From Thu Apr 11 09:30:11 2002
From: Le Monde diplomatique <>
To: Le Monde diplomatique <>
Subject: Cyprus, north and south
Date: Thu, 11 Apr 2002 13:33:09 +0200 (CEST)

Reuniting a divided island: Cyprus, north and south

By Niels Kadritzke, Le Monde diplomatique April 2002

Final negotiations about the future of Cyprus began this year; it has been divided since 1974. Cyprus is a contender for EU membership, but to get in, Greeks and Turks will have to agree on its status, and Ankara will have to approve. Brussels has promised substantial funding for the Turkish north.

We are in the Ledra Palace hotel in Nicosia in Cyprus's UN-controlled zone. The negotiating table is too small, but the mood is promising. As is usual among the island's political class, Hussein, Giorgios, Eleni and Mehmet are all on first-name terms. Sitting knee-to-knee they are attempting to find the most effective way to build trust between the Greek and Turkish communities. They look like spiritualists, invoking a force that might have the solution to the problems of Cyprus.

But there is no magic formula here: the most important negotiations are elsewhere, in the UN headquarters at Nicosia's disused airport, where the Greek Cypriot president, Glafcos Clerides, and the Turkish Cypriot leader, Rauf Denktash, have been talking since 16 January. Accompanied by Alvaro de Soto, the UN special adviser on Cyprus to the UN secretary-general, Clerides and Denktash are in a final attempt at breaking Cyprus's 28-year-old impasse. Denktash arrives in a limousine bearing the flag of the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus (TRNC), and therein lies the problem. Should Cyprus become a federation, the solution outlined in UN resolutions and by Clerides, or a confederation of two states (the solution of Denktash and Turkey)?

The TRNC, a Turkish protectorate, depends on Ankara financially. It uses the inflation-prone Turkish lira and is watched over by 35,000 Turkish soldiers whose commander also oversees the police and firefighters (1). Denktash says that recognition of his republic is a precondition for any future confederation. The alternative model, a two-zone federation, would have two member states, one Greek and one Turkish, which would be largely autonomous but form a single entity under international law. Opposed to a federation, Denktash walked away from the UN-sponsored negotiations in November 2000, threatening not to return until the TRNC was recognised.

A year later he was back as if he had never issued his ultimatum. His real boss is in Ankara: Turkey's national security council, which withdrew its pawn and then brought it back into play (2). But the council is pragmatic, and Cyprus's impending EU membership is a critical issue. Turkey realised that Brussels would abide by the EU's Helsinki summit declaration of 1999: even if Cyprus's status remains unresolved, it would become an EU member unless the Greek Cypriots sabotaged the negotiations. Since this was impossible while the Turkish Cypriots were boycotting the negotiations, Denktash returned (3).

As a candidate for the next round of EU membership, to be announced in December, Cyprus is on the inside track (4). It is a model candidate, and if it were rejected for political reasons, the EU's enlargement programme could collapse since Greece could then oppose other countries' membership bids. The EU is more worried by this prospect than by the Turkish government's threat to annex the north of the island if only the south is admitted to the EU. Most European leaders see Turkey's threats as an indication of internal disarray; some even see them as a hopeful sign, since Turkey would give up its own membership hopes if it annexed territory belonging, under international law, to an EU member state.

Turkey's pro-Europeans are assessing the risk of the Cypriot impasse and warning against sacrificing the country's prospective EU membership for Turkish Cypriot nationalism (5). Turkey's economic crisis has encouraged this argument, even in the north of Cyprus. Young Turkish Cypriots see emigration as their only way out unless the entire island has EU membership, and claim that the Turkish refusal to negotiate undercut their only hope for the future (the EU has earmarked $182.2m over a three-year period for the north). They greeted the resumption of talks with a mixture of optimism and scepticism. Most Turkish Cypriots long for a European solution, though they doubt Denktash and his masters in Ankara have abandoned their goals.

Until now any change in Turkish strategy seemed unlikely. In March Ismail Cem, the Turkish foreign minister, referred in a letter to his EU counterparts to a global trend toward ethnic separation, saying that the only alternative for Cyprus lay in the creation of “two separate and equal states with sovereignty for each”, which would lay the foundations for partner states. He was calling for a loose confederation until further notice (6). So far the talks in Nicosia have disappointed those who had been hoping for a breakthrough, including the UN emissaries, the EU and the Greek government, which hopes to use an agreement on Cyprus to shore up its détente with Turkey. The US does not want to see the candidacy of its strategic Turkish partner compromised. But observers expect that before June de Soto will announce proposals aimed at reviving the diplomatic efforts.

Military are key

Even so, the outcome will ultimately be decided in Ankara, where eurosceptic voices are ever louder in Bulent Ecevit's government and in the ranks of the far-right Nationalist Action party (MHP) (7). But the real key is the military: for the first time, General Tuncer Kilinc, general secretary of Turkey's National Security Council, publicly expressed the anti-European stance of some of the military, who fear that democratisation will undermine their power (8). This could be seen in the activities of the derin devlet (state within the state) the Turkish police and secret services.

Attempting to stem pro-European sentiment in Turkey, ultranationalists in the secret services made public various emails from the EU representative in Ankara.

Turkey's internal battle over Europe will prove more critical for the talks on Cyprus than the wishes of the Turkish Cypriots, who want EU membership as soon as possible. In Cyprus, the Turkish Cypriot opposition is in the majority, and Denktash in the minority (9). The opposition, which includes trade unionists as well as business leaders, considers the name of the new pan-Cypriot political entity of secondary importance, but they know that only a federation will be eligible for EU membership. So they are studying the federal system in Belgium, which contains two distinct communities and language groups (10).

There is one principle that even the opposition stands by: the security of Turkish Cypriots must be guaranteed by maintaining a clear Turkish majority in the north, together with some Turkish military presence, no matter how symbolic. But most Greek Cypriots reject such proposals. Negotiators have spent long hours seeking compromise around the table in the Ledra Palace: the Turkish military, guarantors of security for the north, are seen as a threat in the south. Hence the idea of establishing separate Turkish and Greek contingents within an EU or UN-led protection force that would monitor the Cypriot federation.

The devil is in the details on other issues too. How will the territories be demarcated? Will refugees on both sides have the right to return without a new wave of expulsions? Which mainland Turks will have the right to settle in northern Cyprus? Answers to this will only come from focusing on concrete realities, not abstract principles. It would be unreasonable to establish an absolute right of return since even in a federation few Greek or Turkish refugees would choose to live on the other side. Most refugees have set down such deep roots elsewhere that their former homes do not have the power they once had. And creating two separate zones would generate problems: those on one side of the demarcation line would have to learn the language on the other if they wanted to communicate with neighbours and the authorities. Bilingualism would happen slowly and require much good will since reunification would mean a long period of evolution. For this to succeed, both camps will have to transcend their nationalistic viewpoints (11).

The Greek Cypriot leaders have not been realistic in setting the terms for a new federation either. Few have focused on raising the preliminary political capital (without which the two-zone solution stands little chance) gaining the trust of the Turkish Cypriots (12). No Greek Cypriot leaders have had the courage to say that a Cypriot federation within the EU would constitute the second republic of Cyprus. This would be a radical change, given the failure of the first republic, for which Greeks and Turks share the responsibility.

The Greek Cypriot lack of interest in the talks reflects the certainty that Cyprus will join the EU whether or not a solution is found to the impasse. EU membership would amount to more than a consolation prize, since those living in the south view the EU as a security force. The desperate optimism in the north is a sign that the Turkish Cypriots' survival is at stake. If the impasse proves insurmountable, their only way out will be to apply for individual EU membership, since they are eligible for Cypriot passports and can become EU citizens. A demographic shortfall in the north would be offset by Turks from Anatolia (13).

Most Greek Cypriots do not appreciate the significance of what is at stake. If the negotiations fail, the island's divisions will become definitive. Even if not formally annexed by Turkey, the north would be transformed, to the point that any desire in the south for reunification would soon disappear. If Greek Cypriots wanted to visit the Turkish zone, they would have to wait for Turkey to become an EU member. But the Greek Cypriots will have no influence since the outcome depends on the success of democratic forces in Turkish society and Europe's willingness to welcome a democratic Turkey.


(1) See Niels Kadritzke, Cyprus hostage to Athens-Ankara confrontation, Le Monde diplomatique English edition, September 1998.

(2) The council is the final arbiter on all “questions of national concern”. See Éric Rouleau, Turkey's modern pashas, Le Monde diplomatique English edition, September 2000.

(3) Günther Verheugen, the EU commissioner for enlargement, has reiterated this position on several occasions: the Helsinki declaration states that resolving Cyprus's status is not a “precondition” for the island's EU membership, which will be decided “by taking all the facts into account”.

(4) The French term acquis communautaire refers to the body of principles, regulations and objectives that prospective member countries must integrate within their own legislative frameworks before they can be considered for EU membership.

(5) The Turkish Industrialists' and Businessmen's Association (Tusiad) views resolving Cyprus's status as a prerequisite for EU membership, as do commentators in Istanbul newspapers such as Milliyet, Sabah and the Turkish Daily News, as well as ex-diplomats and political leaders such as the former foreign minister, Ilter Turkmen.

(6) See Ismail Cem, “A common vision for Cypriots”, International Herald Tribune, Paris, 14 March 2002.

(7) The MHP has worked closely with Denktash for decades.

(8) See the Turkish Daily News, 8 and 9 March 2002. On the influence of nationalist interests and ideology, according to which Ankara is a Euro-Asian power and a strategic ally of the US, see Murat Belge, “Europa 2030”, Südosteuropa Mitteilungen, Munich, 2002, special edition vol 1; and Heinz Kramer, “Die Türkei und der 11 September”, Südosteuropa Mitteilungen, vol 4, 2001.

(9) The opposition parties include the Republican People's party (CHP), the Communal Liberation party (TKP) and the Movement for Patriotic Unity (YHB).

(10) Belgium also contains a small German-speaking population.

(11) Postponing the refugees' right of return was set out in previous UN initiatives and would also be acceptable as an exceptional measure in the eyes of the EU.

(12) Former President Giorgos Vassiliou, chief negotiator for EU accession talks with the Republic of Cyprus, has conspicuously refrained from engaging in nationalistic discourse, thus boosting his credibility among Cyprus's Turkish population.

(13) Thousands of Turkish Cypriots have applied for Cypriot passports at the Republic of Cyprus's embassies over the past few years and their numbers are growing: in the first three months of this year, more than 2,000 Turkish Cypriots filed passport applications.