Tuesday, January 16, 2001

Just as the fifth round of proximity talks about a fair and durable solution for the unification of Cyprus has collapsed, an enlightening book about the complexities of the dilemma on Aphrodite’s lovely island has been published. Andrew Borowiec, the author, is an experienced foreign correspondent who has lived on the divided island and deserves high praise for his impartiality.

Tempers fly high in international discussions of the knotty Cyprus problem and the search for a settlement based on a bi-zonal, bi-communal federation involving not only Greek and reluctant Turkish Cypriots but ambitious Greek and Turkish diplomats.

Mr. Borowiec is a realist. In “Cyprus: A Troubled Island,” he presents the fascinating legend and history, prosperity and frustrations of the divided “Island in the Sun” over centuries, animated by strategic-thinking Greeks, Romans, crusaders, Venetians, Ottomans as well as the British and, nowadays, a flood of tourists. Relating ancient and current events the writer offers a balanced account of the differing views and attitudes between the dominating Greek population and the Turkish minority.

Assessing the present deadlocked diplomacy the activist U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan gets full credit for his steadfast pursuit of reconciliation between two seemingly unbridgeable positions: a federation as advocated by Greek Cypriots of the Republic of Cyprus versus the looser concept of a confederation, amounting to an equal partnership, demanded by the Turkish Cypriot leadership.

However, aware that the stalemate of the ongoing exploratory talks hinges on the insistence by Turkish negotiators on full recognition of the “Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus” unilaterally created in 1983, yet internationally not recognized, save for Turkey and North Korea the author searches for answers that circumvent the question of sovereignty.

Mr. Borowiec contends that the United Nations should try to tackle the Gordian knot from a humanitarian angle. Nothing can be done to solve the Cyprus problem without effort on both sides to ease the climate of suspicion. Such an approach would require a massive and thorough “program of re-education to make the Cypriots consider themselves Cypriots and not Greeks and Turks.”

Other proposals (that will hardly gladden the hearts of the two motherlands) include a conciliatory gesture by Turkey to reduce its large military contingent in northern Cyprus along with recommendations that Turkey stop inhibiting its people from traveling to the Greek side. Turkey is urged to stem the massive tide of settlers from its domain.

In turn the Greek Cypriots are encouraged to halt their economic blockade and allow unlimited travels of foreign tourists to the Turkish sector. Both sides are also urged to revise their educational programs, teach the language of the other community and change the location of mutual business seminars from London and other places to Cyprus with the goal of eventually doing business together at home.

Although both motherlands share NATO membership, much seems to be irreconcilable. When the Greek colonels tried to annex Cyprus in a coup against the president, Archbishop Makarios, in 1974 the Turks did not hesitate to invade the northern part of the island. Under the pretext of protecting the powerless ethnic minority they chose to stay.

The barricades went up, the lines of communications came down and some 34,000 Turkish soldiers began to guard the Green Line of demarcation. The island has remained divided ever since. Yet, as the author carefully points out, the two communities of Cyprus had actually never been properly united. Having formally been merged under Ottoman and British colonial rule they managed to live together side by side. Great Britain occupied the island in 1878 in order to establish vital military bases. A de jure unification followed during the first three years after Cyprus had attained independence in 1960.

For the casual reader one of the most interesting chapters deals with the stunning prosperity of the Greek Cypriots. By 1997 their tax and tariff advantages had attracted not only 32,000 lucrative offshore companies but millions of tourists generating $1.8 billion in foreign receipts. Little wonder that the government could easily afford the estimated $227 million spent on the controversial 48 Russian air-defense missiles to keep the superior Turkish army in check.

The key to the Cyprus solution may well be held by Ankara, eager to join the European Union. But as guardian of NATO’s southeastern flank, U.S. bases on Turkish soil, the Caspian Sea oil pipeline and buffer against Islamic fundamentalism, Western bargaining chips are limited. The author is skeptical about a rapprochement under the current political establishment. To be sure, some of his forward looking proposals will sound controversial to the involved parties. Still, there is no reason why conciliatory measures on the grass roots level could not coexist with future substantive talks scheduled by the United Nations and other sponsors.

Viola Herms Drath is a member of the executive committee of the National Committee on American Foreign Policy.

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