Erdogan not solution to Cyprus

Recep Tayyip Erdogan may have shrugged off the mayor of Premana, a small town in northern Italy, who ordered a flag to be flown at its half staff to protest his Islamist/conservative party’s landslide victory in elections earlier this month. But the man who controls 65 percent of seats in Parliament cannot afford to shrug off advice from the Turkish establishment on «sensitive matters.» And Cyprus is clearly a sensitive matter in Ankara – sensitive enough for the careful observer to ignore the prescriptions by the foreign affairs chief of a party that is, despite its election victory, still suspected of Islamist aspirations. Optimists rushed to believe that a settlement on Cyprus was closer when Yasar Yakis, a former ambassador and possibly Turkey’s next foreign minister, suggested a solution based on what is known as the «Belgian model.» Mr Yakis was probably referring to a proposal that would allow Cyprus to retain a single international identity. Turks and Greeks would hold separate rights in economic and social areas, a scheme similar to the one which helps Belgium’s different ethnic groups coexist. Mr Yakis was echoing what his boss, Mr Erdogan, has been proposing for a settlement. This move, coupled with Mr Erdogan’s staunchly pro-EU policies, fabricated a false linkage between Brussels and Cyprus. But for a few hours only… «The Belgian model?» Yusuf Buluc, a Foreign Ministry spokesman, asked reporters. «Mr Erdogan was perhaps speaking as a party leader. There is no change in Turkey’s Cyprus policy.» The message was very clear. But just in case Mr Erdogan and his team might fail to get it, a team of the most senior Turkish diplomats visited Mr Erdogan’s party headquarters «to brief him on Cyprus» ahead of his tour of Europe. The diplomats must have briefed the triumphant politician well enough for the future foreign minister to revise his wording. «The Belgian model is one of the many models that Turkey has proposed… We have a plan inspired by the Belgians and the Swiss models. These models are only a source of inspiration,» said a totally new Mr Yakis after «the briefing.» The episode was an introduction to a difficult course Mr Erdogan and his entourage will possibly have to take on the job. Learning by doing is often difficult – especially when there are no mock exams. But the clever Mr Erdogan must have successfully absorbed the introductory lesson that (a) Cyprus is a security matter, not a political one, (b) security matters involve security people, not politicians, especially not Islamist politicians, and (c) governments in Turkey often do not survive long if they choose to confront the establishment. There is truth in all of that. Mr Erdogan is free to enjoy behaving like the leader of an extremely powerful grouping. His future foreign minister will also be free to behave like a foreign minister. But there are limits. Security has never been a governmental issue in Turkey – especially if the government is led by a radical Islamist who claims to have converted to moderate politics. And for Turkey – perhaps not for Mr Erdogan – Cyprus is a security issue, not a political one. If there is going to be a settlement on Cyprus, it will possibly not be decided by a Turkish government – especially if the government is led by a man who is banned from politics because of a past conviction for Islamist sedition. Turkish governments have not possessed, and will not in the foreseeable future possess, the powers to devise and implement policy on Cyprus. Mr Erdogan’s government will be no exception to the rule. Any settlement must win the security establishment’s nod. Perhaps there is some truth in what Mumtaz Soysal, a former foreign minister, said: «It would be wrong to assume there will be any great changes in these (Cyprus) policies, despite changes in political and public majorities. Anyone wishing to make changes in such policies would have to face the political consequences.»

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