The Guardian wrote:Erdoğan met by protests from Turkish Cypriots during visit
‘Provocative’ trip to northern Cyprus angers residents as well as the south and Greece
Turkey’s president has been greeted with protests from Turkish Cypriots denouncing Ankara’s overt meddling in their domestic affairs as he visited northern Cyprus.
In a rare display of opposition for a leader whose tolerance for critics is notoriously low, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan was met by demonstrators as he flew into the territory for celebrations marking its unilateral declaration of independence 37 years ago.
Ignoring police attempts to ban the protests, many expressed dismay over his decision to use the occasion to enjoy a picnic in the controversially reopened beach resort of Varosha, holding banners that said: “No picnic over pain”. The resort visit by Erdoğan has been widely condemned for violating UN resolutions aimed at reuniting the war-torn island.
“It’s now or never. We have to raise our voice in open defiance” Sener Elcil, a prominent trade unionist, told the Guarding. Talking in the UN-patrolled buffer zone dividing Cyprus, he added: “Turkish Cypriots will become extinct if our country isn’t reunited … Erdoğan is a loose cannon, he can do anything.”
The protests come a month after Ersin Tatar, a nationalist hardliner backed by Ankara, won elections in the self-styled republic. Like Erdoğan, Tatar has vigorously espoused a two-state solution to resolving a dispute that has bewildered international mediators for decades.
Since proclaiming independence nine years after Turkey invaded in response to a coup aimed at uniting Cyprus with Greece, only Ankara has acknowledged the north of the island as a separate state. In stark contrast to the EU-member south, northern Cyprus is isolated internationally and prone to the whims of Turkey, it’s financial mainstay.
Most of those who took to the streets on Sunday voted for Tatar’s moderate predecessor Mustafa Akıncı, who is an ardent supporter of a settlement in which the majority Greek Cypriots share power in a federation.
The veteran leftist lost by fewer than four percentage points in an election during which members of Turkey’s ruling AKP party went from village to village and reports emerged of flagrant vote buying and threats of deportation for mainland settlers who refused to endorse Tatar.
Amid fears of Erdoğan’s increasingly hawkish regional polices, such as the confrontation with Greece over energy reserves in the eastern Mediterranean, Tatar’s opponents fear annexation of northern Cyprus may now be on the cards.
Sertac Sonan, an associate professor in political science at Cyprus International University who advised Akıncı, said: “Inaction would invite more meddling, more interference from Turkey. This is about the 48% who voted for Akıncı. This was not a fair election. It’s not been easy to swallow and we still have the chance to express our discomfort, otherwise the worry is it could end up in annexation.”
Ankara had gone all out preparing the ground for Erdoğan’s arrival with a cleanup of the sealed off area of Varosha and plants and shrubs being flown in.
But from the outset the visit had been beset by controversy. The leader’s announcement of enjoying a picnic in the resort upped the ante, intensifying already heightened tensions between Athens, Ankara and Nicosia.
The Greek foreign ministry described Sunday’s tour as “an unprecedented provocation”.
Using similar language, Nicos Anastasiades, the president of Cyprus, said he feared Erdoğan’s actions would “torpedo the prospect of creating an appropriate climate” to resume UN-brokered talks. Senior government officials in Nicosia voiced angst last week that Tatar’s threat to develop Varosha would sound the death knell for negotiations. Returning the resort to the south has for a longtime been seen as part of any comprehensive settlement between the two sides.
In a poignant video broadcast before the Turkish president’s visit, Greek Cypriots forcibly displaced from Varosha called on him to stay away, saying: “This is not your homeland Mr Erdoğan, it was taken by war at gunpoint. You are there with power but not with law.”
But analysts said 16 years after Greek Cypriots rejected reunification in a referendum, and more than three years after the collapse of peace talks that came close to a settlement, Erdoğan was also sending a message.
“Turkey has alienated a lot of allies and it needs a foreign policy success story,” said Prof Ahmet Sözen, who chairs the department of international relations at the Eastern Mediterranean University in northern Nicosia.
“Accession would not be in its interests. Instead, what Erdoğan is saying is ‘we want to solve the Cyprus problem, we’re ready for a negotiated deal but if you don’t want to do that we’re ready to go the extra mile and change the status quo with Varosha. It’s a retaliatory move that reflects the frustration of Turkey with the stance of the Greek side both over Cyprus and the issue of hydrocarbons.”
Analysts on both sides of the ceasefire line believe the election of Joe Biden to the US presidency is also likely to play a pivotal role in negations. The Democrat is among the few prominent US politicians to have visited Cyprus.
“It changes Turkey’s calculations on what it can get away with,” said Fiona Mullen, the director of Sapienta Economics, a consultancy, in the south. “Turkey clearly wants closure on this and with a Biden presidency a federal solution to the Cyprus problem is still the quickest way to that.”
More than anything, Ankara wants to be involved in the eastern Mediterranean after the discovery of natural gas off the island and not kept at bay by Athens and Nicosia, Mullen said. “You can’t do that without a settlement.”
Cyprus’s former president George Vassiliou, who pushed hard for a solution when he assumed office in 1988, agreed.
“We have to recognise that the only way forward is to come to an arrangement with Turkey,” he said. “Of course I am optimistic … But it is crucial that negotiations restart as soon as possible without preconditions. A solution on this island will be to the benefit of all.”
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