Did talks in Geneva get closer to uniting Cyprus?

Last week's informal meeting on ethnically divided Cyprus, hosted by the United Nations in Geneva, aimed at establishing a common ground for formal negotiations between the parties.  But it is now questionable whether talks between the two sides can even start.

Last Tuesday, representatives from the Republic of Cyprus met with U.N. Secretary General Antonio Guterres, who acted as mediator for meetings with the leadership of the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus (TRNC). Greek Cypriot President Nikos Anastasiades and Turkish Cypriot President Ersin Tatar described their meetings with Guterres positively. But at a press conference on March 29, which followed face-to-face talks between the parties, Guterres said the talks failed to achieve their stated aim.

Anastasiades blamed the Turkish side for the talks’ failure because it proposed a two-state solution that would likely rule out any reunification of the island. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan pointed the finger at the Greek Cypiot side, saying they have “never been honest” about seeking a solution.

Cyprus has been divided since 1974 when Turkey intervened after a brief Greek Cypriot coup orchestrated by the military junta then ruling Greece. Turkey justified its intervention by citing its rights to protect Turkish Cypriots, but the island has remained divided between the internationally recognised Republic of Cyprus and the TRNC, which is only recognised as a state by Turkey.

Guterres pledged to continue pursuing a solution, saying that the two sides could convene in two or three months for another round of informal discussions. But it is unclear how they can move forward from here.

Fikri Toros, a member of the TRNC parliament, believes that the appetite for a just reunification exists on the Turkish Cypriot side. 

"Turkish Cypriots basically demonstrated their strong will on a bizonal and bicommunal federation based upon political equality,” Toros told Ahval in a recent podcast, referring to the result of a referendum to reunite the island in April 24, 2004. "This political will and desire of the Turkish Cypriots remain intact and valid.” 

Toros, who is a member of the pro-federation main opposition Republican Turkish Party, is still optimistic for a solution based on the federation model despite the apparent prevalence of support for a two-state solution, exemplified by the victory of Tatar at presidential elections in October.

When he ran for presidency last year, Tatar was seen as a hardliner due to his insistence on a two-state solution. He defeated Mustafa Akıncı, who is a federalist. Erdoğan backed Tatar heavily during the election. For his part, Tatar went as far as reopening the coastal area of the fenced off tourist town of Varosha in violation of U.N. resolutions after the idea was proposed by Erdoğan. In the end, he won the election with 51.69 percent of the vote.

Toros rejects the idea that Tatar's election proves that a compromise on reunification is dead. He believes the failure of the Geneva talks could be blamed on both sides. 

Tatar and Turkey's foreign minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu reiterated their commitment to the two-state solution in Geneva. Toros said their political stance, which goes against the unanimous opinion of the U.N Security Council, may be a negotiating tactic.

"Turkey knows very well that a two state solution is not within the mandate of the U.N. secretary general,” Toros said. “Demonstration of such a hard stance in Geneva is possibly intended to strengthen Turkey's negotiating power ahead of a European summit in June.”

He also blamed Anastasiades for being uninterested in supporting a key element of reunification - political equality for Turkish Cypriots. 

“Political equality for Turkish Cypriots as mentioned in resolution 716 is the root of disagreement with the Greek side,” Toros said. "We cannot overlook the intransigence of the Greek Cypriot leadership.” 

Toros echoes some of the distrust voiced by Turkish officials about the behaviour of Anastasiades and his allies.

"Unfortunately, the Greek Cypriots have eroded our faith, as far as political equality is concerned,” he said.