Erdoğan shows he is now master of northern Cyprus

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan paid a visit to Turkish-controlled northern Cyprus on Sunday. Joined by a large delegation from his ruling coalition for a picnic at the Varosha resort, Erdoğan proclaimed his support for a two-state solution on the divided Mediterranean island.

“There are two people and two separate states in Cyprus,” Erdoğan announced at an official ceremony that marked the 37th anniversary of the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus (TRNC)’s foundation. This quickly drew condemnation from the Republic of Cyprus, a member of the European Union, as an “unprecedented provocation.”

Erdoğan’s statements, as well as his overt intervention in last month’s presidential elections in the TRNC to support now president Ersin Tatar, showcase creeping domination of TRNC affairs by Ankara.

Hasan Kahvecioğlu, a journalist based in northern Cyprus, believes that the unspoken purpose of Erdoğan’s visit was to signal the new status quo where Turkey will tighten its control of the TRNC's political direction.

“He [Erdoğan] declared once more that he is the man in charge regarding the Cyprus issue, the man in charge of the Varosha,” Kahvecioğlu told Ahval’s Editor-in-Chief Yavuz Baydar in a podcast interview. This visit, Kahvecioğlu emphasises, served as Erdoğan’s declaration of deep involvement on the island.

The issue of Turkey’s growing control over northern Cyprus was a key issue in last month’s presidential race. Ersin Tatar, who served as the enclave’s prime minister and backed by Ankara, was declared the victor over then-president Mustafa Akıncı. Erdoğan’s controversial re-opening of the resort town of Varosha near the end of the election was seen as a blatant attempt to boost Tatar over the more federalist Akinci.

Tatar advocates fully aligning Turkish Cypriot policies with those of Turkey, such as pursuing a possible two-state deal as an alternative to the long-held federal model for the divided island.

Kahvecioğlu described Tatar as an “obedient servant” of Ankara compared to his predecessor Akıncı. The decision to back him was to further the project of integrating the enclave further into Turkish designs for the region.

”Tatar has no knowledge of the Cyprus problem,” said Kahvecioğlu. The veteran journalist holds that Tatar’s willingness to follow the tune sent from Ankara over any individual plan sabotages efforts by the United Nations, European Union, and Greek Cyprus to reach a resolution.

“Anastadias is looking to be flexible - he is ready to sit at the table but will never discuss a two state solution," Kahvecioğlu added, referring to Cyprus’ prime minister Nicos Anastadias.

Tatar’s presence alongside Erdoğan on Sunday certainly did not portray him in any way as a respected equal of his patron. Kahvecioğlu points out that the large delegation of members of Erdoğan’s ruling party completely dwarfing any Turkish Cypriot presence at the event spoke loudly of Erdoğan’s view of the island’s interests.

"Erdoğan does not want any brother state administration in northern Cyprus" said Kahvecioğlu. He believes that Erdoğan’s exclusion of more Turkish Cypriots was almost purposeful in its disregard for their sensitivities.

It also served as a reminder of just how deeply fractured the already divided island is. All of the main events of Erdoğan’s visit - the opening of a hospital for COVID-19 patients to deliver the keynote speech at the foundation ceremony - were dominated by his Justice and Development Party (AKP) functionaries and the president himself.

Pressure from Ankara on the Turkish-origin citizens in Cyprus also served the purpose of pushing voter blocs - expats from mainland Turkey and those of Kurdish origin - to move away from the path set by Mustafa Akıncı to the pro-Ankara Ersin Tatar.

According to Kahvecioğlu, this level of rising domination exerted by Erdoğan and the AKP and the divisions it exasperates is what he sees as the biggest threat to Turkish Cypriots’ autonomy.

“They achieved a big scenario to make this society separated into two,” Kahvecioğlu told Ahval. “This will be the most dangerous thing in our future political discussions.”