(CNSNews.com) – The foreign minister of Cyprus expressed concern on Monday that Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan may be planning to mark a significant national anniversary in 2023 by formally annexing the Turkish-occupied northern part of the divided island.
Foreign Minister Nicos Christodoulides was speaking a day after Erdogan declared – during a controversial visit to a fenced-off, abandoned city in northern Cyprus – that Turkey wants to see the problem resolved with a “two-state solution,” arguing that the Mediterranean island was home to “two separate peoples and states.”
That’s a departure from the long-held international community’s position, strongly supported by the United States, that Cyprus should be reunified based on a “bizonal, bicommunal” federation.
It would also violate several U.N. Security Council resolutions, although Turkey’s foreign ministry in a statement on Monday essentially rejected those.
“U.N. Security Council resolutions do not prevail over property rights,” it said. “U.N. Security Council resolutions are not above the will of the people.”
Erdogan maintains that in recent elections, Turkish Cypriots clearly demonstrated their wish to have two separate states. Newly-elected Turkish Cypriot president Ersin Tatar promotes the idea of two equal, sovereign states.
The tensions are simmering as Secretary of State Mike Pompeo was visiting Turkey on Monday, although interactions during his brief stay were limited to meetings with religious leaders – not government officials.
Turkey occupied northern Cyprus in 1974, prompted by a short-lived coup led the Greek military junta. A unilateral declaration of independence (UDI) was announced in the north in 1983, although the so-called Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus is not recognized internationally.
Erdogan’s visit on Sunday was to mark the 37th anniversary of the UDI, but another upcoming anniversary was on the mind of Christodoulides, the Cypriot foreign minister.
Turkey in 2023 celebrates the centenary of the founding of modern Turkey by Mustafa Kemal Ataturk. Erdogan plans to run again in elections that year, having overseen controversial constitutional changes that took effect in 2018, broadened his powers, and enabled him to run for a third term. He has led Turkey, initially as prime minister, since 2003, and is looking towards 2023 as marking the culmination of his rule.
Christodoulides, addressing lawmakers in Nicosia, referred to Erdogan’s recent foreign intervention in Syria and other provocative behavior in the region, attributing it to his “neo-Ottoman approach” and a desire to be seen as leader of the Muslim world.
If a solution has not been found to the Cyprus problem by 2023, he said, Erdogan may well decide to annex the north.
Ankara’s approach to the Cyprus issue is adding to tensions with the European Union (E.U.), which is still theoretically considering Turkey’s application to join the bloc.
E.U. foreign policy chief Josep Borrell in a statement on Sunday reacting to Erdogan’s remarks reiterated that “the E.U. is fully committed to a comprehensive settlement of the Cyprus problem, and to reunification based on a bizonal, bicommunal federation with political equality, within the U.N. framework and in line with the principles on which the E.U. is founded.”
“The E.U.’s message is very clear,” he said. “There is no alternative to a comprehensive settlement of the Cyprus problem other than on the basis of relevant U.N. Security Council resolutions.”
Turkey’s foreign ministry hit back at Borrell, saying his remarks underlined again “how disconnected the E.U. is from the realities on the island.”
Ministry spokesman Hami Aksoy said the bizonal, bicommunal federal formula has been discussed for 50 years but without results because “the Greek Cypriot side does not consider the Turkish Cypriot people as an equal partner and does not want to share the power and the wealth.”
If the E.U. wants to contribute to the settlement of the Cyprus issue, he said, it should “acknowledge the existence and the will of the Turkish Cypriot people.”
Cyprus has been a member of the E.U. since 2004, and the bloc views the entire island as E.U. territory, despite the division. The E.U.’s formal position is that its regulations are “suspended” in the part of Cyprus not under the effective control of the government.
Relations between Turkey and the E.U. are strained over a number of issues, including Turkey’s intervention in the conflicts in Syria and Libya, energy resource disputes in the eastern Mediterranean, and a rift between Erdogan and French President Emmanuel Macron over Islamist terrorism, caricatures lampooning Mohammed, and freedom of speech.
Both parties in Cyprus agreed back in the 1970s on the federal model of reunification, but numerous rounds of U.N.-brokered talks have failed to produce a final deal.
A U.N. special envoy is due to visit Cyprus late this month, to prepare the way for talks within the next couple of months, in a bid to kickstart negotiations on a settlement. Parties to the talks would be the two in Cyprus, along with three “guarantor powers,” Greece, Turkey, and Britain.