Erdogan takes Northern Cyprus: the first step in his Risiko in the Eastern Mediterranean

Old Mustafa Akinci took leave of his supporters and said goodbye to politics. “This for me is the departure from the scene,” said the defeated president of the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus. He admitted the victory of rival Ersin Tatar and paid him his compliments, but one last lash was granted: “These were not normal elections”, he said.

The abnormality for Akinci – the old lion of negotiations with the Greek Cypriots, always one step away from obtaining peace for the tormented island, but always unable to tear it away – is called Erdogan. The Turkish president by securing Tatar at the head of Northern Cyprus – recognized as a state only by Ankara – has put in place a first piece of his Risiko in the eastern Mediterranean.

Akinci denounced “mafia” pressure from Turkish emissaries. But aside from the actions in the shadows, it was Erdogan’s moves in the light of the sun that tipped the balance of consensus – “surprisingly” local reports say – towards Tatar. The latest and most blatant was the invitation to the candidate of the Turkish Cypriot populist right to have him announce at his side the provocative opening of the beach of Varosha, not far from Famagusta. The beach of Saint Tropez in Cyprus for 46 years has been fenced off by the military and surrounded by hotels that were hastily abandoned in 1974 by the Greek Cypriots. A ghost town that symbolizes the wounds of this disputed island.

Erdogan Akinci hadn’t liked him for a long time. And the Turkish Cypriot president’s criticism of the Turkish military operations in Afrin, Syria, certainly did not help relations between the two. Tatar, on the other hand, is a very loyal one. Sixty years old, he studied in Cambridge, he was coordinator of the television chain Show Tv in Istanbul. He also created his own TV in Northern Cyprus, before embarking on politics in 2003.

“What will happen now?” Sighs on the phone Kemal Baykalli, pacifist from UniteCyprusNow, who eagerly supported Akinci’s candidacy from the microphones of the podcast in three languages ​​Island Talks. “First of all it is clear that by now the voice of the Turkish Cypriots will no longer matter. The decisions will be made in Turkey ”.

Many explain Tatar’s victory with 51.7% of the votes against the 48.3% of the outgoing president with the demographic alchemies in the north of the island of which Ankara is always the author: over the years massive immigration has been encouraged by the Turkey which has radically changed the face of the community, tarnishing its traditional secularism, for example. For Mete Hatay, political scientist at the bi-community research center Prio, the votes of Turkish settlers (equal to about 30% of the electorate) have really moved the needle, especially in rural areas. Baykal warns: “Not only in the countryside, but also in many urban areas, the vote of the most disadvantaged classes was ‘bought’ in the second round”. The turnout between the first round and the second round jumped from 58% to 67%.

The inauguration of a 100-seat hospital paid for by Turkey for Covid patients also weighed.

Some now even fear an annexation of the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus to Turkey. But for analysts, at the stadium this would be a difficult bite too much for the nationalists to swallow, the very ones who voted for Tatar.

The appointment with the United Nations is approaching. After the elections, the UN Secretary General Guterres hoped to be able to revive the old dream of peace with the agreement for a federation between the two communities. Akinci was the man of this project. “But it paid for the failure of the 2017 negotiations in Crans Montana, even though it was actually the Greek Cypriots who pulled back,” Baykalli says. Tatar has already announced that he is willing to negotiate. But for him the solution is not a federation, but two distinct states. “We will return to negotiate when necessary – underlined the new president shortly after the victory – but without compromising on sovereignty”.

Erdogan on Sunday evening pledged to work with Tatar to resolve the “Cypriot question”. But it is clear that Ankara will play the island question on the wider chessboard of confrontation with Europe and Greece. The research ship Oruc Reis has returned to cross in the eastern Mediterranean and Turkey intends not to give up its claims for the exploitation of gas and other resources hidden under the waters. The tension with Athens remains high and the Turks are also playing with the refugees’ weapon. Athens yesterday announced the extension of the wall on the northeastern border with Turkey.

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