The longer Turkey remains tied up in Syria (or rather, in Idlib), according to Rear Admiral in retirement Mustafa Özbey, the more serious problems it will face in the near future. Presidential elections will be held in the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus on April 26. The position of Ankara in the Eastern Mediterranean will depend on who wins.
“At the moment, the country’s agenda and limited resources are being prioritized in Syria through Idlib. The Eastern Mediterranean and Cyprus are, however, of equally vital importance for Turkey. Turkey does not have the luxury of not paying attention to the TRNC and focusing entirely on Syria. The election in the TRNC is closely related with Turkey’s future, too, and should be put on the agenda within a short time frame.”
Özbey underlined that Turkey’s enemies are concentrating their forces near Cyprus. It should be noted that not long ago France sent its only aircraft carrier, the Charles de Gaulle, to the coast of the island. The military of the Greek part of Cyprus conducted exercises with the French. At the same time, Paris is trying to strengthen its position in Libya.
It is noteworthy that the influential Libyan Interior Minister Fathi Bashaga, who recently said that he had nothing against France, visited Paris.
#GNA's Minister of Interior Fathi #Bashagha: “#France changed its approach and policy towards #Libya. It was supporting #Haftar both politically and militarily, but now it only supports him politically and this is acceptable.”https://t.co/vjNRlEyDF1
— صحيفة المرصد الليبية (@ObservatoryLY) March 5, 2020
Recently, he made statements about the possibility of the creation of an American base in Libya. Both France and the US are against Turkish claims to the Eastern Mediterranean. Thus, despite the seeming strength of Turkey’s position in Libya, everything remains unclear.
Özbey himself notes only that “A great effort is being exerted to secure an agreement making Maritime Zones between Turkey and Libya non-functional.”
Under these circumstances, control over Northern Cyprus is particularly important for Turkey. But here too, perhaps surprisingly, things are not going very well for Ankara.
In October 2019, Mustafa Akıncı, President of the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus, expressed his disapproval of the Turkish operation in Syria on his Facebook page. In February, Akinci made several other statements in an interview with the British newspaper the Guardian, opposing Turkish policy.
Thus, Akinji stressed that the Cyprus issue should be resolved in a hurry. According to him, it is possible to achieve unification of the island with the help of a “fair” federal government.
If this does not happen, according to Akinci, the North of Cyprus will increasingly depend on Ankara and may eventually be absorbed as a de facto Turkish province.
He sees the future of the TRSK within the Southern Cyprus Federation and the EU.
The statements caused uproar among Turkish politicians, including President Erdogan, who said that Akinci ‘s comments were “insult to the struggle of the previous presidents Rauf Denktash and Fazil Kucuk.” Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu called the President of TRSK “untrustworthy politician.”
This position de facto nullifies all of Turkey’s attempts to gain a foothold in the eastern Mediterranean, appealing to the rights of the Turkish community of Cyprus.
“It is upsetting that there are still “Federationist” candidates within the TRNC with such a short time left before the elections,” notes Özbey. However, he continued to say that “what is more upsetting is that those ones who are against a Federation missed the opportunity to wipe the ones who are enthusiastic for unifying with the South away in the elections by consolidating on a single candidate.”
Now, according to opinion polls, the main competitor to the incumbent president of Northern Cyprus is Prime Minister Ersin Tatar. He favors a two-state solution for Cyprus. According to opinion polls, he’s on par with Akıncı: 32% of the citizens of Northern Cyprus are ready to vote for Ersin Tatar and 29% for Akıncı. It will be critically important who receives support from the other presidential candidates on the eve of the inevitable second round. For those who really care about Turkish unity and interests, it is vital to support Tatar.
Ersin Tatar represents the National Unity Party (UBP) of Rauf Denktaş, the founding President of the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus.
“Although Rauf Denktaş, the Founder President, has seen the great danger which might come as a result of unification with Greeks, he continued to inter-communal talks for a settlement in Cyprus with Turkey’s instructions,” Özbey commented. He argued that Turkey risks losing influence over Northern Cyprus as a result of its own mistakes. Ankara, in hoping for a dialogue with the West, pushed the TRNC to negotiate and make concessions to the Greek government in southern Cyprus. It was the current Turkish ruling party, the AKP, that imposed the so-called Annan Plan on Northern Cyprus. The plan failed only because Greek part of the island wanted more concessions.
“The main party responsible for the ground lost from 2003 to 2019 is the AKP government. This is because the presidents elected in the TRNC have conducted the negotiations in cooperation with Turkey. In 2019, the AKP government could have finally taken note of the real intentions of the Greek side and the imperialist forces behind it. RASC, while it is detaining Turkey and the TRNC with negotiations on one hand, on the other had parceled the seas, issued licenses for exploration and operation and leveraged sovereign authority on behalf of the whole Cyprus island by extending it,” the Rear Admiral explained.
The importance of the elections
As Özbey notes, elections in Northern Cyprus are of exceptional importance for Turkey’s geopolitics. Although the people will elect a president, the results will be a kind of referendum on the future of the TRNC, Cyprus, the Eastern Mediterranean and Turkey.
“In fact, the only good result for Turkey and the TRNC would be if voters chose a path which would avoid allowing the area fall into proven traps such as Federation/Confederation which it has fallen into in the past. The options available include traps such as EU integration, where Turkey is not a member, which may cause the melting and annihilation of the TRNC in time. This could also annihilate Turkey’s effective guarantee and military existence on the island,” Özbey concluded.