Cyprus: A Cautious Optimism Prevails. (Business & Finance)

By Gorvett, Jon | The Middle East, January 2002 | Go to article overview

Cyprus: A Cautious Optimism Prevails. (Business & Finance)


Gorvett, Jon, The Middle East


Ever since Turkish troops first stormed up the beaches of northern Cyprus, back in the summer of 1974, it has become something of a cliche in international diplomacy for some European or American politician to claim every 12 months or so that this year will be "the year of Cyprus". But now, after decades of confidence building measures, proximity talks, bilateral, trilateral and multilateral gatherings, formal and informal discussions, back door and front door diplomacy -- none of which has worked -- it may be that a solution is finally in sight.

Late last year, the doors of the Turkish parliament were slammed shut to outside observers while an emergency secret session to discuss the future of Cyprus took place inside. The packed assembly of deputies were all sworn to secrecy on what transpired for a period of 10 years -- an embargo that at the time of writing was still holding firm. The session followed an apparent volte-face by Turkish Cypriot leader Rauf Denktas, who had been refusing to attend UN-sponsored proximity talks aimed at reuniting the island since last year. However, last November, he wrote a letter to his Greek Cypriot counterpart, Glafkos Clerides, suggesting a face-to-face meeting without any UN involvement. Clerides at first balked at the idea, but then came round -- provided the UN Cyprus representative, Alvero de Soto, also attended. The meeting -- the first face-to-face encounter between the two since 1998 -- was arranged to take place in the UN buffer zone on the island on 4 December.

Meanwhile, there was also an unprecedented outpouring of discussion on the issue in the Turkish media. A series of television programmes by the distinguished Turkish journalist, Mehmet Ali Birand, broadcast interviews with young people from both Greek Cypriot and Turkish Cypriot backgrounds, along with interviews with Denktas and Clerides. The result seemed to suggest a much narrower gap between the two sides on a variety of issues than had previously been presented in Turkey. Turkish and Greek Cypriot youth alike seemed to be in favour of a solution -- almost any solution -- rather than a continuation of the current impasse. Meanwhile, Clerides appeared to be suggesting he would be prepared to accept a great deal of what Denktas was demanding.

The apparent reason behind this new approach, it seems, is the European Union.

Although de facto divided into two, Cyprus is still treated internationally as one state -- the Republic of Cyprus, as established on the island's independence from Britain in 1960. Initially, the Republic had a power-sharing structure between the Greek Cypriot majority and the Turkish Cypriot minority. However, inter-ethnic violence broke out at the end of 1963, and the Turkish Cypriots withdrew from the government. Since then, the administration of the Republic has been composed almost exclusively of Greek Cypriots.

With the Turkish intervention in 1974, ethnic cleansing resulted in the formation of two ethnically fairly homogeneous parts. The north, occupied by 35,000 Turkish troops and the home of most of the island's 180,000 Turkish Cypriots, then declared itself independent in 1983. However, it's independence remains unrecognised by anyone except Turkey.

Throughout this time, the UN, and periodically the US and UK, have been attempting to put the Cypriot Humpty Dumpty back together again. Their efforts have failed for several major reasons.

Under Denktas' leadership, Turkish Cyprus has continuously pushed the issue of security as the major stumbling block to any reconciliation with the Greek Cypriots. The ethnic cleansing of the 1960s and 1970s -- in which the Turkish Cypriot minority invariably came off worse -- has left deep scars on many older Turkish Cypriots. They fear that in a reunited island, they will be at the mercy of the same ultra-nationalistic Greeks who once wanted to wipe them out and join the island to Greece proper, a movement known as enosis that was once championed by armed groups such as EOKA. …

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