Turkey may change foreign policy regarding Turkish Cyprus by 2010

Turkish foreign policy will probably have a different outlook regarding the Cyprus issue by 2010 if reunification talks on the island fail.

Turkey will certainly face many challenges trying to get the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus (KKTC) recognized by other countries.

Speaking at the 64th Session of the UN General Assembly on Thursday, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan said, “A peace plan to unify the island drawn [up] as a result of the second phase of the negotiations should be brought to referendum by spring 2010 before the presidential election in Turkish Cyprus.” Warning about the possibility that Greek Cypriots may fail to accept a peace plan for a second time, Erdoğan implied that Turkey may take steps to lift the economic isolation. “If the Greek Cypriots will not again agree on a peace plan like the 2004 Annan plan to unify the island, then normalizing the status of the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus in the international arena will be a must that can no longer be delayed,” Erdoğan warned UN-member countries. Stressing that they can no longer accept protracted problems, Erdoğan said: “It must be understood that negotiations cannot last forever. The present window of opportunity cannot stay open forever, and there is an absolute need to make the process successful.”

This statement appears to be rather a remarkable indication that Turkey will take steps to get the KKTC recognized. Though diplomatic efforts for the recognition of Turkish Cyprus have not visibly increased since the Justice and Development Party (AK Party) came to power in 2002, this is the first time Turkey has explicitly made it obvious that it may launch diplomatic efforts to promote recognition of the KKTC as an independent state since 2004. Northern Cyprus is in an unfavorable position compared to Greek Cyprus, since southern Cyprus is a member of the EU yet northern Cyrus is severely deprived under hefty economic isolation.

While meeting with UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, Greek Cypriot leader Dimitris Christofias said the solution of the Cyprus issue is very difficult to accomplish. “Saying no to the 2004 UN plan in Cyprus means saying no to the UN in the peace process,” Mehmet Hasgüler, one of the most prominent experts on Cyprus, said to Sunday’s Zaman while evaluating the speech Erdoğan made at the UN General Assembly on Thursday with respect to the recognition of Turkish Cyprus in case a peace plan is rejected by Greek Cyprus in 2010.

“Greek Cyprus was accepted into the EU a week after it rejected the Annan plan,” Hasgüler continued. “A normative assumption held by the EU then was that Turkey and Turkish Cyprus would take steps toward the unification of the island.” Many governments before the ruling AK Party’s government had sought to make other countries recognize Turkish Cyprus. However, long-stalled negotiations following the Annan plan referendum in 2004 resumed in September 2008 when the two leaders of both sides of Cyprus decided to meet face to face to discuss the disputed points in the unification of the two parts of the island. The first phase of the negotiations came to an end in August, and a month later, the second phase of the negotiations took off.

“Turkey is able to take this local problem to the international level easily. Starting in spring 2010, Turkey may initiate a controlled diplomatic process for Turkish Cyprus’ recognition,” Hasgüler said. Listing the difficulties, Hasgüler stated that the United Nations Security Council’s Resolution 541 condemning Turkey’s land grab in Cyprus in 1983 does not allow any UN member countries to recognize Turkish Cyprus. “Nonetheless, as a permanent member in the Security Council, Russia or China may veto this resolution, and thus countries may start to recognize it,” the expert stated. Hasgüler claimed that if Turkey recognizes Georgia’s breakaway regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia, then Russia may consider recognizing the KKTC. “If political recognition will not be possible, at least the lifting of economic isolation may be a priority for Turkey. Malaysia, Azerbaijan and some African countries may lead the list in recognizing northern Cyprus if Turkey starts the diplomatic process for it,” Hasgüler said.

In May 2004 the rejection by Greek Cyprus of the Annan plan to unify the island steered the process of recognition of Turkish Cyprus reasonably well particularly after Azerbaijan said it would recognize Turkish Cyprus. During his visit to Turkey in early 2004, Azerbaijani President İlham Aliyev said they would recognize the KKTC if Greek Cypriots said no to the Annan plan during the referendum. However, the EU pressured Azerbaijan not to recognize the KKTC, threatening to recognize the self-declared Nagorno-Karabakh Republic, an Azerbaijani territory occupied by Armenia in the early 1990s. “Greece and Greek Cypriots even sent an official letter to the Foreign Ministry, noting that they should immediately abandon the idea of recognizing northern Cyprus. In turn they would recognize Nagorno-Karabakh’s independence,” said Vugar Gojayev, then the International Crisis Group coordinator of Azerbaijan. “This is the reason why Azerbaijan prefers to stay neutral in this issue,” he added. Considering Georgia and Azerbaijan have their own issues with breakaway regions, it will be hard for these countries to recognize the KKTC during the initial stage.

In contrast, Turkish Center for International Relations and Strategic Analysis (TÜRKSAM) head Sinan Oğan told Sunday’s Zaman: “Russia will not recognize the KKTC. There are nearly 50,000 offshore Russian companies in Greek Cyprus, and these companies comprise 12 percent of southern Cyprus’ national income.” Pointing to Greek-Russian relations throughout history, Oğan said, “Greek Cyprus and Greece have cultural and historical ties with Russia, and this will play a role in the recognition of Turkish Cyprus.”

27 September 2009, Sunday Zaman

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