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."
THE FOLLOWING DAY I dropped by the embassy of the Republic of Cyprus, located in an old mansion just a half mile from Logoglu's office. Ambassador Euripides Evriviades is a jovial and engaging man who has been on the job for less than a year. Walk into his office and the first thing you notice are the three large flags in the corner representing Cyprus, the United States, and the European Union. An even larger E.U. flag was waiting to be hoisted outside for Saturday's formal accession. But what would have been a festive atmosphere inside has been marred by the controversial "no" vote. In retrospect, were there any regrets for this rejection of reunification?
"The 'no' vote of 76 percent of the Greek Cypriot community cannot be interpreted as a vote against reunification," explains Evriviades. "That is not the message. The message is that it was a vote against specific provisions of a plan that 76 percent of the population of Greek Cypriots feel does not meet their requirements and their fundamental positions." Those "provisions" include a permanent presence of Turkish troops on the island (albeit on a vastly reduced scale after several years), financial restitution, a "right of guarantor power" allowing for Turkey's intervention in the event that Cyprus's constitution is threatened (which, broadly interpreted, could mean military intervention), and the acceptance of Turkish immigrant settlers.
And what of the accusation that Greek Cypriots lost all incentive to vote for the Annan Plan after their country's acceptance into the European Union was guaranteed? It is a charge Evriviades disputes vigorously: "In Helsinki [five years ago] there was an agreement that a unified Cyprus was preferable in joining the European Union but a solution to that problem was not a precondition. We did not ever say 'Whatever plan you give us we will accept.' That was never done. We did not walk out of the talks in Copenhagen, we didn't walk out of the talks in the Hague, and thirdly, a divided country entering the E.U. in and of itself creates other problems--the cease-fire line begins to look more and more like a border. . . . It cements the division even more and that is not to our advantage. I simply do not accept the notion that because we got in that we comfortably settled in our chairs and didn't do anything."
EXIT POLLS from the April 24 referendum indicate 75 percent of Greek Cypriots sited security as the main reason they voted "no" and not just because their president told them to (in fact, past Republic of Cyprus presidents Vassiliou and Clerides voted in favor of the plan). "Security needed to be addressed first and foremost because Cyprus has always been about the insecurity of both sides," says John Sitilides, executive director of the Western Policy Center. While the Greek Cypriots have made clear their fears of military intervention and the presence of foreign troops (both Greek and Turkish), Sitilides reminds me of the Turkish Cypriots "who have been insecure on a personal level because of the attacks they endured during the years of intercommunal violence, when gangs of Greek Cypriots and what one might call terrorists engaged in massacres in the mid to late 1960s. What made them feel secure was this Turkish military presence, though at a disproportionate level. . . . It was this overwhelming presence that served their concerns and those of the Turks who always wanted to make sure Cyprus was not used as a staging point for any type of security threat against the Turkish mainland."
It is obvious Turkey and Cyprus do not see eye-to-eye on security. Said Turkish ambassador Logoglu: "If [the Greek Cypriots] say they are concerned with security, then they are concerned with security. But had they accepted this plan, this would have been under the protection and monitoring and verification of the U.N. peacekeeping force, a new force that would have been placed on the island as Greek and Turkish troops were being withdrawn. And the whole international community . . . would have put Cyprus under their [magnifying glasses] and nothing would have happened to upset anybody on that island."
And yet another Greek Cypriot official was doubtful, speculating that if the Annan Plan were to pass, what would happen if, come December, the European Union decided not to extend accession talks with Turkey after their support for reunification? "Their generals could become upset, there could be upheaval in the country, the government could respond by freezing the implementation of the Annan Plan, and decide not to withdraw troops until later. Then who's going to come--the British, German, and American soldiers?--to kick them out? Nobody's going to come."
"WHAT EVERYONE MISSED HERE in analyzing what went wrong was the lack of trust between Greek Cypriots and Turks and Turkish Cypriots and Greeks," says Sitilides. The Western Policy Center has pushed for the military establishments on both sides to come together and agree on principle to new arrangements. "Once you get security taken care of, issues like the number of settlers who return, restitution, and compensation can all get negotiated."
Following the referenda debacle, Cypriot president Tassos Papadopoulos insisted that new initiatives are underway, despite Richard Boucher's belief that there were no other plans or renegotiations "in the foreseeable future." Ambassador Logoglu, in turn, said he would be happy to see a new proposal but warned that "we really can't take it very seriously now considering the fact that 76 percent of the people voted against what was regarded as a fairly reasonable plan."
THERE IS AN EVEN LARGER FEAR that the international community might just give up. "There's the sense that 'Cyprus settlement fatigue' has set in--at the U.N., the E.U., and even here at the State Department--given a world where the United States is at war in two major countries and where there are horrendous humanitarian crises and conflicts around the world," says Sitilides. "There really are limited resources, manpower, and diplomatic energies to be extended on the Cyprus issue and there never was a time in the 30 year history of the Cyprus problem in which all the international parties at the leadership level came together the way they did in the months [before] the April referenda."
As depressing as it sounds, the Turkish and Greek Cypriot ambassadors still had kind words for one another. Logoglu called Evriviades "a good man" and has much respect for him. Evriviades referred to his Turkish counterpart as "a very good man" and thinks him genuinely sincere. If the two were to have coffee together, though there'd be some disagreements--such as whether you call it Greek coffee or Turkish coffee--one hopes they might still agree on a thing or two.
Victorino Matus is an assistant managing editor at The Weekly Standard.