Turkey spurs uproar by trashing UN Cyprus reunion plan
Turkey faced outrage from Western powers on Wednesday after it called for two states in Cyprus and moved to reopen a resort emptied of Greek Cypriots, with the United States saying it would haul its NATO ally before the UN Security Council.
On a trip to the north of divided Nicosia on Tuesday, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan declared that a half-century of UN efforts had failed and that there should be “two peoples and two states with equal status.”
On his return to Ankara, Erdogan added:”Now, the only demand of the Turkish Cypriots in international negotiations is the recognition of the status of a sovereign state. All offers other than this have expired.”
Victoria Nuland, the US under secretary of state for political affairs, voiced concern that Erdogan’s remarks would have a “chilling effect” on UN-led efforts for a solution in Cyprus.
“We think only a Cypriot-led process, bi-zonal, bi-communal, will bring peace and stability in Cyprus,” Nuland told a Senate hearing.
Cyprus, a European Union member dominated by Greek Cypriots and the United Nations both seek a “bi-zonal” federation of two regional administrations that are united as one country.
The island has been divided since 1974 when Turkey invaded in response to an abortive coup engineered by the then military junta in Athens that aimed to unite it with Greece.
Turkey alone recognises the self-declared Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus. Despite the lack of a solution, the island has been largely at peace.
Turkish Cypriot leader Ersin Tatar, an Erdogan ally, also announced a new step in opening up Varosha, once the Mediterranean island’s top resort but whose Greek Cypriot population fled with the 1974 invasion.
Tatar said that an initial 3.5 percent of Varosha, whose abandoned high rises lie under Turkish military control, would be removed from its military status.
A spokesman for UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said he was “deeply concerned” by the move and urged “all parties to refrain from unilateral actions that provoke tensions.”
After issuing a strong statement Tuesday, Secretary of State Antony Blinken spoke by telephone Wednesday to Cypriot Foreign Minister Nikos Christodoulides and called the Varosha move “unacceptable and inconsistent with UN resolutions.”
“We’re pushing for a strong UNSC response,” Blinken wrote on Twitter, referring to the UN Security Council.
Nuland said that she and other US officials had also been on the phone to Turkish counterparts to urge a reversal of the decision.
President Joe Biden has a turbulent history with Erdogan, whom he has described as an autocrat, but Turkey has also offered help in a key area by securing the main airport in Afghanistan as US troops leave.
France, the current chair of the Security Council, said it “deeply regrets this unilateral move which was not coordinated and constitutes a provocation,” the foreign ministry said in a statement.
“It undermines the restoration of the confidence necessary for the urgent resumption of negotiations for a just and lasting settlement of the Cyprus question.”
The foreign ministry added: “France reaffirms its attachment to the framework endorsed by the UN Security Council, based on a bi-zonal and bi-communal federation, offering the two communities full guarantees of their political equality.”
Visiting Nicosia, Greek Foreign Minister Nikos Dendias accused Turkey of seeking “to extend its occupation of Cyprus and establish neo-Ottoman rule in the broader Eastern Mediterranean region.”
“There is no room for improvement in Turkey’s relations with Greece and there is no room for improvement in Turkey’s relations with the European Union as long as Turkey continues to act illegally on Cyprus,” Dendias said.
Turkey insisted that Turkish Cypriot authorities were working to ease grievances including those of property owners.
It accused EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell, who also criticised the move, of being “the spokesperson and advocate of the Greek Cypriot administration and Greece.”
To date, Cyprus peace talks have focussed on uniting the island under a federal umbrella. Greek Cypriots reject a two-state deal that would accord sovereign status to the breakaway Turkish Cypriot state which only Ankara recognises.
Under the terms of a 2004 UN reunification blueprint, Varosha was one of the areas which would have been returned to its inhabitants under Greek Cypriot administration. The plan, which detailed reunification under a complex power-sharing agreement, was rejected in a referendum by Greek Cypriots.
An estimated 17,000 Greek Cypriot residents of Varosha fled the advance of Turkish troops in August 1974. It has remained empty ever since, sealed off with barbed wire and no-entry signs. United Nations resolutions have called for the area to be turned over to UN administration.
Repurposing the area to Turkish Cypriot civilian authorities effectively challenges a widely held assumption that Varosha would be among the possible areas returned to Greek Cypriot control in the event of a Cyprus peace settlement.
A poignant symbol of Cyprus’s division, Varosha in its heyday attracted the jet set and Hollywood royalty including Elizabeth Taylor and Paul Newman and is said to be the first venue where four Swedish singers, later known as ABBA, sang together in 1970.