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Things Fall Apart

Insecurity, mistrust, and the failure to reunify Cyprus.

12:00 AM, May 3, 2004 • By VICTORINO MATUS
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APRIL 24 WAS WITHOUT DOUBT the closest the island of Cyprus has come to being one nation in the last thirty years. Turkish and Greek Cypriots voted on a proposal by U.N. secretary general Kofi Annan designed to reunify the Turkish Republic of North Cyprus (recognized only by Turkey) with the rest of the Republic of Cyprus (recognized by everyone else). And the proposal failed miserably.

That this "Annan Plan"--the fifth such animal--didn't pass is in some ways not surprising. After all, the previous drafts had been shot down by TRNC president Rauf Denktash. But what was different about this go-around was that the plan was rejected not by Turkish Cypriots--who, against the will of their leader, voted in favor of it by 65 percent--but rather, by the Greek Cypriots, who rejected it by a stunning 76 percent.

What happened? The Republic of Cyprus had been a staunch supporter of reunification. Its government has always been supportive of efforts by the United Nations, the European Union, and the United States to reach an agreement to rejoin the North. And the stakes could not have been higher since Cyprus joined the European Union officially on May 1. This decisive rejection means 37 percent of the island (northern Cyprus) will not share in many of the benefits that E.U. membership brings.

Some claim that because the Republic of Cyprus was already guaranteed accession into the European Union, no matter what the outcome of the referenda, there was no incentive to unite with the Turkish Cypriots with a plan that entailed many concessions on the part of the Republic. Meanwhile, members of the international community are seething. "Obviously, we were very disappointed," said Secretary of State Colin Powell. "We believed that an important opportunity, a historic opportunity, was lost." European Union enlargement commissioner Gunter Verheugen described "a shadow over Cyprus's accession." And State Department spokesman Richard Boucher gloomily predicted "There will not be a better settlement. There is no other deal. . . . There's no promise of renegotiation . . . I don't expect that there will be one in the foreseeable future."

And now there is talk of rewarding the Turkish Cypriots for having voted "positively" while the Greek Cypriots will seemingly be isolated, in a role reversal since the island was split in 1974. (For more background on the island's division, see here.) The reversal, however, is not limited to the island itself. Turkey, which for years has supported the TRNC and currently has stationed there approximately 40,000 troops, came out in favor of the latest Annan Plan--contradicting Denktash and suggesting there are larger forces at play.

LAST WEEK I PAID A VISIT to Turkish ambassador Faruk Logoglu to ask him about the Cyprus question. His newly built embassy is a vast and impregnable fortress. Once you pass through the imposing gates and metal detectors, you are required to open a thick, vault-like steel door that looks as though it could survive a nuclear blast. Through a maze of corridors I finally meet His Excellency, a soft-spoken and thoughtful gentleman. Why, I asked him, did Turkey support this latest effort to reunify Cyprus?

"Our new government took an approach basically saying that resolving problems is the better option for Turkey. We were also motivated by the fact that our country is trying to get into the European Union. And even though the E.U. said solving Cyprus is not a formal condition for Turkey's candidacy, in realpolitik terms it is a fact of life. And if this problem festers, our chances would not be so good. But I think our government made sure the problem of Cyprus was resolved not just for sake of Turkey but for the sake of the Turkish Cypriots themselves."

The ambassador went on to explain how the Turkish Cypriots deserve to be rewarded: "What needs to be done now is to answer the call, the very clear desire of the Turkish Cypriots, to be part of this international community. That means an easing of restrictions, being able to fly out of Cyprus from their own airports, people from abroad should be able to fly into the north, call their own area code numbers, receive their letters in north Cyprus, and they should also be able to compete in football competitions." But he is quick to add that "this is not a call for recognition of the TRNC--it is a call to recognize the Turkish Cypriots."

Was Logoglu surprised that the Republic of Cyprus rejected the plan? "I thought they would have voted 'yes' but I was wrong. I am sorry for the Greek Cypriots who were under so much pressure by their political and religious leaders and because I really felt that they would have the wisdom and common sense to reach for reunification."