ISTANBUL – Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has ruled out reunification of Cyprus and is calling for a two-state solution, a move that threatens to escalate tensions in the eastern Mediterranean. The Turkish leader made the remarks while attending a commemoration of the Turkish invasion of the now divided island in 1974.
Turkey’s Cyprus on Tuesday celebrated the 47th anniversary of the Turkish invasion of Cyprus, inspired by a Greek-inspired coup on the island. Despite ongoing unification efforts by the United Nations, the island has remained divided between Greek and Turkish Cyprus.
Erdogan, speaking at the commemoration, blamed Greek Cyprus for the failed reunification attempt and called for a new approach.
He said a new negotiating process on Cyprus could only be done between the two states, adding that first, the sovereign equality and equal status of Turkish Cyprus should be reaffirmed, which he said was the key to a solution.
Ankara only recognizes the Turkish Cypriot state, while the rest of the world recognizes the Greek Cypriot administration.
The European Union, which includes Cyprus, strongly opposes any move to recognize the Turkish state of Cyprus. But Cengiz Aktar, political scientist at the University of Athens, says Erdogan’s stance is unlikely to have any consequences for the EU.
“Athens and Cyprus will both bring [up] Issue for Brussels but knowing Brussels is toothless, because they don’t want to impose any sanctions, they don’t want to ‘punish’ Ankara, because they don’t know what to do with Ankara. Actually, they [have wanted] To please Ankara over the years [ago],” said Aktar.
Erdogan also attacked the United States and the European Union, accusing them of conspiring against Turkish Cyprus.
The EU and Washington say they are committed to supporting UN efforts for a unified island that protects the rights of both communities.
Hussein Bagsi, head of the Ankara-based Foreign Affairs Institute, says Turkey will intensify its efforts to gain international recognition for Cyprus.
“Erdogan is not interested in continuing the status quo. This is another card he will play at the international level. We will see how many countries will accept his statement, a two-state solution. There will be countries like Azerbaijan, like Bangladesh, maybe Pakistan will recognize [it],” Bugsy said.
Tensions on Cyprus could escalate as Erdogan accused Greek Cyprus of discovering energy in the waters fought by Turkish Cyprus. The region is believed to have vast untapped natural gas reserves.
Washington and the European Union have sought to defuse tensions as Greek and Turkish navies face off on the water. However, Aktar has warned that Ankara’s increasingly strong stance will add to escalating tensions in the region, further isolating Turkey.
“There is a gas forum that gathers Cyprus, Greece, Egypt, Israel to counter Ankara; their efforts, both economic and military, will be consolidated with Ankara’s moves,” Aktar said.
Domestic politics could be one of the reasons behind Erdogan’s stance.
With support falling due to a sluggish economy, analysts say the Turkish president is betting that a tougher stance on Cyprus will play well with his Turkish nationalist voting base.