Change in Turkish Cypriot leadership to affect future of island – analyst

The new leader of the breakaway Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus (TRNC), Ersin Tatar, has the potential to shift the balance in the decades-long Cyprus issue, TRT World Research Centre’s Serkan Birgel wrote for Al Jazeera English on Tuesday.

Tatar, who was elected as president with significant support from Turkey’s Justice and Development Party (AKP) government, favours a two-state solution to the Mediterrranean island that has remained divided since 1974, unlike his federalist predecessor Mustafa Akıncı.

“The election was perceived as a popular vote on how to proceed with the peace process,” Birgel said, adding that Akıncı’s re-election would have signalled a Cypriot Turkish desire for a “less risk-averse approach.”

Tatar, in contrast, is “more critical of the federal solution and less conciliatory at the negotiating table,” the researcher said.

Cypriot Turks are adamant about their identity and independence, but more than half are hopeless for the political situation, and almost 80 percent believe that a deal can not be reached with the Greek side in the southern part of the island, according to a Turkish-ran poll in February.

TRNC’s long-running pro-solution stance “has not translated into any gains at the negotiating table,” and Tatar has to deliver on the promises of his campaign, Birgel said.

While Tatar wants international recognition of TRNC, the issue is anathema to Cypriot Greeks, he said, and that outside actors that have a stake in the Cyprus issue, including Greece, Turkey, Britain, United Nations and the European Union, further complicate efforts for a solution.

The natural gas discoveries off the coast of Cyprus, currently recognised to be under the Greek side’s control, have never been formally discussed in peace talks, but have since been “linked to the Cyprus Problem,” and “cannot be unlinked,” Birgel cited former U.N. Special Adviser Espen Barth Eide as saying.

The United Nations is preparing to resume negotiations, with EU backing while Turkey convenes a conference. As such, “hope, however faint, remains” for a solution, Birgel said.

Tatar met with Greek Cypriot leader Nicos Anastasiades for the first time on Tuesday, in a United Nations-coordinated meeting where both leaders expressed commitment to fresh talks.

U.N. Special Representative Elizabeth Spehar facilitated an agreement between the two Cypriot parties that any future U.N.-led discussions would feature representation from both communities, along with guarantors Turkey, Greece and Britain, according to a U.N. statement on Wednesday.

In last November’s meeting between Anastasiades and U.N. chief António Guterres, both “reaffirmed their commitment to achieving a settlement that would ensure a peaceful future,” the United Nations said.

If the leaders manage to establish talks, they will be the first talks since 2017.