sabit Soyer. The tension, which peaked last summer, seems to be abating, leaving in its place normalization between the two sides. The participation of the top commander at the wedding of Soyer’s son is said to be one of the steps toward breaking the ice between the military cadres and the government. It looks like the explanation for the improvement in relations is to be found on the mainland rather than on the island. The government seems to have reached an understanding on the Cyprus strategy and the natural result of this understanding has been the abating of tensions on the island. Apparently, the government in Ankara has convinced the military of the strategy to be endorsed in the near future on the Cyprus issue. As some might remember, the military was very uneasy over the Justice and Development Party’s pro-solution stance. It had serious concerns during the entire process that led to the final version of the Annan plan. So it came as a relief to the military when the Greek Cypriots rejected the plan in the referendum. Since then, the military’s position has been: «The Turkish side did its best. There is no more need for further talks.» It seems that the government expended every effort to make the military accept that the lack of a solution is to the interest of neither Turkey nor Turkish Cyprus. Obviously what matters here is what kind of a solution Ankara is seeking. Basically, whatever the election results in Greek Cyprus, bureaucrats have no hope that a process similar to the last UN initiative that led to the Annan plan for a comprehensive solution will emerge. It seems that they have convinced the military with this reasoning: «Let’s do our best to contribute to a solution. The Greek-Cypriot side does not want a solution that could satisfy both sides. At the end of the day, the whole world is going to understand that an acceptable solution to both sides cannot be reached with the Greek Cypriots. The existence of two separate entities on the island will be recognized sooner or later.» This is reminiscent of the message Abdullah Gul gave Denktash when he went to the island after he was elected [Turkey’s] president. «We have the same aim. Our strategies are different.» The first round of presidential elections was held in Greek Cyprus on Sunday. Ankara seems to have shaped its strategy and is ready for the post-election period. Quite an atypical situation for Turkish foreign policy. Barcin Yinanc is the managing editor of the Turkish Daily News. This article was first published in the TDN and is being reprinted in Kathimerini English Edition as part of a cooperation between the two newspapers.