Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said he favors a permanent “two-state” division of Cyprus during a visit on Sunday to the breakaway Turkish-held north condemned as a provocation by the internationally recognized Greek-speaking south.
Erdogan also visited the beachfront area of Varosha in the north, a one-time luxury resort turned ghost town along the UN buffer zone that has split the Mediterranean island since Turkey’s 1974 invasion of the north.
“There are two peoples and two separate states in Cyprus,” Erdogan said after arriving for the 37th anniversary of the self-proclaimed Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus (TNRC), which is recognized only by Ankara.
“There must be talks for a solution on the basis of two separate states,” he said.
Commenting on previous, failed UN-led efforts to reunify the island as a bi-communal federal state, Erdogan used the phrase “You can’t dry today’s laundry in yesterday’s sun.”
The comments marked a further setback to hopes for an eventual reunification of the island — split between EU-member the Republic of Cyprus, which controls the island’s southern two thirds, and the north, occupied by Turkey.
EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Josep Borrell criticized the Turkish leader’s visit.
“The EU’s message is very clear: There is no alternative to a comprehensive settlement of the Cyprus problem other than on the basis of relevant UN Security Council Resolutions,” Borrell said in a statement.
“In this respect we deplore today’s actions regarding” Varosha and “statements contradicting the UN principles for a settlement of the Cyprus question. They will cause greater distrust and tension in the region and should be urgently reversed,” he added.
During Erdogan’s visit, Turkish jets left vapor 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.
In the south, Greek Cypriots demonstrated against his visit at a checkpoint along the UN-patrolled Green Line.
Erdogan’s visit came amid heightened tensions on the island and in the Eastern Mediterranean and was condemned as a “provocation without precedent” by the Republic of Cyprus.
Reunification has looked more remote since an Erdogan-backed Turkish nationalist, Ersin Tatar, was last month elected leader of the north.
Unlike his predecessor, Mustafa Akinci, who advocated reunification in the form of a federal state, Tatar favors a two-state solution.
The last UN-sponsored peace talks, based on a reunification of the island, failed in 2017.
Erdogan’s visit came as Turkey has openly sparred with neighbours Greece and Cyprus over maritime territories believed to hold vast gas deposits.
“We will continue our seismic research and drilling activities in the Eastern Mediterranean until a fair agreement can be reached,” he said.
Cypriot President Nicos Anastasiades condemned Erdogan’s visit, as well as what he called the historical “secessionist act of the declaration of the illegal regime” in the north.
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