A war of words has broken out in Cyprus as the two ethnic communities of the divided island exchange pikes over the decision of the Greek Cypriot government to cancel the passports of senior Turkish Cypriot officials.
Ersin Tatar, who heads the Turkish-controlled north and is among those affected, described the policy as “an assault” against attempts to find a solution to the partition of the country. Previously, he had called the movement “racist” and “anachronistic”.
“The Turkish Cypriot people owe no allegiance to the Greek Cypriot administration and some Turkish Cypriots use this travel document out of necessity, without prejudice to their inherent sovereign rights to equality,” he told the Guardian. “The exploitation of this issue by the Greek Cypriot side is an affront… and an attack on the efforts to find a settlement. “
Tatar, who was born in 1960 when the former British colony gained independence, has long held a Cypriot passport although he has expressed his refusal to recognize the republic as a legitimate state.
After decades of unsuccessful attempts at reunification, the self-proclaimed nationalist has raised the bar, pushing for a two-state solution to the partition of the Mediterranean island.
Cyprus has been divided since 1974, when an Athens-backed coup aimed at union with Greece prompted Turkey to invade it. Barbed wire and trenches cut through the heart of Nicosia, the only EU capital to remain divided.
Last month, with backing from Ankara, Tatar announced that his self-proclaimed administration would go ahead with plans to open part of the cordoned off town of Varosha, abandoned by the Greek Cypriots as Turkish troops advanced but a key element of the peace talks since. Turkey, which openly defended the election of the hard line – to the dismay of the moderates who support a bi-zonal and bi-communal federation – is the only country to recognize the separatist territory.
The internationally recognized Greek Cypriot government announced the disputed decision on Monday, arguing that the actions of the targeted Turkish Cypriots undermined the country’s integrity.
“With their actions and their actions, they undermine the sovereignty, independence, territorial integrity and security of the Republic of Cyprus,” said its spokesperson, Marios Pelekanos, adding that the authorities revoke, not renew or refuse to issue the passports of 14 people who participated. in the “pseudo-state cabinet” or participated in efforts to reopen Varosha.
President Nicos Anastasiades dismissed accusations of discrimination claiming that the Republic of Cyprus had issued 97,000 passports and over 110,000 identity cards to Turkish Cypriots “with regard to [their] rights ”and confirming their Cypriot citizenship.
In a written statement, the Greek Cypriot leader made it clear that the policy would only affect “a limited number” of people: “Mr Tatar claims the decision is racist and allegedly violates rights. of man since [it] discriminates against citizens. In response, I would like to remind Mr. Tatar that he himself, in public statements, said: “We are a different race. We speak Turkish, our religion is Islam, our homeland is Turkey, ”the president noted. “The revocation of passports strictly concerns a limited number of individuals who undermine the independence, sovereignty and status of the Republic of Cyprus by their actions and not, of course, all of our Turkish Cypriot compatriots. “
But Anastasiades also faces growing criticism from Greek Cypriots. The main left-wing opposition party Akel has called the move a populist move from a government still reeling from revelations that it has earned billions of euros through a citizenship program which, before being dismantled, had sold thousands of passports to people determined to acquire European citizenship, including Russian oligarchs and corrupt politicians.
“Instead of the president concentrating on resuming negotiations, he is engaging in a game of statements and impressions with Turkish Cypriot leader Ersin Tatar,” the party spokesman said on Thursday. “The only thing Mr. Anastasiades realizes is the strengthening of the impasse of the Cyprus problem which is the butter on the breadcrumbs of Turkey’s dichotomous policy. “
In a tweet, former Cypriot Foreign Minister and long-time diplomat Erato Kozakou-Marcoullis denounced the policy as “short-sighted and impulsive” saying: “They are suppressing the only evidence that regime officials subordinate to Turkey recognize the Republic of Cyprus. ”
Talks aimed at reconciliation collapsed in July 2017, with an attempt to find common ground to relaunch the process was unsuccessful earlier this year. Supportive reunification groups have described the controversial move as a decision to tit for tat aimed at pleasing nationalists, which would end up hurting all Cypriots.
“The deterioration of the status quo in Cyprus not only deepens the rift but also draws us into uncharted waters of uncertainty and instability,” UniteCyprusNow said.
“While the Turkish Cypriot leader and the Turkish-backed coalition clearly violate UN Security Council resolutions by attempting to open the fenced town of Varosha… the decision to revoke the Republic of Cyprus passports provides ammunition to supporters of separation in Cyprus and sets a dangerous precedent for the future.