NICOSIA, Cyprus As its accession to the European Union nears, Cyprus is expressing a new optimism that it will gain 15 new allies for its proposed solution to the division of the island in the Aegean Sea into two ethnic communities.
For the government in Nicosia and its Greek-speaking majority, that solution is a federation with guaranteed rights for the Turkish-speaking minority.
The optimism ignores a stern warning by Turkey that it will annex the northern third of the island if Cyprus is admitted to the European Union without first solving the bicommunal split.
“We are pleased that the EU has reaffirmed our belief that we are close to becoming an EU member,” George Vasiliou, the Greek Cypriot chief negotiator for EU accession, told a group of visiting journalists last month.
“The Turkish side says it wants a loose confederation, meaning two separate states, which we don’t accept,” he said.
What provoked the optimism was a visit to the island in late October by Romano Prodi, president of the European Commission, in which he declared that “Cyprus is well advanced in its preparation for European Union membership.”
Mr. Prodi added that a settlement of the problem of ethnic division would facilitate accession “but is not a precondition.”
The island itself remains confined between walls and barbed wires, symbolizing the standoff that has existed since 1974, when a coup against the Cypriot government of Archbishop Makarios sponsored by the military junta then ruling in Greece triggered an invasion by nearby Turkey.
The coup hatched in Athens was intended as a precursor to “enosis,” the union of Cyprus and Greece, a cherished dream of the colonels who had staged their own coup against the Greek government in 1967.
These days, no one talks about that anymore except the Turks, who argue that their presence is needed to prevent the Turkish-speaking minority from becoming submerged in a Hellenic sea.
The Turkish community on the island, headed by Rauf Denktash, has constituted itself as the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus. Its sovereignty is recognized by no one except Turkey.
After long resisting face-to-face talks with the president of Cyprus, Glafcos Clerides, Mr. Denktash suddenly signaled this month he would hold such a meeting.
Last month journalists of Greek descent, this reporter among them, were invited to tour the island to see the consequences of division firsthand.
One day they toured the capital of Nicosia along the barbed-wire perimeter that separates Greek and Turkish zones. The next day, an excursion was organized to the farthest northeastern point of the island still under the control of the government in Nicosia.
Across the shore lies Famagusta, formerly a noted resort but now an abandoned site in the Turkish sector. The tour guide, Titina Loizidou, said she had grown up in Famagusta and has lost her family property in Kyrenia, now part of the Turkish north.
She won a lawsuit several years ago in the World Court at The Hague to re-establish her claim to the property. She was awarded compensation but has not received a dime, largely because the Denktash government is unrecognized.
Andreas Pouyiouros, 75, the former mayor of Famagusta, retains the title but cannot return to the city he once governed.