World Bulletin / News Desk
Cyprus and its decades-old unsolved ethnic conflict has been described as ‘a graveyard for diplomats,’ as history has endured many failed attempts to bring harmony to the island.
More recently however, Turkish and Greek Cypriot leaders there have not only been discussing security, territory, property and energy resources but even agreeing on somewhat less-critical disputes, like the origin of the local hellim [or halloumi] cheese.
Now, despite decades of division, the chances of a united Cyprus are “very real,” says an Istanbul-based Greek expert ahead of the 41st anniversary of Turkey’s 1974 military intervention into the conflict.
Turkish and Greek Cypriot business people have already begun to communicate ahead of possible cooperation.
Cyprus Turkish Businessmen’s Association head Huseyin Metin Sadi told Anadolu Agency that a new platform to encourage trade ties between the two sides had been established and would be announced at the end of July.
Cooperation with the Greek Cypriot Employers’ and Industrialists’ Federation is expected to focus on tourism as well as some infrastructure works, he added.
"The interest in the divided, troubled, unstable island did not bring the prosperity to Cyprus or islanders which they deserved," he said, adding: "Unless Turkish Cypriot people and the land they live in enter into international law, any development on the island is not satisfactory."
Cyprus was divided into two after a 1974 coup by Greek Cypriots that was followed by the intervention of Turkey as a guarantor state.
The Turkish Cypriot government -- in the island’s northern third -- is only recognized by Ankara. The Greek Cypriot government, an EU member since 2004, is recognized internationally.
The Turkish side declared its independence in 1983.
Possible offshore energy resources are one of the hot topics at the negotiating table.
However, Dimitrios Triantaphyllou claims that energy is not affecting the current talks because "the estimates for the natural gas finds off Cyprus have been significantly reduced".
"Major companies are not interested in investing as they feel they would not get value for their money," he adds: "It has also meant that neighboring countries like Turkey or Israel are not willing to contest the rights of transit and therefore create friction with each other."
Integration between Ankara and the Turkish Cypriot capital of Lefkosa, transporting energy via Greece and Bulgaria to Europe, would reduce Europe’s dependency on Russia for natural gas.
"The energy issue will undoubtedly become a factor at some stage," Triantaphyllou adds.
The U.S.-backed talks -- accompanied by an official visit from U.S. Vice-President Joe Biden -- gained momentum after April’s presidential election in the TRNC.
The election of 67-year-old Akinci kick-started talks with his Greek counterpart Nicos Anastasiades, 68, both from Limassol, a city on the southern coast of Greek-administered Cyprus.
"There has been a discourse change with [the election of] Akinci," says Turkish Cypriot expert Hasguler: "His discourse is about solution and he created a positive tune in the south of island, the north, Turkey and the international community."
Not all felt this "positive tune". Akinci’s election saw an early, sharp and high-profile spat with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. Erdogan and Akinci will come face-to-face again on Monday, when the Turkish leader visits the island to mark the 41st anniversary of Operation Atilla.
In addition, the sudden and dramatic resignation of TRNC Prime Minister Ozkan Yorgancioglu earlier in July has called into question political stability in the northern part of the island. A new TRNC coalition cabinet was unveiled Friday, to be led by Omer Kalyoncu.
According to Triantaphyllou, there are two major factors that have contributed to the positive atmosphere in ethnically split Cyprus.
“The first has to do with the personalities and commitments to the resolution of the Cyprus question by both Akinci and Anastasiades,” he says: “Akinci had shown his intentions a long time ago when he was mayor of Lefkosa [the Turkish Cypriot half of the Greek Cypriot capital of Nicosia].
Akinci had cooperated with his Greek Cypriot mayoral counterpart Lellos Demetriades while working across the dividing line -- and against the wishes of the leaders of the two communities at the time -- to resolve water and sewage issues, says Triantaphyllou.
He adds that Anastasiades had always been in favor of reaching out to the Turkish Cypriots and favored the Annan Plan although his party was opposed to it.
The Annan Plan, designed by former UN secretary-general Kofi Annan, proposed to reunify the island in 2004.
Although Turkish Cyprus voted for the peace deal, it was rejected by 76% of Greek Cypriots in a separate ballot.
The second factor behind the improved climate is the growing mass of Greek and Turkish Cypriots that have been working together and interacting at civil society level since the Green Line was opened in 2003, says Triantaphyllou.
Border gates between the Turkish and Greek sides were opened in April 2003.
Akinci and Anastasiades are expected to meet again on July 27; they could be closer than ever to deciding the fate of the divided island.