Two books about Cyprus

Building Confidence in Peace, by Erol Kaymak, Alexandros Lordos and Nathalie Tocci
Resolving the Cyprus Conflict: Negotiating History, by Michális Stavrou Michael

I got both of these books during my 2007-10 work on Cyprus, when I was advising the then Turkish Cypriot resident, Mehmet Ali Talat, but never got around to reading them at the time. But things are looking up in Cyprus at present – it’s a bit below the radar screen, given what else is happening in the immediate vicinity, but since the election of Mustafa Akıncı as TRNC president earlier this year, the pace of talks has accelerated and we have seen confidence-building measures such as easing the process of crossing the Green Line and an agreement on EU protection of halloumi/hellem cheese; so it seemed time to dig them out.

Unfortunately the first of these, Building Confidence in Peace, is the first of a two-part research project, and searching my shelves I wasn’t able to find the second part, A People’s Peace for Cyprus, by the same authors (all friends of mine) and the same publisher (my former employers, CEPS). However, it doesn’t really matter; Building Confidence in Peace stands on its own as a detailed analysis of an extensive public opinion poll of both sides in Cyprus, conducted in 2008, and identifying that there remained a common interest in reaching a solution and some common ground – though also a lot of distance, particularly on the role of the Turkish army in a future security agreement. Plenty of data, and I suspect public opinion has converged a little more in the years since, given the continuing ease of communication and the election results favouring pro-settlement parties on both sides.

Resolving the Cyprus Conflict, by Michális Stavrou Michael, was a bit disappointing. I had seen it billed as a remarkable synthesis of the progress of the conflict over the years; in fact it’s at its best in examining the detail of the 1980s and 1990s, which however were the least exciting decades of the problem, and otherwise follows the usual Greek Cypriot line of largely ignoring the Turkish Cypriots, and completely ignoring their internal politics, until the turn of the century. The final historical section, dealing with EU accession and the Annan Plan, is more reportage than analysis, which is an opportunity missed. I was amused to see some of my own words quoted (I had a hand in writing this).

The role of external actors can be very much exaggerated. All the major international players have been positive about reaching a Cyprus deal since roughly 2002, when Erdoğan came to power in Turkey. What has been missing is leadership on both sides of the island willing to do the deal. Just as the Annan Plan process was coming to a close, the Greek Cypriots replaced Clerides with the hardline Papadopoulos in 2003; Christofias, who replaced him in 2008, turned out not to interested in negotiating either; and the Turkish Cypriots reacted in 2010 by voting out the pro-settlement Talat and replacing him with Eroğlu, who shared Christofias’s lack of interest. But the election of Anastasiades in 2013, and of Akıncı earlier this year, has produced for the first time two leaders who won their respective elections as the most pro-solution of the major candidates. There is actually a historic opportunity opening up, and both of these books may be out of date quite soon.