Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has ruled out a 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 comments while attending commemorations marking the 1974 Turkish invasion of the now-divided island.
Turkish Cypriots on Tuesday celebrated the 47th anniversary of Turkey's invasion of Cyprus, prompted by a Greek-inspired coup on the island. Despite ongoing reunification efforts by the United Nations, the island has remained divided between Greek and Turkish Cypriots.
Erdogan, speaking at the commemorations, blamed Greek Cypriots for the failed reunification effort and called for a new approach.
He said a new negotiation process on Cyprus can only be carried out between the two states, adding, that first, the Turkish Cypriots' sovereign equality and equal status should be confirmed, which he said is the key to the solution.
Ankara only recognizes the Turkish Cypriot state, while much of the rest of the world recognizes the Greek Cypriot administration.
The European Union, which includes Cyprus, vehemently opposes any move to recognize the Turkish Cypriot state. But political scientist Cengiz Aktar of Athens University says Erdogan's stance is unlikely to result in any repercussions from the EU.
“Athens and Cyprus both will bring [up] the issue to 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 appease Ankara since years [ago],” Aktar said.
Erdogan also attacked the United States and the EU, accusing them of conspiring against the Turkish Cypriots.
The EU and Washington say they are committed to backing U.N. efforts for a reunified island that protects the rights of both communities.
Huseyin Bagci, head of the Ankara-based Foreign Affairs Institute, says Turkey will step up its efforts to secure international recognition for the Turkish Cypriots.
“Erdogan is not interested that the status quo continue. This is another card which he will play internationally. We will see how many countries would accept his statement, a two-state solution. There will be countries like Azerbaijan, like Bangladesh, probably Pakistan will recognize [it],” Bagci said.
Tensions over Cyprus could further escalate with Erdogan accusing Greek Cypriots of exploring for energy in waters contested by Turkish Cypriots. The region is believed to have vast untapped natural gas reserves.
Washington and the EU have sought to defuse tensions as Greek and Turkish navies faced off over contested waters. However, Aktar warns Ankara's increasingly forceful stance will add to growing tensions in the region, risking further isolating Turkey.
“There is a gas forum which 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 a factor behind Erdogan's stance.
With support falling due to a lagging economy, analysts say the Turkish president is betting that a tough stance on Cyprus will play well with his Turkish nationalist voting base.