European court's ruling impacts Cyprus-Turkey relations


Experts say the fine imposed upon Turkey could undermine reconciliation efforts on the island.

By Menekse Tokyay for SETimes in Istanbul -- 06/06/14


Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu said Ankara does not consider the European court's ruling to be binding. [AFP]

While Ankara has criticised a recent European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) ruling that Turkey infringed on human rights agreements during the 1974 conflict in Cyprus, experts say officials on both sides should remain focused on reconciliation efforts.

The court ordered Turkey to pay 30 million euros to the living relatives of nearly 1,500 Greek Cypriots who have been missing since 1974 and 60 million euros for damages to "the enclaved Greek Cypriots in the Karpas peninsula" in northern Cyprus. The island has remained divided for four decades.

Turkey refused to pay the fine on the grounds that it does not consider Greek Cyprus as a state and a counterpart.

"Considering the grounds of this ruling, its method and the international law, and the fact that it is considering a country that Turkey does not recognise as a counterpart, we consider it not binding and we see no obligation to make this payment," Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu told reporters.

The Council of Europe's Ministerial Committee has the power to issue a condemnation if the fine is not paid. Ankara is expected to inform the court of its reasons for disregarding the payment, according to media reports.

Davutoglu also criticised the decision for not taking into consideration the missing Turkish Cypriots who disappeared during the same period.

Since 1981, there has been a committee for missing persons in Cyprus, which includes members of the Turkish and Greek Cypriot communities. According to the committee, there are nearly 500 missing Turkish Cypriots.

EU Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu expressed concern that the ECHR ruling is likely to have a negative impact on the island's reunification talks.

"All decisions related to Cyprus have a political result and political ramification. Especially in a conjuncture where there are some positive developments in Cyprus negotiations, we hope that this ruling does not harm them," Cavusoglu told Anadolu Agency on May 13th.

Didem Akyel Collinsworth, a Cyprus analyst at the International Crisis Group, said the fine is only a fraction of the overall costs to Turkey of an unresolved Cyprus problem.

"These include at the very least, from a financial perspective, decades of military spending and hundreds of millions in assistance to Turkish Cypriots every year, not to mention the political costs," Collinsworth told SETimes. "It is therefore a reminder that the problem remains an expensive one and will not go away."

Collinsworth added that Turkish statements do not amount to a "refusal" but rather that they have been dismissive of the judgment.

"That does not mean that they will not pay it down the line, and with interest, as they have done before with other ECHR rulings arising from the Cyprus problem," she said.

Ahmet Sozen, chair of the department of political science and international relations at Eastern Mediterranean University in Cyprus, said it would not be surprising if Ankara does not move quickly to pay the fine.

"Turkey, under the ruling AKP government, has made several positive improvements in Cyprus regarding the conditions of the Greek Cypriots who live in Karpaz, as well as positive co-operation with the UN on the issue of the missing persons -- the two issues that the court found Turkey guilty of," Sozen told SETimes.

The most significant improvement came in 2008 when restrictions for crossing the UN buffer zone between the Greek and Turkish communities of the island were relaxed, providing Greek Cypriots in Karpaz free movement and ending their isolation. The AKP government also supported the UN Annan plan in 2004, which attempted to unify the island prior to EU accession. A referendum on the plan failed to win support, with 75 percent of Greek Cypriots voting against it.

However, Sozen added, the timing of the court decision is telling.

"The decision came in a very important period where international encouragement to solve the Cyprus issue has made a peak," Sozen said, pointing to US Vice President Joe Biden's recent visit to the island, during which Biden told reporters that reunifying Cyprus would be "an important focus of conversations."

Sozen said he does not expect to see short-term ramifications of Turkey's response to the ECHR ruling.

"However, if the Cyprus issue continues to be unresolved, then in the long run this decision will have negative impact on the relations of Turkey with both the EU and the Council of Europe," he added.

Praxoula Antoniadou Kyriacou, former minister of Commerce, Industry and Tourism in the Republic of Cyprus, said trying to resolve the Cyprus issue through the lenses of the past will lead to the perpetuation of the problem, at a cost to all involved.

"What is needed is a forward-looking approach and political will on all parts of the equation to move toward a win-win outcome where Cyprus will be reunited, relations between Cyprus and Turkey will have normalised, Turkey's accession to the EU will be facilitated and energy will be flowing unhindered, fuelling the economy of the whole of Cyprus and supplying both neighbouring countries and our European Union family," Kyriacou told SETimes.

Justice and Development Party Istanbul deputy Bulent Turan told SETimes that the ECHR ruling lacks goodwill, and risks bringing further barriers before the reconciliation in the island.

He added that he was hopeful that Cypriots on both sides, Greece and the EU would make further efforts toward responsible action.

"Peace can only be established not by one-sided evaluations about the common sufferings that everybody lived, but rather it should be built on the basis of benefits coming from a common living in the future," Turan said.

Kyriacou said that after a four-decade dispute both sides need to be convinced that a proposed solution would actually move toward a win-win outcome.

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"Confidence-building measures will be highly conducive in this direction," she said.

As an example, Kyriacou said the United Democrats party of Cyprus and the European Parliament's Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe have proposed the return of Varosha to its owners in association with the opening of the Famagusta port, Ercan airport, the opening of ports in Turkey to Cypriot vessels, and the opening of accession negotiation chapters for Turkey.

"We all now have an opportunity of resolving the political problems of the past, so that we can jointly and through peaceful co-operation address the opportunities that lie ahead," Kyriacou added. "The choice away from war, destruction and mistrust toward peaceful co-operation, economic growth, employment and prosperity should be obvious."

What are the best diplomatic strategies for resolving the Cyprus dispute? Share your thoughts in the comments section.

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