Recip Tayipp Erdogan, the leader of Turkey’s recently elected Justice and Development Party, holds the future of Cyprus in his hands. Erdogan had initially welcomed the recently unveiled United Nations plan for reunification of the island, but on Saturday he threw a spoke in the wheel by insisting that Cyprus should not be admitted into Europe before Turkey.
“I call on all world leaders for Cyprus and Turkey to be admitted to the European Union simultaneously,” he said. This could, of course, be posturing in an effort to strengthen the position of Northern Cyprus at the bargaining table. He appeared to soften his stance once more on Monday by removing the word ‘simultaneously’ from his rhetoric.
Alternatively, the de facto Turkish Prime Minister, banned from the actual role under Turkish law due to his Islamist stance–a law, which his party is manoeuvring to change–could be holding Cyprus hostage in a last ditch attempt to gain Turkey’s imminent admission into Europe.
Cyprus, that green and pleasant, but long troubled, eastern Mediterranean island represents a microcosm of all the political divisions, rivalries and hatreds ongoing in the world today. An intriguing melting pot of different ethnicities and religions, Cyprus has become used to turmoil and instability.
Since the island was peremptorily sliced on a roughly 37/63 per cent basis after a Turkish invasion in 1974 sparked by a Greek-Cypriot coup, the disparities between the economies of the two sides have grown parallel with mutual suspicion and enmity. But now, miraculously, Cyprus may have a chance at unity with ensuing prosperity for all its peoples.
Prompted by the Greek sector’s inevitable entry into the EU, scheduled for 2004, the Kofi Annan has at last put forward a viable plan for unification with November 18 the date set for acceptance of the plan by both sides as a basis for future discussion.
The future of the isle now rests with its leaders–Glafkos Clerides and Rauf Denktash as well as the goodwill of Greece and Turkey. With enough political will, they would sign up to the plan’s essentials on December 12 this year just prior to the EU summit to be held in Copenhagen. Final agreement would take place on February 28, 2003 with referendums to be held in both sectors on March 1.
While unification would, no doubt, bring untold benefits for all Cypriots, painful decisions will have to be made; decisions, which will affect generations to come.
The Turkish Cypriots have most to gain in a material sense from the tearing down of the green line. They are currently isolated with all scheduled flights to the northern sector having to be routed via Ankara or Istanbul. The economy of Northern Cyprus is propped-up by Turkey, while unemployment is high and foreign investment minimal.
Their greatest fear is loss of identity and erosion of autonomy. Another bitter pill for the Turkish Cypriots would be a reduction in the 37 per cent of territory they currently hold down to approximately 28.5 per cent. Implementation of the plan would lead to the further displacement of an estimated 50,000 people–most of them Turkish Cypriots. Further, Turks who have lived on the island for less than seven years would be required to return home.
Impoverished Turkey has a vested interest in going along with the UN plan. Not only would Northern Cyprus stop being an economic liability on the mainland, the cooperation of the Turkish government would bode well for Turkey’s own bid for EU membership, recently relegated to the end of the queue.
Turkey also has to overcome such attitudes as those recently expressed by the former French President Valery Giscard d’Estaing who said that Turkey is not a European country and that it would be “the end of the European Union” if Ankara were allowed to join.
If a unified Cyprus were to become part of the European Union, Giscard d’Estaing’s reasoning would resonate as essentially flawed, since Cyprus is geographically further away from Europe than the Turkish mainland and would include a significant ethnic Turkish population. Cyprus could, therefore, set a precedent facilitating Turkey’s entry.
Costas Simitis, the Greek Prime Minister is upbeat, saying, after the plan was made public: “This is a very important day for Cyprus and the Cypriot people…”
Greek-Cypriot President Glafkos Clerides has greeted the plan with an amount of measured optimism. “It is evident that it contains provisions which satisfy our stipulations and also provisions that are not to our liking. However, we shall judge the plan as a whole,” he commented.
The plan itself is based on the Swiss model, whereby Cyprus would have a federal government made up of representatives from both sides. It proposes a bicameral legislature and for the first three years of the new unified Cyprus, the Greek and Turkish Cypriot leaders would share a joint presidency. Thereafter, the presidency would rotate with neither a Greek Cypriot nor a Turkish Cypriot being allowed more than two subsequent terms of office.
One of the main sticking points for Greek Cypriots is the proposed composition of the Presidential Council, which would be made up of four Greek Cypriots and two Turkish Cypriots. At least one of the Turkish Cypriots would be required to vote ‘yea’ before any resolution could be passed, and, thus, the Turkish side would effectively enjoy a power of veto.
Apart from the federal government, there would be two cantons–designated ‘Component States’ in the plan–their residents primarily drawn from the two ethnicities. The two Component States, whose borders have yet to be conclusively defined, would hold equal status and be capable of ‘organising themselves freely under their own constitutions’.
Although the plan calls for a single Cyprus citizenship, Cypriots would also enjoy internal ‘Component State’ citizenship status, which would limit their chosen place of residence. In other words, no single ethnicity will be allowed to demographically swamp another. This is so that each side can maintain and nurture its own culture, traditions and language.
These restrictions relating to residence for both Greek and Turkish Cypriots is outside the scope of current EU rules which require the free movement of goods, services, people and capital. However, the plan asks the EU for a special exclusion protocol for Cyprus for a period of 20 years.
A further provision, which is outside EU norms, involves the continuance of the Treaty of Guarantee whereby Greece, Turkey and Britain jointly protect the island’s security. This is unprecedented in Europe and flies against the status of Cyprus as a sovereign entity. Despite proposed demilitarisation, British bases would remain on the island.
Perhaps the most complex practical problems, which would follow any unification, would be the re-distribution of property and consideration of related compensation claims. Some 200,000 Greek Cypriots were forced to leave their homes and businesses after the Turkish invasion leaving many of these properties to be occupied by Turkish Cypriots or mainland Turks. Yet others, have been bought and sold many times and are now in the hands of foreign ownership. Turkish Cypriots too will have similar claims to pursue, although their numbers will be substantially lower.
In order to deal with the plan’s intricate rules and regulations surrounding property once owned by dispossessed persons, a Cyprus Property Board would be set-up and would remain in operation for 10 years.
April next year will see ten candidate countries, including The Republic of Cyprus, poised to sign accession treaties related to their respective memberships of the EU. This timetable has put pressure on all the parties involved in mapping out the future of the island.
In the event that talks on unification break down, only the Greek-Cypriot portion of Cyprus will join Europe, while Turkey has threatened to permanently annex the north. This would probably mean that Turkey’s hopes of joining the EU would completely fade and it, too, would be isolated politically, economically and culturally.
Whether Mr. Giscard d’Estaing likes it or not, Turkey enjoys a strategic location straddling both Europe and Asia and is an important member of NATO. Turkey and The Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus should be welcomed into the fold for their sakes as well as for the benefit of Europe. Leaving the Turks and the Turkish Cypriots to stew in resentment as poor neighbours, peeking over the fence at Greeks growing ever prosperous is, surely, a recipe for yet more instability and potential conflict.
Instead, let the growing rapprochement between Greeks and Turks, as well as Cypriots of both ethnicities, be a shining example to others involved in conflicts around the world that hope can win through against all odds.
LINDA HEARD is a writer, editor and Arabist, who has lived and worked for most of her life in the Middle East.
She can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org