Collapse of Cyprus talks triggers a fresh blame game: Who was responsible, why?

So, we are where we have been. Things have not moved an inch.

As the Guardian reported, ”What had been billed as the best chance to reunify Cyprus has collapsed spectacularly, fuelling fears that the Mediterranean island is heading towards permanent partition.”

More from the Guardian:

”The Turkish Cypriot leader Mustafa Akıncı, who had staked his political career on a solution, predicted that future efforts to reunite Cyprus under a federal umbrella would be exceptionally difficult.

Addressing reporters hours after the visibly despondent UN secretary general, Antonio Guterres, announced the failure, he said: “I wish the next generation good luck on this and that one day maybe Turkish Cypriots and Greek Cypriots will decide together that there is no longer a need for troops on the island.”

The issue of maintaining military intervention rights – insisted upon by Turkey – under a tripartite “guarantor power” security system conceived when Cyprus won independence from Britain, lay at the crux of the collapse.

While the UN special adviser Espen Barth Eide, who had chaired the talks, described the positions of both sides as “close but not close enough”, diplomats said it was sparring over troop presence and guarantor status that ultimately scuppered progress.”

”The collapse of talks was met with unbridled disappointment. Veteran diplomats voiced fears of possible annexation of the north by Turkey. Others expressed concerns that under the ever-unpredictable leadership of Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, Ankara could also pursue the path of further partition by pushing for international recognition of the rump state currently recognised solely by Turkey.”

Older Cypriots, who still harbour memories of common coexistence, expressed anguish that the island was now heading irrevocably towards partition. “This is the end of the road for Cyprus as we knew it,” said Lakis Zavallas, a National Guard platoon commander during the invasion.

“Thousands of years of history will be forgotten and rewritten and the north of our island turned into a Turkish province. And we shall continue squabbling among ourselves squashed in the part we are left with until we make the next mistake and lose it too.”

What had happened? For many of who have known the political and social DNA of the island, the response to the question would in no way be surprising. Not, either, the blame game that is now rolling.

Independent observers told Cyprus Mail that the collapse of the Crans-Montana talks lies squarely with the Turkish side for refusing to budge on security and guarantees ”is far from accurate”.

”They insist President Nicos Anastasiades missed an historic opportunity” Cyprus Mail reported.

UN sources had told the Cyprus Mail that Turkey would be prepared to accept an end to guarantees and rights of intervention, and had consented to a clause in Guterres’ framework for negotiations for the Crans-Montana talks, which stipulated a fall-back to the 1960 Treaty of Alliance figures for Greek and Turkish troops on the island – 950 and 650 respectively – with final decisions on whether these were to withdraw altogether, and when, to be made “at a higher level”, meaning the three guarantors’ prime ministers. But when Anastasiades was informed of this, the sources said, he started insisting on zero troops.

Here are the details:

”The Cypriot government’s version of the events that transpired during the dinner suggests that, while repeatedly professing flexibility, Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu instead insisted on publicly stated positions for maintaining guarantees, intervention rights and troops, accepting only a review of the security arrangement in 15 years’ time.

“The positions they submitted on security and guarantees, as well as the rest of the chapters, not only deviated from the UN secretary-general’s framework, but were such that under no circumstances could they have been accepted by our side,” Anastasiades said in a speech on Saturday, read out by Defence Minister Christoforos Fokaides.

“Due to the intransigence and insistence of the Turkish side on maintaining the Treaty of Guarantee and Turkey’s rights of intervention, as well as the demand to keep Turkish troops, there was no result.”

That may not be the full story. According to a UN source that spoke to the Mail on condition of anonymity, Cavusoglu had “conceded in private to us” that Turkey would be prepared to accept an end to guarantees and rights of intervention.

Reportedly, Turkey had also consented to a clause in Guterres’ framework for negotiations for the Crans-Montana talks, which stipulated a fall-back to the 1960 Treaty of Alliance figures for Greek and Turkish troops on the island – 950 and 650 respectively – with final decisions on whether these were to withdraw altogether, and when, to be made “at a higher level”, meaning the three guarantors’ prime ministers.

“When we signalled this to Anastasiades, he started insisting on zero troops,” the source said.

“He simply didn’t want it.”

Another diplomatic source shared a similar account in which Cavusoglu went out on a limb but soon reverted to Turkey’s publicly stated positions after Anastasiades demanded that he commit to the offered concessions formally.

“It was so close – it could have happened if Anastasiades had been willing to engage,” the well-informed source said.

“Turkey was willing to give hugely on intervention rights, and there was a possibility on the guarantees, maybe [after] a couple of years, with even the possibility of getting rid of it from Day One. There would also have been less troops. [But] Anastasiades wanted it in writing.”

Christodoulides could not be reached for comment, but media reports citing Cypriot government sources corroborate Anastasiades’ demand for the Turkish overtures to be submitted in writing, which may have been the dinner’s coup-de-grace as Cavusoglu refused to commit to any concessions before a comprehensive deal was struck.

“There were errors by everyone,” the same source said.

“There was a lot of pressure put on Turkey by the UN and by Britain over the fact that this was the 21st century, and the Turks ‘got it’.”

If they did ‘get it’, why would Anastasiades have balked at such an opening, instead of pursuing it furiously?

“There were probably all sorts of reasons for why he didn’t accept,” the source said.

“There were a lot of hardliners around him. He was tired. There was a lot of pressure and he couldn’t think clearly. He was on the verge of an historic deal.”

Pressure and cold feet might be perfectly valid explanations, but they ignore the 800-pound gorilla of the island’s domestic politics – next year’s presidential elections some six months away, in which Anastasiades is hoping to clinch a second term.

“I think he somehow thinks that the talks will just reconvene, but it doesn’t work that way,” the Mail’s source said.”

”Regardless of how close a solution appeared during the dinner, and whose fault it really was, the fact remains that it didn’t happen. On paper nothing has changed, and yet this breakdown could usher in a new phase of tension, not least because drilling for gas in Cyprus’ exclusive economic zone, much to Ankara’s dismay, is scheduled to resume next week.

“The way things stand now without a deal, Turkey still has intervention rights in Cyprus,” our source said. “The troop numbers would have been small and tucked away, and Morphou residents would be going home. Anastasiades blew it, the hardliners are backslapping, and now we’ve got a gas issue. He could have solved it, it was such a good deal.”

So, as we have seen so many times before, the only ‘day after’ effect is who will be the ones to precede the others in a blame game. It has already started. Political parties in the south have all seemed to agree, that it is Turkey to blame. And the disappointment of grand scale has taken a grip on all the Turk Cypriots who – fearing a gobble up by an Islamo-Nationalist rule in Turkey – had laid their last hopes on a settlement. This trauma will not let them go, and they have very strong points if they blame back the Greek side for lacking a strategy for the benefit of the whole island.

Some observers rightfully demand that, in order to stop the infantile blame game, the UN should come out and tell what really happened to cause the collapse.

”The UN and its secretary-general, who was actively involved personally this time, need to speak openly and if necessary apportion the responsibility for the pathetic failure of this effort. And if their conclusion is that the Cyprus problem cannot be solved they should say so directly and stop dealing with us. After 50 years of failures it seems ridiculous for them to talk about new, future initiatives” wrote Lucas Charalambous.

”…because people need to know who is lying and who is telling the truth, the UN need to speak clearly about what happened. Failing to do so would leave the briefing of people on both sides of the dividing line to the demagogue politicians and naïve journalists that feed us only myths.”


”In democratic terms, ‘the outcome was predictable because the hearts of the people are not yet ripe enough for an agreement to come naturally” wrote Alper Ali Rıza – Queen’s Councel in the UK.

‘This is not sour grapes, but the truth is that any agreement would have been rejected anyway in one of the simultaneous referendums. So why all the fuss? The talks were misconceived in that guarantees should have been discussed and resolved two years ago when the talks began if resolution of the issue of guarantees were a condition precedent to a solution. The two communities have diametrically opposite views on guarantees and security, and this should have been identified as a problem much earlier.

The position on the Greek Cypriot side is very clear. Thirteen years ago 75 per cent of Greek Cypriots voted no to a solution that included guarantees. Even though Mr Anastasiades himself led the ‘yes’ campaign in 2004, now he had to make a judgement as president and it had to be in tune with the majority of Greek Cypriot thinking on guarantees.

In his political judgement he would not have been able to get the Greek Cypriots to vote yes to a solution containing guarantees by Turkey. That is a judgement that I respect since the Greek Cypriots would have been seriously undermined in the EU if he agreed a solution that was voted down in a referendum a second time.”

”The position on the Turkish Cypriot side is the symmetrical opposite. The majority of Turkish Cypriots would not have voted for a solution without Turkish guarantees. Security is a real concern for many Turkish Cypriots. In some circles it is the only concern. The majority would have voted no to a solution that had no Turkish guarantees. In their view Turkish guarantees are necessary to protect them in case the agreements do not work out and to act as a deterrent. It is borne of realism and bitter experience both in Cyprus and more recently in Bosnia.”

Ali Rıza concludes:

”I have a feeling that a kind of stalemate was played out at Crans-Montana, and when the acrimony clears, those of us who wish Cyprus well hope against hope that not all was lost now that each side has some idea of the concessions the other is prepared to make.”


Well, ‘hope against hope’ is as pale as a wish can get, although it is a right way to put it.

Yet this has become the refrain devoid of any meaning now. Perhaps it is time to call it a day; because the divides between the two populations have over four decades turned into fixed positions. And obstinacy and maximalism is a well-known element of the DNA of Cyprus. That unless Greece and Turkey can come to terms with each other to a new pact that binds these two countries in a treaty based on a resolve over all the disputes, no solution will visit the island.

Perhaps it is time to forget Cyprus altogether, as my next blog will remind you.

About yavuzbaydar

Yavuz Baydar has been an award-winning Turkish journalist, whose professional activity spans nearly four decades. In December 2013, Baydar co-founded the independent media platform, P24, Punto24, to monitor the media sector of Turkey, as well as organizing surveys, and training workshops. Baydar wrote opinion columns, in Turkish, liberal daily Ozgur Dusunce and news site Haberdar, and in English, daily Today's Zaman, on domestic and foreign policy issues related to Turkey, and media matters, until all had to cease publications due to growing political oppression. Currently, he writes regular chronicles for Die Süddeutsche Zeitung, and opinion columns for the Arab Weekly, as well as analysis for Index on Censorship. Baydar blogs with the Huffington Post, sharing his his analysis and views on Turkish politics, the Middle East, Balkans, Europe, U.S-Turkish relations, human rights, free speech, press freedom, history, etc. His opinion articles appeared at the New York Times, the Guardian, El Pais, Svenska Dagbladet, and Al Jazeera English online. Turkey’s first news ombudsman, beginning at Milliyet daily in 1999, Baydar worked in the same role as reader representative until 2014. His work included reader complaints with content, and commentary on media ethics. Working in a tough professional climate had its costs: he was twice forced to leave his job, after his self-critical columns on journalistic flaws and fabricated news stories. Baydar worked as producer and news presenter in Swedish Radio &TV Corp. (SR) Stockholm, Sweden between 1979-1991; as correspondent for Scandinavia and Baltics for Turkish daily Cumhuriyet between 1980-1992, and the BBC World Service, in early 1990's. Returning to Turkey in 1994, he worked as reporter and ediytor for various outlets in print, as well as hosting debate porogrammes in public and private TV channels. Baydar studied informatics, cybernetics and, later, had his journalism ediucatiob in the University of Stockholm. Baydar served as president of the U.S. based International Organizaton of News Ombudsmen (ONO) in 2003. He was a Knight-Wallace Fellow at University of Michigan in 2004. Baydar was given the Special Award of the European Press Prize (EPP), for 'excellence in journalism', along with the Guardian and Der Spiegel in 2014. He won the Umbria Journalism Award in March 2014 and Caravella/Mare Nostrum Prize in 2015; both in Italy. Baydar completed an extensive research on self-censorship, corruption in media, and growing threats over journalism in Turkey as a Shorenstein Fellow at the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard.
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