Erdogan calls for Cyprus to be permanently split in two at controversial picnic in no-man's land

Our Foreign Staff
·2 min read
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan (L) and Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus President Ersin Tatar (R) greet citizens during the ceremonies on November 15, 2020.  - Mustafa Kamaci/Anadolu Agency
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan (L) and Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus President Ersin Tatar (R) greet citizens during the ceremonies on November 15, 2020. - Mustafa Kamaci/Anadolu Agency

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said Sunday he favours a permanent division of Cyprus into two states.

The comments were made during a visit to the breakaway Turkish-held north of the island, decried as a “provocation” by the internationally-recognised Greek-speaking south.

It marks a further setback to hopes for an eventual reunification of the Mediterranean island which is split between EU member the Republic of Cyprus, which controls the island's southern two thirds, and the north occupied by Turkey since 1974.

“There are two peoples and two separate states in Cyprus,” said Mr Erdogan. “There must be talks for a solution on the basis of two separate states.”

During his visit, Turkish jets left vapour trails in the sky in the shape of the star and crescent of the Turkish flag - mirroring a huge flag painted decades ago on a rocky mountainside in the north.

Mr Erdogan's visit to the Turkish-held statelet recognised only by Ankara comes amid heightened tensions on the island and in the Eastern Mediterranean and was condemned as a “provocation without precedent” by the Republic of Cyprus.

Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan and Turkish Cypriot leader Ersin Tatar attend a ceremony marking the 37th anniversary of the Declaration of Independence of the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus - Handout
Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan and Turkish Cypriot leader Ersin Tatar attend a ceremony marking the 37th anniversary of the Declaration of Independence of the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus - Handout

His trip marked the 37th anniversary of the self-proclaimed Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus (TRNC) where an estimated 30,000 Turkish troops are stationed.

The Turkish president was later to attend a “picnic” in the disputed beachfront area of Varosha along the UN buffer zone that has divided the island since Turkey's invasion.

Varosha - once the playground of celebrities and dubbed a “Jewel of the Mediterranean” - has since been a fenced off ghost town, where former luxury hotels and restaurants have fallen into disrepair and overgrown by weeds.

Turkish troops partially reopened the seafront of Varosha on October 8, sparking international criticism. The last UN-sponsored peace talks, based on a reunification of the island, failed in 2017.

An eventual reunification has looked more remote since an Erdogan-backed Turkish nationalist, Ersin Tatar, was elected leader of the north last month. Unlike his predecessor, Mustafa Akinci, who advocated reunification in the form of a federal state, Mr Tatar also favours a two-state solution.

The 1974 Turkish invasion was launched in response to an Athens-engineered coup in Nicosia designed to unify Cyprus with Greece, and was followed on November 15, 1983 by the declaration of the TRNC. Mr Erdogan insisted Sunday that “the only victims in the Cyprus issue are the Turkish Cypriots whose rights and existence have been ignored for years”.