Leaders from either side of Cyprus’s ethnic divide have flown to Geneva for a UN-led summit aimed at exploring whether the time is ripe to resume the peace process four years after the collapse of talks to reunify the island.
The foreign ministers of Greece, Turkey and Britain – Cyprus’s three guarantor powers – will join Greek Cypriot and Turkish Cypriot teams in the hope of re-energising efforts to end the west’s longest-running dispute.
The Cypriot president, Nicos Anastasiades, said on Monday that the Greek Cypriot side would be attending the keenly anticipated meeting “with determination and political will” in order to pick up negotiations where they had left off.
“Hopefully, the other side will also attend with the same will, the same consideration, because a divergence will not just be against Greek Cypriots but also against Turkish Cypriots,” he said.
Cyprus has been divided since 1974 when Ankara invaded and seized its northern third in the name of protecting the island’s Turkish Cypriot minority after an Athens-backed coup aimed at union with Greece.
The three-day summit beginning on Tuesday follows prolonged tensions over offshore gas reserves in the eastern Mediterranean that have further highlighted the need for reconciliation in Europe’s only war-partitioned state.
Friction over exploration rights accelerated by Ankara’s dispatch of drill ships and naval vessels to the area pushed Greece and Turkey to the brink of war last year.
“The unresolved Cyprus problem is no longer comfortable for the international community because it affects stability and security in the eastern Mediterranean,” said Fiona Mullen, the director of Sapienta Economics, a consultancy in the island’s south. “It’s become part of a broader dispute.”
But optimism is in short supply. The UN convened the informal talks in the hope of finding enough “common ground” to formally restart a peace process that in 2017 foundered over the issue of Ankara withdrawing forces from the breakaway Turkish-held north. Prior to the collapse, the contours of a settlement deal had essentially been agreed.
This time the two sides appear more at odds. While previously talks had focused on reuniting the two communities in a bizonal, bicommunal federation – with a moderate Turkish Cypriot leader, Mustafa Akıncı, at the helm – Turkey has since altered its stance, championing the option of a two-state solution that would ultimately legitimise Cyprus’s division.
It is a policy loudly echoed by Ersin Tatar, the Cambridge-educated hardliner elected president of the self-declared Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus with the support of the Turkish president, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, last October. In a statement before the talks, Tatar insisted that after “11 major plans and initiatives” to settle the Cyprus problem since 1964 when intercommunal violence first erupted, it was time for a “reality check”.
“We are going to Geneva with a new vision for Cyprus, one based on the realities on the island,” he said adding that it was time to end the northern territory’s isolation. “We’ve had decades of failed federation talks. This is adequate proof that federalism is not an appropriate settlement model for Cyprus.”
Indicative of the new approach, Turkey moved last year to reopen the seaside resort of Varosha, a ghost town since the invasion, despite international condemnation.