Magazine article Washington Report on Middle East Affairs

Will Turkish Cypriots Oust Denktash in December Polls, Paving Way to Reunification?

Magazine article Washington Report on Middle East Affairs

Will Turkish Cypriots Oust Denktash in December Polls, Paving Way to Reunification?

Article excerpt

Long before the Greek Cypriot militants of EOKA-B staged their abortive coup against the Nicosia government in June 1974- and long before the first Turkish paratroopers bailed out over the island a few days later-many Turkish Cypriots had arrived at the conclusion that their Greek Cypriot neighbors had murder on their minds. Yet, as the Turkish Cypriots gear up for the most important election in their history on Dec. 14, the signs now are that popular beliefs could hardly be more different than they were some three decades ago.

Since the earliest days of the post-British colonial Republic of Cyprus, the most central issue for the island's Turkish Cypriot minority, according to most of the community's leaders, has been security. Indeed, right- wing Turkish Cypriot politicians have long used this issue to dominate the political landscape. In the past, the talk in many Turkish Cypriot homes when discussing the island's future often was of the Greek Cypriot threat-and the danger, even in pre-Bosnia times, of ethnic cleansing. Put bluntly, there was a widespread belief that the Greek Cypriots wanted to wipe all trace of the Turkish Cypriots off the island, and then join Cyprus with mainland Greece.

No politician championed this viewpoint more effectively than Rauf Denktash. Cutting his political teeth in the Turkish nationalist movements of the 1950s-which included links to the Turkish pro-partition guerrilla group, TMT-Denktash's entire political life has been bound up with the central notion that Turkish and Greek Cypriots cannot live together side by side without an eventual bloodbath. Therefore, according to this view, the only way forward was to keep the two communities as far apart as possible, within the cramped confines of the tiny island. Underpinning this de facto partition would be Turkey itself, the mainland Big Brother, which would have to provide the military and economic muscle to enforce the division.

Until relatively recently, this also appeared to be the gut feeling of most Turkish Cypriots on the island. Denktash repeatedly was reinstalled in office as president-first of the self-proclaimed Turkish Federated State of North Cyprus and then, after 1983, as president of the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus (TRNC), the internationally unrecognized state he founded with Ankara's support. While his Democrat Party (DP) has not been as successful in parliament, it has been in office for most of the intervening years in partnership with Prime Minister Dervis Eroglu's UBP, a party which shares Denktash's basic view. Only a few years ago, most Turkish Cypriots would tell visitors they believed Greek Cypriots had not really changed since 1974 -or from even before then, with the repeated attempts in the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s to unite the island with mainland Greece, a megali (grand) idea that would be carried out largely at the expense of the Turkish Cypriot community.

Now, however, it is hard to find anyone who would agree with this position. While opinion poll results vary wildly in numbers, all agree that by far the vast majority of Turkish Cypriots nowadays want Denktash out, the latest United Nations plan for reunifying the island signed, and the TRNC consigned to the dustbin of history.

No wonder, then, that the TRNC president now is feeling the pressure. In fact, however, the movement against him has been building for some time. As far back as the summer of 2000, when a major financial crisis led to an angry crowd storming the TRNC parliament in its sector of the divided capital, popular opinion has been swinging against the governing powers. The financial crisis that ensued in mainland Turkey in 2001 also added to the frustrations of Turkish Cypriots, whose economy is almost entirely tied to Turkey's, thanks to their international isolation and the economic embargo maintained against them at the insistance of the recognized government of Cyprus.

Then came 2002 municipal elections, which put the opposition parties in charge of all the TRNC's major urban areas. …

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