LONDON - Turkey’s prospects of joining the European Union seem remote after the bloc this week criticized Ankara’s crackdown following the attempted coup in July. Turkey's actions are also impacting the talks continuing in Switzerland over the reunification of Cyprus, which has been divided since Turkey invaded in 1974, in response to a Greek military coup aimed at uniting Cyprus with Greece. There are growing concerns that Turkey may fully annex the north of the island.
In the arid, sun-baked hills outside Nicosia, Soteris Antoniou and Kutret Balci carefully remove the top layers of their hives to check the progress of their latest project.
The two men are from opposite sides of a divided island. But they are trying to solve a common problem. The Caucasian queen bee — widely used in honey production — can’t cope with Cyprus’s scorching summers. So they're trying to breed a new, more hardy queen, as Greek Cypriot Soteris Antoniou explains.
“I cooperate with my friend, Turkish Cypriot Kutret Balci, exchange ideas and we try to make the best bees,” said Antoniou.
Antoniou and Balci hope their cross-border collaboration will be mirrored in the island’s politics.
The United Nations has described the Switzerland summit between the leaders of the two communities as the last chance for a generation to achieve a peace deal to end decades of division on the island. Cyprus expert James Ker-Lindsay of the London School of Economics says the stakes are even higher.
“In fact I’d go even further, I’d say this is probably the last chance ever," said Ker-Lindsay.
Hundreds of thousands of Greek Cypriots fled their homes when Turkey invaded the north in 1974. They – and their descendants – want to return home.
“So it’s a question of how do you give back enough territory as possible to get people there but also allow the Turkish Cypriots to have their own viable state if you like within a federation," said Ker-Lindsay.
The Turkish Cypriot leader has warned that Ankara may annex the north if the current talks fail. Ker-Lindsay says Turkey may take lessons from Russia.
“The price it’s paid effectively for annexing Crimea has been relatively low, all things considered," said Ker-Lindsay. "And I think that there is every opportunity that Turkey would look at that and say, ‘Well why don’t we just do the same?’”
Turkey’s ambitions to join the European Union had been seen as an incentive for Ankara to compromise on Cyprus. But this week the bloc strongly criticized Turkey’s crackdown following July’s attempted coup, raising the stakes for the reunification talks even higher.