“What ties could I possibly have to a Turkish Cypriot to accept that he has the same civil rights as me and is mixed up in my business everyday?” My biggest surprise when I recently visited Cyprus (my last time before that was 15 years ago) was the blunt manner in which people openly ruled out a peace settlement.
The skepticism came mostly from the younger generation of Cypriots who have no memory of the 1974 invasion, who have well-paying jobs, who believe that the Republic of Cyprus can really take off by developing its hydrocarbon reserves, and who are certainly not in the mood for any fresh political instability.
I was reminded of this by the ongoing talk about a possible new round of discussion on the Cyprus issue and the provocative plans announced by Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan to partially open Varosha, the southern part of Famagusta that has been fenced off and abandoned since the invasion. Erdogan went as far as to invite any Greek Cypriots who want to be compensated for properties in the area to file a request or settle in the open part of Varosha under a Turkish-Cypriot administration.
In the past, people would have instantly dismissed Erdogan’s cunning bait. However, today some Greek Cypriots are facing a tough dilemma because they fear that they could lose their property in Varosha.
In the early years after Turkey’s invasion there was a solid majority that favored a solution based on a bi-communal federation with political equality between the two communities and, most importantly, the withdrawal of Turkish forces from the island.
The Annan plan in a way met the above conditions while returning Varosha and Morphou to the Greek Cypriots. The plan was rejected in the 2004 referendum, an outcome that was also influenced by the stance of the Greek Cypriot leadership.
Today, 17 years after the Republic of Cyprus joined the European Union, the chasm between the prosperous, internationally recognized part of the island and the financially wretched, occupied north has grown so wide as to leave very little room for a solution that would satisfy Ankara while being acceptable to Greek Cypriots.
The international community (the United Nations, United States and EU) may insist on calling for a federal state on Cyprus. However, all signs suggest that the solution is slipping away. Meanwhile, the closer the occupied north edges to Ankara, the greater Turkey’s interference will be in Cyprus’ political life and Greek-Turkish matters.