NICOSIA, Cyprus (AP) – A hardliner who won Turkish Cypriot leadership elections said on Sunday he was ready to resume dormant talks aimed at ending Cyprus’s 46-year ethnic divide, as long as Greek Cypriot rivals they will face the regional power of Turkey.
Ersin Tatar, who is in favor of fully aligning Turkish Cypriot policies with those of Turkey’s regional patron, said any peace agreement should take into account the “realities” in and around the war-torn eastern Mediterranean island. Tartar spoke after defeating incumbent left-wing President Mustafa Akinci in a ballot.
“It will not be difficult to reach an agreement at the negotiating table if our Greek and Greek Cypriot friends properly analyze the strategic, economic and social balances in our region,”
“They should know that if these uncompromising attitudes continue, we won’t give up our rights.”
Tatar also urged the European Union and the United Nations to be “fair” and change course on how to assist the negotiations because their previous approach has failed.
“You will no longer ignore the rights of the Turkish Cypriot people,” Tatar said.
Cyprus was divided in 1974 when Turkey invaded after a coup by supporters of union with Greece. Only Turkey recognizes a separatist Turkish Cypriot state in the north that is economically and militarily dependent on Ankara. The internationally recognized island government is based in the Greek Cypriot south and is part of the European Union of 27 nations.
Tatar, a 60-year-old scion of Turkish Cypriot political leaders, beat Akinci in the tightly contested ballot that was plagued by allegations of “unprecedented” interference by Turkey in an effort to rally votes for the challenger.
Turkish Cypriot broadcaster BRT says that with 100% of the votes counted, Tartar secured 51.74% of the votes compared to Akinci’s 48.26%.
Akinci, 72, a champion of Turkish Cypriots who oppose Turkey’s complete domination of their affairs and a supporter of a federal agreement with the Greek Cypriots, admitted defeat to the Tartar in a speech to supporters at the headquarters of the his campaign, congratulating his opponent on his victory.
“We faced an electoral contest that wasn’t normal … These results mark the end of my 45-year political career,” Akinci said. “I wish our people good luck.”
Tatar criticized those he said “accusing the motherland of turning elections into a political tool” and expressed pride that “Turkey is always on our side”.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan used his official Twitter account to congratulate Tatar on his electoral victory.
“Turkey will continue to make all necessary efforts to defend the rights of the Turkish Cypriot people,” Erdogan said.
Nearly fifty years of the United Nations’ facilitated efforts to achieve reunification based on a federal framework have failed.
UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres should soon call a meeting to bring together the two sides and the “guarantors” of Cyprus – Greece, Turkey and Great Britain – to assess the possibility of resuming talks.
The restart of negotiations could help alleviate growing tensions in the waters off Greece and Cyprus over maritime borders and energy exploration rights after Turkey redeployed a research vessel near the Greek island of Kastellorizo.
Turkey insists that it has every legal right to search for hydrocarbons in the waters where Greece and Cyprus claim exclusive economic rights. The Greek and Cypriot governments accuse Turkey of violating international law. The dispute has raised fears of a military conflict between Greece and Turkey, which are NATO members but are strong regional rivals.
Tatar told The Associated Press in an interview last month that tensions would fade if the Greek Cypriots agreed to share Cyprus’ territorial waters and drilling rights with the Turkish Cypriots before formal peace talks resume.
It also shares the Turkish government’s view that a federation may not be the most viable option and alternatives such as a two-state agreement should be pursued.
Earlier this month, Turkish Foreign Ministry spokesman Hami Aksoy said Ankara would not engage in peace talks if the Greek Cypriots did not agree in advance to share decision-making powers equally with the Turkish Cypriot minority at all. levels of a planned federal government. He said the alternative would be to start talks on a two-state deal.
Analyst Tumay Tugyan said he expects peace talks to become noticeably more complex with Tatar now at the helm.
But he said the Turkish Cypriot side had been committed to a federal model in previous rounds of talks and that it would be difficult to shift that basis to something else.
Tugyan said what will change considerably is the relationship of the Turkish Cypriots with Turkey, whose “interference” in their affairs “would become tougher than ever”.