Transcript of an interview with Toumazos Tsielepis, member of the Political Bureau of AKEL, Head of the Cyprus Problem Office of the C.C. of the Party and International law expert
Friday, 1 September 2023, ‘ASTRA’ radio station
ASTRA – UN Assistant Secretary General for Europe, Asia and the Americas in the Department of Political and Peace Affairs Miroslav Yedzia came to Cyprus, met the two leaders and is continuing his fact-finding mission with visits to Greece, Turkey and Britain. He will subsequently prepare a full report. What is your analysis of the situation on the Cyprus problem today?
TOUMAZOS TSELEPIS – You realise that the National Council will convene today so we expect to have an update on what exactly is going on because so far we haven’t had such a briefing. We just have an opinion and an assessment of what the situation is. We have to say that things are extremely difficult. It isn’t easy at all to fulfill the objective of resuming the negotiations, but of course we have to pursue it, because we have no other option. Life itself proves this. The fact that for more than six years there has been no negotiation procedure is unprecedented. That in itself says a lot…
ASTRA – During these six years we have observed provocations in the Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) of the Republic of Cyprus, the opening of Varosha, the Pyla road issue and the imposition of one fait accompli after another. This also illustrates the stigma of the occupying power’s policy if the Cyprus problem isn’t resolved and hence the occupying power will remain.
TT – Exactly. This has always been the case when there was no ongoing negotiation procedure, but it has currently surpassed all precedents precisely because this time we see the longest stalemate ever recorded and because no matter what we say and what we proclaim, namely the government and the Greek Cypriot side, what is valid is the UN Secretary General’s Report that was submitted after the breakdown of the talks at Crans Montana which – whether we like it or not it doesn’t matter – exonerates Turkey and apportions the blame on both leaders. This was devastating for what was to follow, which of course didn’t take much wisdom to warn anyone of what would happen. Unfortunately, that is the situation we face today.
ASTRA – The truth is that I remember the warnings you were issuing not just now, but from your previous interventions in the media. You were expressing precisely those concerns that we are now facing. Does the reaction of the progressive large section of Turkish Cypriots offer you some optimism because I gather the impression that the progressive Turkish Cypriots with a European orientation – are more. We can see this from the figures related to number of identity cards and passports of the Republic of Cyprus that they have secured. They react to Turkey’s numerous machinations even regarding the opening of the enclosed town of Varosha and the Pyla road issue. In the last few days if you remember there has been a big confrontation in the occupied areas between Ersin Tatar and Mehmet Ali Talat after an interview Talat gave to ASTRA where he described the proposal for a two-state solution as empty and not serious. A big confrontation followed between Tatar and Talat who represents the progressive section of the Turkish Cypriots. Does this somehow generate some optimism because there is this strong resistance within the Turkish Cypriot community?
JT – Of course it creates a hope, I would say, a ray of light, because we too are convinced that the progressive section of the Turkish Cypriot community is not seeking a two state solution, but a federal solution. Moreover, a two state solution internationally recognised on such a small island as Cyprus, with the occupied territories legally considered part of the Republic of Cyprus, is an unattainable goal. I gather the impression that Turkey itself is aware of this. It was an unattainable goal before and even more so now.
I consider that the majority of Turkish Cypriots understand this. They understand that the policy that Turkey and Tatar are proclaiming, as well as the rhetoric that they are employing leads nowhere. It offers no way out so that the negotiating procedure can resume. These reactions by the Turkish Cypriots unquestionably give us hope. Let us not forget that Tatar won the so-called elections…
ASTRA – …whom the Turkish Cypriots call the Ankara-appointed leader…
TT – For sure. Turkey’s intervention was unprecedented and had reached unprecedented proportions. They sought to push Akinci aside by all means. They succeeded in doing so with a slim majority as we know and so the hope that existed that having Akinci there for a whole five year term was lost. We didn’t make use of it and couldn’t reach anywhere.
Even after the breakdown at Crans Montana, if you remember, Akinci had proposed since the spring of 2018 that we should move forward with the Guterres Framework, make it a strategic agreement so that we could move on to the solution of the other issues, which if we did that it would have been a matter of time, you understand. You understand that once the key issues were resolved, this path would now be irreversible. The stance he took was well known. “But did you ask Turkey?” That was the answer Akinci got from the former President.
We are now confronted with all these issues. What is important, however, is that we look ahead regardless of what happened and for whom there are responsibilities, and indeed enormous responsibilities, to see what we are doing so that we can in practice resume the negotiating procedure and not simply restart it. We need to resume the procedure from where it had remained at Crans Montana, where, admittedly, we were very close to reaching this strategic agreement and it took more than forty years to get to that point.
You realise that if we do not build on this body of work of the talks we will just be talking for another half century. The path is, I repeat, extremely difficult, but we must do everything we can, assume our share of responsibility, say and mean what we say that we want to continue from where we had remained at Crans Montana, because this is what the former President was saying, but he did not convince anyone, and of course we should make use of this small window of opportunity offered by Turkey’s efforts to improve its relations with the European Union and with Greece in particular. That is where we need to focus on.
ASTRA – We’re talking about shaping a so-called positive agenda, right?
JT – Exactly, the agenda that we had proposed a long time ago if you remember. We had submitted a comprehensive proposal to the former President, which of course he did not accept and not only did he not accept it, but he distorted it in the eyes of public opinion and subsequently turned to seeking dynamic solutions such as the imposition [by the EU] of sanctions on Turkey.
You can see that this policy has failed miserably. We certainly welcome the intention of the current President to go for a positive agenda, but this positive agenda must have a content that can really move Turkey. The way the President is doing it, I don’t think he is offering any significant incentives to enable the negotiating procedure to resume, and that’s what we need to see.
ASTRA – The positive side of this, if the word positive can be used in this context, is that indeed the Turkish side’s proposal-intention-claim for a two state solution is unfounded and unconvincing. We don’t know what the provisions are. What does a two state solution within the European Union mean? Has the EU being asked whether it can accept such a thing that it cannot according to the Lisbon Treaty? For example, they open other issues there. What does it mean and what does a two-state solution mean?
TT – Turkey itself will of course have to explain that. Let me remind you that a two-state solution was talked about until around the beginning of the millennium when the leader of the Turkish Cypriot community was Rauf Denktash, who did not do so with the same intensity as Tatar, who is obviously inexperienced on these matters. They didn’t achieve anything significant.
Turkey, if you remember correctly, sidelined and ousted Denktash. They started to talk about a bizonal, bicommunal federal solution with many, of course, contradictory positions which we were confronted with along the way. Today, twenty years onwards, they have gone back to these positions. We don’t know whether Turkey is doing this for negotiating purposes or whether it actually means it.
I gather the impression that it is hard to believe that Turkey does not realise that this goal is unattainable – but I have to be careful here. When we say that the goal of recognition, of a formal recognition of two separate states in Cyprus is unattainable at least as far as the EU is concerned but also in general, the maximum they can hope to achieve, and they are not even achieving this, is for some Muslim states, I don’t know two, three, five states, to get some form of recognition. But this doesn’t offer them anything.
That’s precisely why we still hope that at some point they will at least abandon this logic in practice, because the only way our positions can meet is that of a bizonal bicommunal federation with political equality. Any other option is rejected by one or the other side, and that is the only way we can move forward.

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