NICOSIA, Cyprus (AP) – A hardliner who won a Turkish Cypriot leadership election said Sunday he is ready to resume dormant talks aimed at ending Cyprus’s 46-year-old ethnic division as long as rival Greek Cypriots arrive to seize the regional power of Turkey.
Ersin Tatar, who is in favor of fully adapting Turkish Cypriot policy to regional protector Turkey, said any peace agreement should take into account the “realities” in and around the war-torn eastern Mediterranean island. Tatar spoke after defeating left-wing incumbent Mustafa Akinci in a runoff.
“It will not be difficult to reach an agreement at the negotiating table if our friends, the Greeks and the Greek Cypriots correctly analyze the strategic, economic and social balance of our region,”
“They should know that if they continue these irreconcilable attitudes, we will not give up our rights.”
The Tatar also called on the European Union and the United Nations to be “fair” and change thanks for helping negotiations because their previous approach has failed.
“You will no longer ignore the rights of the Turkish Cypriot people,” Tatar said.
Cyprus was divided in 1974 when Turkey invaded after a coup by supporters of union with Greece. Only Turkey recognizes an erupting Turkish Cypriot state in the north that is economically and militarily dependent on Ankara. The island’s internationally recognized government is based in the Greek Cypriot south and is part of the European Union’s 27 nations.
Tatar, a 60-year-old spy by Turkish Cypriot political leaders, beat Akinci in the hotly contested runoff, which was hit by accusations of “unprecedented” interference from Turkey in an attempt to round up votes for the challenger.
The Turkish Cypriot television company BRT says that with 100% of the votes counted, Tatar secured 51.74% of the votes compared to 48.26% for Akinci.
Akinci, 72, a champion of Turkish Cypriots who oppose Turkey’s complete dominance of their affairs and a supporter of a federal agreement with Greek Cypriots, admitted defeat against the Tatar in a speech to supporters at his campaign headquarters and congratulated his opponent the victory.
“We went through an election contest that was not normal … These results mark the end of my 45-year political career,” Akinci said. “I wish good luck to our people.”
Tatar criticized those he said “accused the motherland of making the election a political tool” and expressed pride that “Turkey always stands by our side.”
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan took to his official Twitter account to congratulate Tatar on his victory in the election.
“Turkey will continue its efforts to defend the rights of the Turkish Cypriot people,” Erdogan said.
Nearly five decades of UN-led attempts to achieve reunification based on a federal framework have failed.
UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres is expected to convene a meeting soon to bring the two sides together and Cyprus’ “guarantors” – Greece, Turkey and Britain – to seize the opportunity to resume talks.
A restart of the negotiations could help ease the soaring tensions in the waters off Greece and Cyprus across sea borders and energy exploration rights, after Turkey relocated a research vessel near the Greek island of Kastellorizo.
Turkey insists that it has every legal right to search for hydrocarbons in waters where Greece and Cyprus claim exclusive economic rights. The Greek and Cypriot governments accuse Turkey of violating international law. The dispute raised fears of a military conflict between Greece and Turkey, which are NATO members but are strong regional rivals.
The Tatar told the Associated Press in an interview last month that tensions would disappear if Greek Cypriots agreed to divide Cyprus’ territorial waters and drilling rights with Turkish Cypriots before resuming formal peace talks.
He also shares the Turkish government’s view that a federation may not be the most sustainable solution and that alternatives such as a two-state agreement should be pursued.
Earlier this month, Turkish Foreign Ministry spokesman Hami Aksoy said Ankara would not take part in peace talks if the Greek Cypriots do not preventively agree to share decision-making power with the Turkish Cypriot minority at all levels of an imaginary federal government. He said the alternative would be to start negotiations on a two-state agreement.
Analyst Tumay Tugyan said she expects peace talks to become significantly more complex with Tatars now at the helm.
But she said the Turkish Cypriot side had committed to a federal model in previous rounds of negotiations and that it would be difficult to shift that basis to anything else.
Tugyan said what will noticeably change is the Turkish Cypriots’ relationship with Turkey, if “interference” in their affairs “would be tougher than ever before.”