Erdogan visits northern Cyprus amid EU misgivings

Turkish leader outlines new strategy for Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus amid tensions with Brussels
El presidente turco Tayyip Erdogan celebra una conferencia de prensa con Ersin Tatar, dirigente del Estado escindido de Chipre del Norte PHOTO/OFICINA PRENSA PRESIDENCIAL vía REUTERS

PHOTO/PRESIDENTIAL PRESS OFFICE via REUTERS  -   Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan holds a press conference with Ersin Tatar, leader of the breakaway state of Northern Cyprus.

The Ottoman leader shows his cards and reveals his intentions in Cyprus, unchanged after months of growing tensions with Greece and the rest of the European Union. Erdogan intends to maintain his expansionist line towards the eastern Mediterranean after the discovery of gas deposits and to strengthen his position of power on the island ahead of negotiations.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan travelled to the self-proclaimed Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus on Monday as part of an official visit that will keep him busy for two days. "If there is to be a new negotiation process for the Cyprus issue, it can only take place between two equal and sovereign states," he stated bluntly hours before his departure.

Vista de los edificios desiertos de la zona turística de Varosha, en la zona vallada de Famagusta, en el norte ocupado por los turcos de la dividida isla chipriota del Mediterráneo oriental AFP/BIROL BEBEK
AFP/BIROL BEBEK-View of the deserted buildings in the tourist area of Varosha, in the fenced-off area of Famagusta, in the Turkish-occupied north of the divided Cypriot island in the eastern Mediterranean.

The Ottoman leader will visit the coastal town of Varosha, a symbolic enclave of the division of Cyprus, on Tuesday and inspect the state of the more than 35,000 Turkish troops deployed in the area. Isolated behind barbed wire and militarily controlled from Ankara, the so-called ghost town is uninhabited after being rejected by the Greek Cypriot population.

Erdogan will also attend the commemoration of the 47th anniversary of the Turkish military intervention in the northern part of the island. From there, the Turkish leader will address an extraordinary session of the Northern Cyprus Assembly to commemorate the invasion and announce the reopening of the city, which experts believe would strengthen his negotiating position.

Las tropas turcas reabrieron parcialmente el balneario chipriota de Varosha, cerrado desde que sus habitantes grecochipriotas huyeron en 1974, lo que desató una controversia días antes de las elecciones turcochipriotas. AFP/BIROL BEBEK
AFP/BIROL BEBEK-Turkish troops partially reopened the Cypriot seaside resort of Varosha, closed since its Greek Cypriot inhabitants fled in 1974, sparking a controversy days before the Turkish Cypriot elections.

The Republic of Cyprus, located in the southern part of the country, interprets the reopening of Varosha as a means of pressure imposed by Ankara. Tensions erupted on Friday when, according to this version, an Ottoman vessel fired warning shots at a Greek Cypriot coastguard preventing the arrival of migrants from Turkey on the island. Ankara, for its part, has strongly denied this.

After passing from Ottoman to British hands, Cyprus gained independence from the latter in the early 1960s. However, following the outbreak of a series of conflicts between Greek Cypriots and Turkish Cypriots three years after emancipation, Greece decided to stage a coup d'état in 1973 with the aim of annexing the island to the rest of the country. In reaction to the coup and from its position of power, Turkey invaded the northern part of Cyprus on 20 July 1974 and established its zone of control.

Since then, the 'green line' has separated Cyprus into two parts. The dividing line runs through the capital, Nicosia, and is administered by the UN peacekeeping force in Cyprus (UNFICYP). Cyprus acts as a sovereign state and has been a member of the European Union since 2004, but its authority does not extend to the northern part of the country.

Ancianos grecochipriotas participan en una protesta en el punto de cruce de Deryneia AFP/LAKOVOS HATZISTAVROU
AFP/LAKOVOS HATZISTAVROU-Greek Cypriot elders take part in protest at Deryneia crossing point

Since the proclamation of the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus in 1983, the region has been classified by the United Nations as an "occupied part" of Cyprus, and only Turkey recognises the area as an independent state.

"I will give good news", the Turkish president said hours before his address to parliament. Observers suggest that this good news may be related to the recognition of the North by Pakistan or another close partner.

Negotiations run aground

Erdogan's words are a declaration of intent that has not gone down well in Brussels. This is revealed by the words of European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen: 'I want to repeat that we will never, ever accept a two-state solution, we are firm on that and we are very united, and that is what Cyprus can expect'.

In this respect, Von der Leyen wanted to close ranks with her Cypriot partner, President Nikos Anastasiades. "The most precious part is the unity in the European Union and the knowledge that all 26 member states at the European level are on your side," she said. "All parties who want a lasting and sustainable future in Cyprus to seize the historic opportunity," Erdogan added.

Esta fotografía tomada el 8 de octubre de 2020 muestra una vista de edificios abandonados a lo largo de una calle de Varosha,  AFP/BIROL BEBEK
AFP/BIROL BEBEK-This photograph taken on 8 October 2020 shows a view of abandoned buildings along a street in Varosha.

Athens does not take kindly to the Turkish leader's stance either. Greece's energy rivalry with Turkey stems from a disagreement over maritime borders. The dispute between the two also extends to the island of Cyprus. A dispute that almost exploded last year, when the two were on the brink of direct confrontation in Mediterranean waters.

"The Turkish Cypriots have been fighting for equality and justice for more than half a century", the Turkish leader acknowledged to underline his position. The claims of the parties involved in the issue are hardly coincidental. The series of negotiations on the issue in recent years are the best example of this, as they have ended in a series of failures.

In this regard, the last negotiations to find a solution took place in April 2020 under the auspices of the United Nations. The UN brought Greek Cypriots and Turkish Cypriots together in yet another failed attempt. Some seek to maintain the status quo and curb Ottoman interference, others to increase influence in a promising energy region. These positions are, a priori, irreconcilable.