Nationalist Ersin Tatar emerged as the new president of the self-declared Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus (TRNC) in last Sunday’s election in the North of the Island. Many liberal Cypriots and Turks speak of the election results like a foregone conclusion that the reunification talks of the island are now over.
This may not necessarily be the case. Let’s first set the record straight; the Republic of Cyprus as a consociational democracy where two ethnicities agreed on a power sharing arrangement only survived until 1964. The decade that followed forced Turkish Cypriots into enclaves and enabled the political control of nationalists across two communities.
Turkey’s 1974 intervention brought an end to the aspirations of the Greek nationalists of uniting the island with Greece whereas the Turkish military establishment securely settled itself across different bases on the northern part of the island. The 1983 independence declaration of the TRNC was a formality that the late Rauf Denktaş thought would create the basis of equality on the negotiation table.
However throughout the years, the TRNC has ended up becoming a weekend getaway for gambling addicts from Turkey along with a booming market in the construction and higher education sectors that service an alternative clientele, oftentimes ignored by the world.
The closest point Cyprus ever came to reunification was in 2004 when two parallel referendums voted on the Annan Plan, which was supported by the Erdoğan government at the time. When Greek Cypriots overwhelmingly rejected the plan in complete contrast to the Turkish Cypriot community that approved the Plan, and was still awarded with the EU membership, the prospects of unification died.
The following 16 years forced the TRNC to embrace Ankara ever more closely and linked its fate to Turkey’s EU membership prospects. Akinci, a progressive political leader with a strong vision of democratic equality was snubbed not only by Greek Cypriots but also by Ankara so much so that Erdogan’s Islamist-Nationalist trolls began to attack him as an enemy of the Turkish state.
Tatar, following Rauf Denktaş’s game plan, agreed to let go of any autonomy the North may have had in a Faustian pact in exchange for Erdoğan’s full support. And he won the elections. So now what?
What does the future hold?
The TRNC will continue its journey of fully incorporating into Turkish political and economic structures while maintaining a nominal independence. This will mean that the grip of the holy rectangle of Turkish mafia-casinos-military-universities over the political and social life of the North will get even tighter. There will be more settlers from Turkey receiving TRNC citizenship and the exodus of Turkish Cypriots out of the island may gain further speed.
Vis a vis the reunification talks, there will be no more maps, no more discussions on territorial concessions. It would not be surprising to see Ankara press on with the international recognition of the North in case future negotiations fail.
The restricted zone of Varosha hotels may fully open for reconstruction. The ultra-nationalist militarist alliance that supported Tatar will also push Erdoğan to use the fate of the island as a bargaining chip in the larger Eastern Mediterranean energy debacle.
Who should take the lead in bringing the parties back to the table?
The United Nations could actually play a constructive role in providing a platform where Ankara can settle its differences with the South over the natural gas resources while providing confidence building incentives on a realistic understanding that two sides of the island will most likely never unite.
Both sides need to take part of the blame for the failure to reunite. Greek Cypriots for their insistence on a centralised vision that never wanted to accept Turkish Cypriots as an equal partner, and the nationalist Turkish Cypriot leadership for placing their bets too closely with Ankara to the degree that they may lose their whole community to migration.
Having said all that, in politics it’s never too late for a workable deal provided that the UN will also recognize Ankara as the kingmaker in eastern Mediterranean politics.