- The Washington Times - Sunday, December 22, 2002

NICOSIA, Cyprus By inviting Cyprus to join its expanding ranks in 2004, the European Union has moved closer to the Middle East and its problems perhaps too close, as far as some Europeans are concerned.
To Greek Cypriot officials, acceptance by the "European club" represents an economic opportunity and perhaps an ambitious challenge to help influence the seemingly intractable Arab-Israeli problem.
The island's proximity to the Middle East and friendship with the area's protagonists could one day be a factor in its usefulness to Europe, some Cypriot officials say.
Above all, "moving to Europe" is a dramatic change from the allegiance to the nonaligned bloc embraced 40 years ago by the late Archbishop Makarios, then president of Cyprus.
Most Greek Cypriots, however, are more concerned about the lack of prospects for removing Turkish troops from the northern part of the island in the near future, something the European Union has proved unable to deal with.
It has became clear to diplomats since the European Union's Copenhagen summit this month that no matter how tempting to Turkey its own EU candidacy might be, there are limits to compromise on matters it regards as vital to its national security.
And that includes the problem of Cyprus, which some influential Turkish army generals describe as "a dagger pointing at Turkey's heart" and an essential component of their strategy in facing the Hellenic world, a historic enemy.
The role of the army, the final authority in Turkey, became the subject of an acerbic debate in Ankara last week, with opposition politicians accusing Foreign Minister Yasar Yakis of referring to it as "an invader army" if no solution in Cyprus is found. Mr. Yakis said he had been misquoted.
To many European diplomats, the Copenhagen summit highlighted Cyprus as an island traditionally tied to Europe, which once served as a springboard for crusaders setting off for Arab shores to free Jerusalem or raid Arab fortresses.
Although promising Turkey a place in their midst at an unspecified date, the Europeans have been careful in efforts to try to influence the protracted feud between Greek and Turkish Cypriots. The problem, according to one diplomat, seemed too mired in false expectations and too daunting to the European Union, preoccupied as Europeans are with consumer spending, agricultural subsidies and the need to reform their institutions.
While hailing the Copenhagen meeting Dec. 12 and 13 as a big step forward, the European Union is fully aware of the problems connected with its planned expansion from 15 to 25 members over a relatively short period.
German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder said, "Enlargement must be followed by the deepening of the union. Enlargement is unthinkable without deepening." But opinions are divided on how the growing union should proceed.
Cyprus, one of 10 new members, is barely 150 miles north of Syria and Lebanon, and 40 miles south of Turkey's Anatolian coast. Greece, the "motherland" for Greek Cypriots, is 500 miles away.
The government of Cyprus, Greek Cyprus, negotiated its EU candidacy without the Turkish Cypriots, who are theoretically included in the term "Cyprus" but belong to a separate entity known as the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus (TRNC, for short), recognized by only Turkey.
Without progress in putting "Humpty Dumpty" Cyprus together again by the start of 2004, when Cyprus officially becomes "European," part of the island will be occupied by Turkish troops.
Thus Turkey, without being in the European Union, would control some EU territory an additional problem on the European agenda.
Turkey has a small toehold in Europe around Istanbul, thus qualifying as a European power and an EU candidate once is has satisfied the union's requirements. Since its invasion of Cyprus in 1974 in response to a Greek coup against Archbishop Makarios, it has been staring at Cyprus not only from the Taurus mountains at Anatolia's edge but from the Kyrenia range that cuts through the northern part of the island.
The range is clearly visible from Greek Cypriot office buildings, and the huge Turkish slogans displayed on the mountainside are a permanent reminder that "the dreaded Turk" is here in addition to the fortified line separating the two parts of Cyprus.
Unable to make a dent in the mistrust of the Cypriot protagonists, the European Union had little choice but to accept the island as it was, with 35,000 Turkish troops in control of the northern 37 percent, whose population of 200,000 was not represented during accession talks and is not likely to benefit from the EU connection.
Apparently hoping to break the present deadlock, the Greek Cypriot government has promised to ease tension by authorizing trade and business links with the area considered to be "under Turkish occupation."
Although the European Union has pledged to examine Turkey's democratic credentials some time after 2004, there are few prospects for healing the Cypriot wounds in the immediate future. Despite failure to agree on a recent power-sharing plan drafted by the United Nations, the protagonists promised to continue their negotiations.
With prodding from the United Nations,a new deadline has appeared on the Cypriot political horizon: Feb. 28. Ever-optimistic U.N. diplomats hope that by then, the protagonists on Cyprus can work out their differences and the Turkish side can give up its objections to the formula submitted in November by U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan.
Skeptics point out that they have been negotiating in one form or another since the communities broke up shortly before Christmas 1963, requiring the dispatch of a U.N. peacekeeping force that is still on the island.
Commented the English-language Cyprus Mail published in the Greek Cypriot portion of the island: "Why should all concerned be expected to redouble their efforts now, when there is no real incentive for them to do so? It is difficult to see why Ankara would support the continuation of the peace process now that it has nothing to gain."
The last concrete outcome of the myriad encounters between Greek and Turkish Cypriots came Sept. 13, 1974, when the two sides agreed to exchange civilian prisoners.
Ever since, the frustration has been growing on the Greek side with its inability to regain control of the island, on the Turkish side with an economy increasingly adrift and international ostracism of the regime considered to be Turkey's puppet.
Rauf Denktash, the TRNC president who refused to accept the Annan plan, feels it was intended to keep the Turkish Cypriot minority under Greek domination. On paper, the U.N. proposal looks sensible, certainly by the standards of Europe, which has successfully buried the ghosts of older conflicts and territorial claims.
It includes such proposals as the island's demilitarization, a rotating presidency, a parliament with fixed ethnic quotas and territorial adjustment in the favor of Greek Cypriots but not significant enough to satisfy 160,000 people who left their homes after the Turkish landing.
Mr. Denktash particularly objected to the planned resettlement of 42,000 Turkish Cypriots living in abandoned Greek homes. A new forced migration in Cyprus, he said, would be "against humanity, against justice."
On the Greek side, protests were raised against the cost of resettlement and property compensation, expected mostly to be borne by Greek Cypriots. The per capita income of Greek Cypriots is close to $16,000 a year, about five time that of Turkish Cypriots.
Greek Cypriots expect a lot of financial help from the European Union, but little is being said of the price of belonging to the European club. "For the time being they are happy, but they don't realize how much it will cost them," a French diplomat said.
Officials such as Greek Cypriot Foreign Minister Yiannakis Cassoulides have visions of turning Cyprus into a European gateway.
"Once Cyprus is admitted to the European Union, as far as the Middle East is concerned, Europe will start right here," he says. And this, he argues, creates additional political guarantees for Cyprus, as well as diplomatic possibilities in the region.
George Vassilious, a former president of the Greek Cypriots who negotiated the island's EU accession, remains hopeful that a solution to the Cyprus problem will be advantageous to Turkey, particularly as far as its EU candidacy is concerned.
"The internal situation in Turkey is changing," Mr. Vassilious said recently. "People are no longer willing to suffer penury and sacrifice themselves. Turkey cannot maintain a military state for long."
However, another view of Turkey was voiced this week by Metin Munir in the Istanbul daily Sabah. "The EU is not ready to digest Turkey. Turkey is a Muslim country. It is a crowded country. It is underdeveloped. Both our democracy and our economy are below [European] standards," he said.

Copyright © 2018 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.

The Washington Times Comment Policy

The Washington Times welcomes your comments on Spot.im, our third-party provider. Please read our Comment Policy before commenting.


Click to Read More and View Comments

Click to Hide