Erdogan warned ’not to cross the line’ on Cyprus

Turkish president inflames tensions in Varosha with two-state speech

Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan waves as he takes part in a parade in Nicosia, Cyprus. AFP
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Cyprus peace talks should occur only between Cypriots, Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said on the 47th anniversary of his country’s invasion of the Mediterranean island.

To cheers from supporters in Nicosia, its divided capital, he accused Greek Cypriots of “blocking any route to a solution” with a “maximalist approach … that is disconnected from the reality”.

Cyprus has been divided since 1974, when Turkey occupied the northern third in response to a coup orchestrated by an Athens-backed junta seeking to annex the island to Greece. Turkey is the only nation to recognise the north as a separate country.

“We don’t have another 50 years to waste,” Mr Erdogan told the crowd.

“No progress can be made in negotiations without accepting that there are two peoples and two states with equal status.”

“A new negotiating process can only be carried out between two states … The sovereign equality and equal status of the Turkish Cypriots must be confirmed. That’s the key to a solution.”

Ankara’s insistence that the north must be involved is likely to frustrate international bodies such as the UN and the EU, of which Greece has been a member since 2004.

This month, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said Brussels would “never accept” a two-state solution for the divided island.

The mood was celebratory in north Nicosia, which held a military parade on Tuesday and was decked in red and white Turkish and Turkish-Cypriot flags.

A sombre tone held sway in the south of the city, where Greek Cypriots were woken by air-raid sirens, set off to mark the anniversary.

On Tuesday, Turkish-Cypriot officials announced plans to resettle a small part of the abandoned suburb of Varosha, on the island’s east coast.

Once the playground of celebrities and called a “jewel of the Mediterranean”, the development has been a ghost town since 1974, when its Greek-Cypriot residents fled approaching Turkish troops. Weeds grow in fenced-off grounds once occupied by luxury hotels.

Any move to reclaim Varosha could anger Greek Cypriots, who may see it as staking ownership over an area the UN says should be under peacekeepers’ control.

It has been a Turkish military zone since 1974 and is widely viewed as a bargaining chip for Ankara in any future peace deal.

Turkish-Cypriot leader Ersin Tatar said that day that his administration would scrap the military status of about 3.5 per cent of Varosha.

He said he would allow beneficiaries to apply to a commission mandated to offer compensation or the restitution of properties.

“Life will restart in Varosha,” Mr Erdogan said. He renewed an offer of financial compensation for Greek Cypriots who lost properties in 1974.

A spokesman for Cyprus’s internationally recognised government said authorities would brief the EU and the UN Security Council on the matter.

“Varosha is a red line not to cross,” it stressed.

The UK Foreign Commonwealth and Development Office also responded to Mr Erdogan’s statement on the district.

“The announcement runs contrary to UN Security Council resolutions and to the Security Council Presidential Statement of 8 October 2020 which called for Turkey to halt and reverse its actions in Varosha,” it said.

“The UK strongly supports the relevant Security Council Resolutions covering the issue of Varosha and calls for all parties to comply with them. The UK will be discussing this issue as a matter of urgency with other Security Council members.”

“The UK calls on all parties not to take any actions which undermine the Cyprus Settlement process or increase tensions on the island.”

On Monday, on the opening day of his visit, Mr Erdogan vowed to make “no concession” in return for securing international recognition of the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus.

“On this island, there are two states and two peoples,” the president told Turkish-Cypriot deputies.

“We do not, and cannot make, any concession on that.”

Updated: July 20, 2021, 6:51 PM