Assembling Cyprus may be impossible
APOSTOLIS, A RETIREE A 78-year-old Greek Cypriot dentist visits his former clinic in Varosha for the first time in nearly half a century, now an abandoned shell of a building. Her friend Despo wipes away her tears in front of her grandfather’s old shop, where she parked her bike after school. Varosha was once home to some 39,000 Greek Cypriots and swarms of tourists. Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton took a walk on its beaches. Four young Swedes, later known as ABBA, gave one of their first concerts here. It is now a ghost town, overgrown with bushes and trees. Opposite the Apostolis Clinic, painted on the facade of what was once a Greek high school, is a pair of flags, one Turkish, the other belonging to the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus (TRNC), created after the island was divided by a Turkish invasion in 1974 into Greek and Turkish parts.
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Closed since the invasion, when its Greek Cypriot inhabitants fled advancing Turkish troops, Varosha was partially reopened earlier this year. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan ordered the military to hand over the city to TRNC. This has enabled visits from Greek Cypriots living in the southern part of the island, in the Republic of Cyprus, which the outside world regards as the legitimate government of the whole island. But it also strengthens the TRNC, which no other country than Turkey recognizes, and paves the way for the development of a property still claimed by the displaced Greeks. This, in turn, further complicates the Herculean task of reunifying the island. That was the point: Mr Erdogan and Ersin Tatar, the Turkish Cypriot leader, insisted last year that a united Cyprus is no longer possible. In New York in September, Mr. Tatar and Nicos Anastasiades, President of the Republic of Cyprus, seemed to agree that they had nothing to discuss.
Northern Cyprus, home to 450,000 people, has never been self-sufficient. Turkey stationed tens of thousands of soldiers in the enclave, supported its economy and was the main vector of its foreign trade. Although Turkey has always interfered in the affairs of the north, it has never done so as much as it does today. “Ankara treats us like one of its neighborhoods,” says Ozdil Nami, a former TRNC Minister of Foreign Affairs. A new low came last year, when officials and henchmen dispatched by Turkey endorsed Erdogan loyalist Mr Tatar ahead of the presidential elections and threatened his opponents, including incumbent Mustafa Akinci. . Mr. Tatar won the vote with a bang. “These people,” he said at his residence, referring to politicians and journalists who accused Turkey of interfering in the elections, “are traitors.”
Echoing Mr Erdogan, Mr Tatar says he has no faith in a proposed federal model, which would bring north and south together under one roof, and that the only way forward is to maintain the island. divided. Yet analysts and diplomats say a two-state solution is a pipe dream. Even Turkey’s closest allies would not want to jeopardize relations with the EU, of which Cyprus is a member, recognizing the north.
The risk is that a botched campaign for sovereignty puts northern Cyprus on a slippery slope towards full annexation by Turkey. This is not a result the Turkish Cypriots want. The vast majority of them hailed the Turkish invasion in 1974, which foiled an attempt by a Greek junta to unite the island with Greece. They feel close to Turkey. But they also have a distinct identity. Many are alarmed by Turkey’s authoritarian turn. Settlers from Turkey, who started arriving after the invasion and now make up around a third of the northern population, are much more attached to Erdogan.
Greek Cypriots are also alarmed. “If we do not find a solution, we will end up having a border with Turkey, which for us is the worst case,” said a senior Cypriot official. But they are also responsible for the impasse. it was Mr. Anastasiades and his team who would have had cold eyes during the last reunification talks, in 2017. And it was the Greek Cypriot voters who rejected a regulation in a referendum in 2004, on the eve of the accession of the country to the EU.
There is room for hope. A big offshore energy discovery could breathe new life into the talks, although it could also spark a standoff between Turkey, Cyprus, Greece and the EU. Turkey’s pressure for a two-state solution could be a ploy to shake up the Greek Cypriots. But the facts on the ground will be hard to undo. âWe might have reached a point where it is no longer possible to replenish the island,â says Fiona Mullen of Sapienta Economics, a consultancy in Nicosia, the capital. “Varosha may be the last nail in the coffin.” â
This article appeared in the Europe section of the print edition under the title “Permanent score? “