The Magazine

Cyprus Betrayed

Another fine mess, courtesy of Kofi Annan's U.N.

Dec 5, 2005, Vol. 11, No. 12 • By CHRISTOPHER HITCHENS
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Claire Palley, a renowned Anglo-South African expert in constitutional law, takes up this dismal story at the point where Kofi Annan decided to involve himself personally. Winston Churchill once said of some luckless opponent that he had "sat on the fence so long that the iron had entered into his soul." Kofi Annan's genius for compromise and for splitting differences without regard to principle is of the same order. An extraordinary opportunity presented itself in 2003 when, against all expectations, the Turkish Cypriots--the supposed beneficiaries of partition--rebelled politically against their imposed leadership and demanded to be part of the wider Cypriot accession to the European Union. The Turkish authorities were obliged to open the sealed checkpoints at the border and to permit visits and exchanges to take place from either side.

In this moment of "people power," it took a sort of anti-talent for the secretary general to find the most obstinate demands of the discredited Turkish leadership and to instate them as part of his "plan." Entirely heedless of the repeated U.N. resolutions demanding the demilitarization of the island, he postponed the date of eventual Turkish withdrawal until the remote future, and thus evolved a deal that was just out of the reach of the Greek Cypriot electorate. In a referendum on the proposal last year, the Turkish Cypriots voted "yes" for federal reunification and the Greek Cypriots voted "no."

To have produced this result is to have negated years of patient confidence-building between two estranged, but not divorced, peoples. It has meant that Cyprus joins the EU with its Turkish population still left out, which greatly complicates the wider question of Turkish membership and postpones a resolution until the next generation.

This small but suggestive fiasco will stand, along with others more notorious, as a memorial to Annan's dead-hand effect on international relations.

Christopher Hitchens, a columnist for Vanity Fair and the author of Hostage to History: Cyprus from the Ottomans to Kissinger, is most recently the author of Thomas Jefferson: Author of America.