Cyprus reunification talks suffered another hit on Wednesday after reports the Turkish Cypriot side refused to join this week’s meeting in an escalating row that opened old wounds over past Greek Cypriot ambitions to unite with Greece.
Greek Cypriot leader Nicos Anastasiades expressed regret that Turkish Cypriot leader Mustafa Akinci told United Nations officials that he won’t attend Thursday’s meeting. Yet, he affirmed that he remained ready to return to the table.
“I regret the decision of Mr. Akinci not to attend the meeting tomorrow. I am ready to continue the dialogue at any time,” he said on Twitter.
Talks between Anastasiades and Akinci were abruptly interrupted last week over a decision taken by Greek Cypriot lawmakers to honor the 1950 “enosis” referendum seeking union with Greece.
Enosis, as a notion, was abandoned by Greek Cypriots decades ago, but the decision to commemorate the date in schools touched a raw nerve with Turkish Cypriots who say that ambition was the source of division.
Akinci and Anastasiades, engaged in peace talks for almost two years, were scheduled to meet once a week, with the next meeting planned for Thursday. But Akinci will not now be attending, Greek Cypriot officials and Turkey’s NTV channel said.
There was no immediate response from the Turkish Cypriot side, which had been demanding the parliament vote be rescinded, saying it displayed gross insensitivity to concerns of their community.
Anastasiades, who runs an executive government, has distanced himself from parliament, conceding the vote was ill-timed, wrong and meaningless. But he has also said the Turkish Cypriot side overreacted.
Turkish Cypriots maintain the drive for union with Greece was a key source of tension which spilled over into fighting, driving the wedge which still exists between the two communities today.
The two sides had been making progress in talks to reunite Cyprus as a bizonal, bicommunal federation, but the plebiscite row underscored how fragile any progress is.
The unofficial referendum, in which only Greek Cypriots voted and was carried by more than 95 percent in favor, presaged by more than 20 years the violent division of the island between ethnic Greeks and Turks. It was not recognized by Britain, which was Cyprus’s colonial ruler at the time.
Cyprus was split in 1974 when Turkey invaded after a coup by supporters of union with Greece. More than 35,000 troops are stationed in the island’s north where Turkish Cypriots have declared a breakaway state recognized only by Turkey.
The Feb. 9 motion by parliament was submitted by a small Greek Cypriot party with ties to Greece’s Golden Dawn far-right party.
Although the left wing main opposition party voted against it, an abstention by Anastasiades’s Conservative party meant it got through, with votes from parties which have expressed misgivings about progress in talks.