Turkish, Greek Cypriot leaders show determination for reunification
by Daily Sabah
ISTANBULJan 08, 2016 - 12:00 am GMT+3
by Daily Sabah
Jan 08, 2016 12:00 am
The two presidents of the divided island of Cyprus held their first meeting of 2016 on Thursday in which they discussed details of a reunified Cyprus.
After resuming the peace negotiations, Turkish Cypriot President Mustafa Akıncı and Greek Cypriot President Nicos Anastasiades met 19 times in 2015 and they are scheduled to continue their busy schedule with meetings on Jan. 14 and Jan. 29.
Akıncı and Anastasiades issued a joint New Year's message on the first day of the year, expressing hopes for peace and the reunification of their island, the first-ever such gesture, amid a push to get a deal sorted in 2016.
2015 saw both leaders make several moves, including eating a meal together in public and walking around the center of the capital Nicosia. They have also re-engaged in peace talks and appear to be making some progress, with officials voicing positive sentiments.
"I wish that the new year bring permanent peace, calm and prosperity to all Cypriots. To many happy years," Akıncı said in a message he read both in Turkish and Greek.
Anastasiades said in his New Year's address: "I wish that the new year allows us, Greek Cypriots and Turkish Cypriots, to live again in peace in our re-unified motherland. Happy New Year," which he also gave in both languages. Both presidents helped each other to read and memorize their messages. Akıncı was more fluent in Greek compared to Anastasiades in Turkish.
Cyprus is closer than ever to ending a four-decade partition with the Turkish and Greek sides potentially agreeing on the text of a deal by May followed by a referendum, Turkish Cypriot Foreign Minister Emine Çolak recently said.
"We are cautiously optimistic. We think we are closer than we have ever been before. We don't think the Cyprus problem has gotten easy – it hasn't – but we think we have a window of opportunity. It is possible and desirable to get to at least the major part of the negotiations and the agreed text by May 2016," Çolak said.
She added that it would be "a good thing" to postpone Greek Cypriot elections planned for May 2016 to ease the negotiating process. Asked if there could be a referendum on unification in early 2016, Çolak said: "I wouldn't think early 2016, but maybe within 2016; I don't see any reason why not."
Political tensions on the long-divided island have eased since talks resumed on May 15 of last year and when leaders agreed on a five-step plan to resolve the Cyprus issue following a meeting hosted by the U.N. special adviser for Cyprus, Espen Barth Eide. These steps included opening more crossing points, interconnecting power grids, allowing cellphone interoperability on both sides of the island, resolving the issue of radio frequency conflicts and forming a joint committee on gender equality.
The island was divided into a Turkish Cypriot government in the northern third and a Greek Cypriot government in the southern two-thirds of the island after a 1974 military coup by Greece was followed by an intervention by Turkey as a guarantor state. Border gates between Turkish Cyprus and Greek Cyprus were opened in April 2003.
A major initiative collapsed in 2004 when a U.N. reunification blueprint was rejected by Greek Cypriots in a referendum. Anastasiades, who backed the 2004 initiative, said it was important that there were no winners or losers from the process.
Turkish leaders have consistently affirmed that they are determined to bring a permanent resolution to the conflict on the divided island and have urged the international community to contribute to the peace.
A "United Cyprus Federation" has been on the agenda of resumed reunification negotiations with Greek Cyprus, Akıncı said in July. The guarantor statuses of Turkey, Greece and the United Kingdom have also been left out of the debate so far, Akıncı also said.