The Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus (TRNC) on Thursday rejected overtures by Greek Cypriots to reignite peace efforts by offering international air and sea links in exchange for territory.
TRNC President Ersin Tatar called the offer a “propaganda stunt” aimed at keeping his people under their rivals’ thumb. Accepting it would amount to the Turkish Cypriots indirectly acknowledging the “sole authority (and) sovereignty of the Greek Cypriot polity over the island,” he said.
The foreign minister of Greek Cyprus recently proposed the return of an abandoned suburb to its former Greek Cypriot inhabitants in exchange for allowing an unrecognized airport in the north to operate international flights under United Nations control and a seaport to run under European Union management.
Varosha, a suburb of around 6.2 square kilometers (2.4 square miles) located on the Mediterranean island’s once-prosperous eastern coastline, had until recently remained under Turkish military control. Its inhabitants fled during a 1974 Turkish operation triggered by a coup aimed at a Cypriot union with Greece.
Only Turkey formally recognizes a Turkish Cypriot declaration of independence, and it maintains more than 35,000 troops in the northern part of the island. Peace talks over the course of nearly 50 years have led nowhere.
Greek Cypriot Foreign Minister Ioannis Kasoulides described the proposal as a confidence-building measure that would hopefully lead to a return to the peace negotiations.
Tatar is a supporter of a Turkey-backed two-state deal for Cyprus that diverges from U.N. resolutions endorsing the long-established parameters of an accord that would reunify the island as a two-zone federation.
The majority of Greek Cypriots fear a two-state deal would formally partition the country and put the island under Turkey's control. Tatar said negotiations can’t begin unless the Greek Cypriots accept their Turkish counterparts' “inherent sovereign equality.”
The Greek Cypriot proposal lacks specifics, including whether flights out of the Turkish Cypriot airport would fall under the jurisdiction of the Greek Cypriot-run air traffic control in Lefkoşa (Nicosia). But Greek Cypriot Foreign Ministry spokesperson Demetris Demetriou said the details could be worked out if Turkish Cypriots agree to discuss the proposal in principle.
Tatar instead proposed the establishment of a committee to negotiate the joint management and revenue sharing from the island’s potential offshore hydrocarbon deposits. He said his idea was a “genuine confidence-building measure” that could help “prepare the ground for a sustainable political settlement.”
The Greek Cypriot administration said the island’s potential hydrocarbon reserves aren’t up for negotiation amid fears that gas-sharing talks with Turkish Cypriots would impart legitimacy to the Turkish state.
The island of Cyprus has been mired in a decadeslong dispute between Greek Cypriots and Turkish Cypriots, despite a series of diplomatic efforts by the United Nations to achieve a comprehensive settlement. Ethnic attacks starting in the early 1960s forced Turkish Cypriots to withdraw into enclaves for their safety.
In 1974, a Greek Cypriot coup aimed at Greece's annexation of the island led to Turkey’s military intervention as a guarantor power to protect Turkish Cypriots from persecution and violence. As a result, the TRNC was founded in 1983.
It has seen an on-and-off peace process in recent years, including a failed 2017 initiative in Switzerland under the auspices of guarantor countries Turkey, Greece and the United Kingdom.
The Greek Cypriot administration entered the EU in 2004, the same year Greek Cypriots thwarted the U.N. plan to end the longstanding dispute.
While Greece and the Greek Cypriot administration support a federation on Cyprus, Turkey and the TRNC insist on a two-state solution reflecting the realities of the island.