Return of Varosha could cause domino effect

The first round results of the TRNC presidential elections have shown that voters want a change in leadership, Ahmet Sozen, professor of politics at the Eastern Mediterranean University, has said.

“Seventy percent of the vote went to pro-change candidates,” Sozen said, referring amongst others, to Mustafa Akinci, the candidate competing against incumbent President Dervis Eroglu in the run off on Sunday. With the voting results – Siber (22.5%) and Ozersay (21.2%), Eroglu (28%),“Only 28% of voters are happy with where we are”, he told ‘Al Monitor’

After casting her vote in the first round, law student Cemaliya Ilkman said that Mustafa Akinci was notable for having stood up to Turkey on many occasions. Many Turkish Cypriots resent Turkey’s dominance in the North. It has over 30,000 soldiers stationed there and also foots the bill for the Turkish Cypriot civil service. In addition, it has allowed tens of thousands of mainland Turkish settlers into North Cyprus. Furthermore, Turkish mainland companies dominate the economy.

Ilkman recalls that in 2000, a Turkish general made a patronising comment at a ceremony in Nicosia, Akinci, then deputy prime minister walked out. “Eroglu [then prime minister] was present, but he didn’t take any action,” she said.

Speaking after the first round of voting, Akinci said:

 “I want a more brotherly relationship [with Turkey], rather than a mother-daughter relationship. I want to see Turkish Cypriots standing on their own feet firmly.”

Akinci is the first Turkish Cypriot to speak out in such clear terms, the desire to equalise relations with Turkey.

One of the most distinguishing features of Akinci’s policy towards the Cyprus negotiations is that he has promised, if voted in as president, to return Varosha/Maras to the Greek Cypriots. The fenced off city, once a well to do suburb of Famagusta has been occupied by Turkish troops since 1974.

All the other candidates including Eroglu have said that Varosha could be returned as part of a comprehensive settlement, but not before. Akinci is prepared to return the city as part of a confidence building measure, prior to settlement.

North Cyprus News - Varosha

“Let Varosha become a lovely city where people live, contractors from both communities do business together and young people can find jobs,” Akinci said in his campaign.

Such a bold move would constitute a major challenge to Greek Cypriot President Nicos Anastasiades.

Political scientist Hubert Faustmann of Nicosia University says that Anastasiades could reciprocate by agreeing to international flights landing at Ercan Airport. Currently only flights from Turkey land at Ercan, reflecting the TRNC’s lack of recognition by the international community with the exception of Turkey.

It has been suggest that international airlines might fly to Ercan if it is under UN control and if passports are stamped “Republic of Cyprus” — so as not to jeopardise the sovereignty of the Anastasiades government.

“The opening of Varosha and Ercan would trigger huge dynamics,” Faustmann told ‘Al-Monitor’. “Ankara has said the moment Ercan is opened, it will open Turkish ports and airports to Greek Cypriot vessels and planes, and that in turn takes away the reason for the EU and Greece blocking chapters of Turkey’s EU accession negotiations.”

Faustmann added, “You would have a domino effect that could lead to a solution of the Cyprus problem.”

Although the Greek Cypriots welcome Akinci’s success, many would say that even if he becomes president it will not make a big difference on the grounds that “Ankara calls the shots”.

However, Sozen maintains that the Turkish Cypriot leader does have clout. “If somebody tells me there is no difference between Mr. Akinci and Mr. Eroglu, then I have nothing to say,” Sozen told ‘Al-Monitor’.

“As mayor of Turkish Nicosia, Akinci managed to co-operate with the Greek Cypriot mayor on the sewerage system and the Nicosia master plan — despite the opposition of [then-Turkish Cypriot President Rauf] Denktash. Of course the stance taken by the leader of the Turkish Cypriots makes a difference.”

Digest of an article by Jasper Mortimer published by Al Monitor

Jasper Mortimer is a South African-trained journalist who works for France24 TV and GRN. While travelling the world, he was waylaid in the Middle East, married a Turkish woman and settled in Ankara in 2007. He covers the Kurdish issue, the Syrian war and Cyprus.

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