UN envoy Barth Espen Eide is leaving his position in Cyprus after a well-intended effort to bring the two sides together and reach a new agreement with Cyprus’ guarantors. Like most of the UN negotiators, he became a target for resentment, with the sides accusing him of being biased. Most recently, Greek FM Kotzias asked him to leave amid increasing distrust between Turkey and its neighbors. Turkey’s populist leader Erdogan is unpredictable. Each day his popularity with the EU is eroded over human rights abuses and repression of the media. Erdogan has refused to end the state of emergency that was started a year ago in the wake of the attempted coup, all the while gathering more political powers in his hands. Nobody wants a Turkey with more power, especially Greece and Cyprus.
Eide replaced the much more unpopular Downer, whose style was to try and force goodwill. The bluff school of ‘let’s all shake hands and put things in the past’ simply doesn’t work in this part of the world. The Cyprus problem is multi-layered. It’s made up of Turkey’s occupation; the estranged communities; the weight of historical rivalries between Greece and Turkey; and a tangle of legal complexities. Experienced diplomats tiptoe around the issues like ballerinas, and the UN is in the most delicate of positions – the peacemaker with guns pointed at their heads from all sides.
Antonio Guterres should try another tack. Appoint the right woman as his chief envoy in Cyprus. Our societies are matriarchal, even though on the surface they appear patriarchal. A woman could really get everyone on the same page, especially if she has a good level of emotional sensitivity. Introducing the soft line may replace the hard line. It’s actually a good time for this, because the organic solution is advancing. Nicosia, for example, is more and more integrated. Turkish-Cypriot residents are commonplace. A peace movement is going in the right direction.
It’s been said that there are not enough women in the negotiations, and it’s true. Yet they can make an immense difference. Salpy Eskidjian brought five religious leaders together in an incredible feat of diplomacy – all because she has a good heart and a lot of patience. She is just one example.
While the UN is doing the hard work of bringing the sides to the table, it is also taking all the flack when things go wrong. That’s just part of their job, but it interferes with clear thinking and planning. Little work has been done on a truth and reconciliation board with the Republic of Cyprus. So many more integration projects could be going on between the communities. It’s a shame to think of all the initiatives that could be launched and just sit on the shelf because of all the political posturing that undermines them. The right female envoy could have the ability to calm things down and get people thinking along constructive and reconciliatory lines.
Yes, there is the potential for it to go horribly wrong, there is always that potential. That’s no reason to give up or to keep thinking conventionally.
It is 2017, after all.