The “big announcement” and “good news” of President Erdogan in Cyprus: cause for increased concern

by Antonis D. Papagiannidis

Will the presence of Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan in Cyprus on 19/20 July to mark the anniversary of the 1974 military intervention/invasion of the island (with an Turkish occupation that still persists), add insult to injury in the troubled area of Eastern Mediterranean? Erdogan talked of “good news” he would share with a Turkish-Cypriot community; he even added that “messages for the establishment of world peace” would be forthcoming. The fact that such language was held just after prayers at the Hagia Sophia (recently turned into a mosque) does not augur well for the content of his visit to Cyprus.

Might the “big announcement”, also promised, refer to the “signals of natural gas” in the Eastern Med, over Cypriot EEZ, and to further drilling operations in the area? (ExxonMobil is said to prepare its own explorations under license from the Cypriot Government). Could the emphasis be rather an opening the Varosha coastal area of Famagusta under direct Turkish /Turkish-Cypriot rule, along with a call to displaced Greek-Cypriot residents to come back and live in their old homes (and eventually revive run-down hotels) under such rule? Is there a possible Turkish initiative to ensure recognition of the self-styled Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus underway – with Azerbaijan or Pakistan being the usual suspects for such a move? Or could the new TRNC Constitution that is being prepared in Ankara be the object of the “good news”? Or might more robust initiatives be brewing such as a new military base for Turkish drones/UAVs or else a naval base at the southeast part of Cyprus?

Nicosia has tried to pre-empt the damage from the Erdogan visit, by expressing its increased concern through diplomatic channels; Athens has been helping along somehow.

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen fired a (diplomatic) warning shot to Ankara saying “We are very clear that we will of course observe how this visit will go” and adding the EU position over the Cyprus issue: “We will never, ever accept as a European Union a two-state solution”. The Commission President said that she had personally conveyed this message to President Erdogan, “so it’s up to him now to set a positive signal”.

Still, as the day for Erdogan’s visit to the island got nearer, a disturbing incident – a Turkish Coast Guard vessel firing (real) warning shots at a Cypriot police boat trying to intercept irregular migrants near the island’s northwest coast – made it necessary for Commission spokesperson Nabila Massrati to term “unacceptable any act of violence in the Mediterranean”.

At a U.N level, the current French (Nicolas de Rivière) chairmanship of the Security Council has built some expectations for a more resolute stance towards the Turkish blatant disregard for the Council’s own Resolutions regarding the status of Famagusta.

Last but not least: Turkish-Cypriot leader (and previous President) Mustafa Akinci made it known that he – and his Communal Democracy Party – would not be present when President Erdogan will address the TRNC Parliament convened at special session; the chairman of Republican Turkish Party Tafan Erhuman is still discussing his own (and his party’s) presence.