Frustrated by decades of unfruitful negotiations between the Turkish and Greek sides to reunify the divided island of Cyprus, Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus (KKTC) Ambassador to Turkey Mustafa Lakadamyalı has stated that there should be a definite deadline for negotiations on the divided Mediterranean island, adding that the talks cannot go on forever.
“The Greeks do not want any solution, while the Turkish Cypriots want to set a deadline or a roadmap for the negotiations. In the end, if a settlement on resolving the disagreements in Cyprus is not reached, this will not be the fault of the Turkish side. The Turkish Cypriots should not become victims of the deadlock,” Lakadamyalı said.
In an exclusive interview with Today's Zaman, Lakadamyalı said that one of the main problems in achieving success in talks between the two sides was the lack of trust.
“Turkish Cypriots don't trust Greek Cypriots and the Greek side does not trust the Turkish side. Therefore we have to do something to improve this distrust. Our past experiences show us that the lack of trust led to the deadlock in talks,” said the KKTC envoy.
Cyprus has been divided between the Greek Cypriot south and the Turkish Cypriot north since 1974, when Turkey sent troops in the aftermath of a Greek-inspired coup to unite the island with Greece.
The Greek Cypriot administration is internationally recognized as representing the entire island, while only Turkey recognizes the KKTC.
Subsequent talks between the Turkish and Greek Cypriot leaders and efforts to reunite the island have so far failed to produce any breakthrough in resolving the key issues of dispute for a unified Cypriot state.
Turkish side most affected by deadlock
When asked which part of the island has most been affected by the deadlock, Lakadamyalı replied that it was the Turkish side that was more affected as the Greek Cypriot administration -- which enjoys the benefits of being an EU member and is internationally recognized -- gives the impression that it doesn't feel the need to exert itself much for a solution, while the KKTC suffers from isolation.
“Greek Cyprus is a member of the UN and has also been a member of the EU since 2004. Thus, it is internationally recognized. It has economic, cultural and political relations with many countries. It functions as a normal country. Therefore Greek Cypriots do not have any motivation to reach an agreement with the Turkish Cypriots. Up until the present day they were doing well, but now they are having an economic crisis,” said Lakadamyalı.
EU failed to keep promises to Turkish Cypriots, lost credibility
A week before Greek Cyprus's admission into the EU, a plan to unite the island brokered by the UN and endorsed by the US and the EU -- called the Annan plan -- was rejected by the Greek Cypriots but accepted by the Turkish Cypriots. The proposal suggested establishing a federation of two states. Seventy-six percent of Greek Cypriots rejected the proposal, while 65 percent of Turkish Cypriots approved it in a referendum that took place on both sides of the island in 2004. Despite the Turks' positive vote, they were left out of the EU.
“The EU and Turkish Cypriots supported the 2004 plan. Despite the Greek Cypriots' rejection of this plan, Greek Cyprus became a member of the EU just a week after the referendum. After the referendum, the EU Council took a decision to conduct direct trade with the Turkish Cypriots, but since then this has not been realized due to objections by Greece and Greek Cyprus,” said Lakadamyalı.
The ambassador maintained that the EU failed to fulfill its promises to the Turkish Cypriots, adding that the European body has lost its credibility and reliability in the eyes of the Turkish side. “We want the EU to treat both sides equally. This will encourage the Greek Cypriots to sit at the negotiating table,” said Lakadamyalı.
Lakadamyalı is optimistic about the future of the Cyprus issue, noting that the Turkish side is ready to find a peaceful solution to the Cyprus issue.
“We can achieve a settlement one day. However, due to the lack of political will among the Greeks and their leaders, we have not been able to achieve a settlement. The Turkish Cypriot side has the political will to find a settlement, and we proved this in 2004 by saying ‘yes' to the Annan plan. Since 2004, Greek Cypriots have not shown any interest in solving the Cyprus issue. We have been calling for an international conference since last year. We want the two sides and the three guarantor states -- Greece, Turkey and Britain -- to come together under the UN umbrella to discuss a solution,” said Lakadamyalı.
Touching on the recent statement by the Turkish government referring to a two-state solution on the island, Lakadamyalı stated that the two-state solution was the last option at the moment.
“It should be the Greek and Turkish Cypriots who should discuss a federal state or a two-state solution. Such a solution should be the outcome of our negotiations. No country should push for such a solution,” said Lakadamyalı.
The Turkish government has so far refrained from pushing for international recognition of the KKTC, focusing its efforts instead on a solution based on a UN plan that called for a new Cypriot state which would be a federation of two states.
“However, thus far there is no sign of interest from the Greek side for a solution. If we cannot achieve one, we will have to make our own arrangements to ensure that the Turkish Cypriots will have a more prosperous life,” said Lakadamyalı.
Greek Cypriots would change policy if they are smart
When asked if he believes that the economic crisis in the south would push the Greek side to come to the negotiating table, Lakadamyalı replied that they would change their stance towards the Turkish side if they were clever enough. “They have to seize this opportunity to solve their economic crisis,” said the envoy, who believes that Greek Cyprus should seriously consider negotiations in order recover from the recent financial crisis.
When asked about the Greek side's plans to start direct talks with the Turkish side, Nicos Anastasiades, the newly elected leader of Greek Cyprus, had stated that the priority of Greek Cyprus was to overcome the economic crisis before starting negotiations with the Turkish side.
“The Greeks prefer to stay away from negotiations, saying that their priority is to solve their economic problems. But to us, this is not logical. This is unacceptable because the priority should be to find a settlement to the Cyprus issue,” said Lakadamyalı, who believes that Greek Cypriots would not have experienced the economic crisis if they had approved of the 2004 Annan plan.
“Of course, we understand their economic problems. They have to solve their problems, but solving the Cyprus issue would help Greek Cypriots to handle their economic problems as well. An agreement on the Cyprus issue would immediately solve many problems. That is why we are having disputes on the hydrocarbon issue,” said Lakadamyalı.
The ambassador also touched on the unilateral exploration of the island's energy reserves by the Greek side.
Newly discovered gas and oil reserves off the coast of Cyprus are being explored by only the Greek Cypriot government, disregarding the Turkish Cypriots who run their own state in the northern part of the island.
Turkey has long warned the Greek Cypriot government against unilateral moves to extract natural gas and oil reserves off the coast of Cyprus, pointing out that Turkish Cypriots also have a say in these reserves. But Greek Cyprus has continued with its energy project, hoping that its future gas wealth will help pull it out of the crushing economic crisis which has forced it to seek an international bailout.
“The Turkish Cypriots have equal rights to or an equal share of these natural resources. Greeks are acting as though the hydrocarbons belong only to them. In that case we don't have any option but to discuss a two-state solution on the Cyprus issue,” said Lakadamyalı.
Greek Cyprus started drilling in the disputed exclusive economic zones (EEZ) of the eastern Mediterranean basin in cooperation with Israel in late 2011. Turkey is against the unilateral moves of the Greek Cypriots, claiming that the Turkish Cypriots also have rights in the economic zone.
“Greek's unilateral moves contravene international law. Of course, Turkey has the right to object to Greece's moves because some of the areas which Greek Cypriots have declared as an economic zone overlap with the Turkish areas,” said Lakadamyalı.
Turkey insists that the only acceptable solution to the dispute over Cyprus' hydrocarbon reserves is through a proposal earlier set out by the Turkish Cypriot government. The proposal, offered by Turkish Cypriots twice, in 2011 and 2012, calls for the establishment of a committee of representatives from Turkish and Greek Cyprus as well as the UN to determine how the hydrocarbon reserves of the island should be used.
“We should come together to find a fair agreement, but if the Greek Cypriots prefer to sign unilateral agreements with other countries, then this is unacceptable. On this resources issue, the Greeks want to achieve a fait accompli,” said Lakadamyalı.
Turkish Cyprus points to water, electricity sharing opportunity for peace in island
Lakadamyalı also stated that the water and electricity provided by Turkey could be an opportunity for a peace agreement on the island.
“If the Greek Cypriots agree to share and cooperate with the Turkish Cypriots over the hydrocarbon reserves, this will surely help to bring peace. Cooperation between Greek and Turkish Cypriots will bring peace and prosperity to the island,” said Lakadamyalı.
The envoy also spoke about the water pipeline project between Turkey and the KKTC.
“We have two important projects with Turkey. One is the water project which is currently ongoing. It will be completed in a year. Water, which is a scarce resource, is a problem for the whole island, and with this pipeline, the KKTC will receive 74 million cubic meters of water a year. Turkish Cypriots currently need about 25 million cubic meters of water a year so this is about three times what we need,” said Lakadamyalı.
He added that the Turkish side had offered Greek Cyprus an opportunity to benefit from the water resources, adding that Turkish Cyprus is ready to share the water with the south.
The second project is to bring electricity from Turkey, Lakadamyalı stated. “We have also offered to share the electricity. This could be a good opportunity for building trust between the two parts of the island,” said the ambassador.
The KKTC, not internationally recognized, has faced an international embargo for decades. Touching on the unjust embargo imposed on the KKTC, Lakadamyalı stated that the embargo has seriously affected the KKTC's economy.
The Turkish part of Cyprus, because of its isolation, does not have a direct transportation connection to any other country in the world except Turkey and is economically suffocating.
“Our economy is dependent on the service sector. The key sector is tourism, but we don't have any direct flights to the KKTC. This is the main obstacle. We don't have direct trade with EU countries. This is another obstacle for us economically,” said Lakadamyalı.
The KKTC's close cooperation with Turkey on an economic level has helped the Turkish Cypriots to ease the economic and diplomatic isolation that is currently imposed on them. The Turkish government continues to financially assist the northern half of the island.
When asked about Turkey's yearly financial support to the KKTC, Lakadamyalı replied that at the end of 2012, Turkey and the KKTC signed a three-year economic protocol and that based on this protocol, the KKTC will receive a total of TL 3.3 billion over three years.
“Turkey and the KKTC enjoy brotherly, close and special relations,” said the ambassador.
With an economy that is mainly based on tourism, education and agriculture, the KKTC, established in 1983, has come to be referred to as an “island of education.” It has eight universities where 55,000 students from 90 countries receive their higher education.
“We are trying to do our best in tourism and education. The KKTC has also become a center of education and tourism,” said Lakadamyalı.
No model can fit Cyprus case, island should have sui generis model
Touching on the long debated Taiwanese model for the KKTC, Lakadamyalı stated that the island should have its own unique model without implementing other models.
“Cyprus should have a sui generis model. It has its own conditions and it is thus not fruitful to discuss certain models for Turkish Cyprus. We have to find a Cyprus model at the end,” said Lakadamyalı.
Many states, when forced by Beijing to choose between diplomatic ties with mainland China or breakaway Taiwan, choose ties with the former. But Taiwan retains international contacts on a trading basis.
Meanwhile, the KKTC is seeking full membership in the regional Economic Cooperation Organization (ECO), of which it has been an observer member since October 2012, in an effort to break the embargo and isolation it has been made to suffer for years.
Last year, the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) welcomed a request by the KKTC, which maintains observer status in the organization, to open a permanent OIC representative office at the organization's headquarters in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia.
“Our aim is to improve our relations with other countries culturally, economically and politically because we don't want to be isolated from the world,” said Lakadamyalı.