- The Washington Times - Thursday, May 13, 2004

Don’t blame Cyprus

Greek-Cypriots enjoyed international favor for 30 years, while the Turkish-Cypriot government on the divided island was isolated, recognized only by Turkey. All that changed last month, when ethnic Greeks rejected a reunification plan, and ethnic Turks embraced it.

“Suddenly, we’re the bad guys, and nobody castigates the Turkish-Cypriot community for what happened over the past 30 years,” Cypriot government spokesman Kypros Chrysostomides told reporters and editors at The Washington Times this week.

“Frankly, we don’t understand it. We stand ready and willing to work on a solution right now.”

Since Turkish troops landed on the island in 1974 after a failed coup engineered in Greece, Turkish-Cypriots have been under heavy sanctions that included bans on international flights and shipping. Now the United States, United Nations and European Union are talking about rewarding the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus.

In an April 24 referendum, 76 percent of Greek-Cypriots rejected the plan, personally endorsed by U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan and strongly supported by the Bush administration and the European Union. By contrast, 65 percent of the island’s Turkish-Cypriots endorsed it.

The U.S. visit earlier this month of Mehmet Ali Talat, the Turkish-Cypriot prime minister, was widely seen as a diplomatic triumph. He held private meetings with Mr. Annan and Secretary of State Colin L. Powell.

Mr. Chrysostomides said Greek-Cypriots were “foremost among the disappointed” over the referendum result, which meant the Republic of Cyprus entered the European Union a week later still a heavily armed and ethnically divided island.

But he said international critics should recognize the referendum as “democracy in action” and that a majority of Greek-Cypriots still had security and property concerns that must be addressed.

“If the expectation was that everyone was just supposed to say ‘yes,’ why did they put ‘no’ on the ballot?” he asked.

Mr. Chrysostomides said U.N. and other international officials were so eager to placate wary Turkish-Cypriots before the vote that they underestimated Greek-Cypriot concerns in the process.

“Negotiations can still be on the basis of the [Annan] plan, and we are ready to begin right now,” he said.

A poll this week found 51 percent of Greek-Cypriots would support a second referendum provided the security issues and guarantees are addressed, although the United Nations has not said what it plans to do now.

Don’t blame Turkey

Visiting members of the Turkish parliament said their country did its part in trying to reunite Cyprus.

“No one can blame Turkey any longer for the situation there,” Egemen Bagis of the Justice and Development Party told reporters at the Turkish Embassy.

Sukru Elekdag of the Republican People’s Party added, “The blame should clearly be laid on the Greek-Cypriots.”

He urged the Turkish-Cypriot government “to ask for everything possible” from the international community but not to seek diplomatic recognition.

The Turkish lawmakers also predicted that Turkish-Cypriot President Rauf Denktash, who opposed the U.N. reunification plan that his citizens overwhelmingly approved, has lost his influence.

Mr. Bagis said Mr. Denktash, the defiant voice of Turkish-Cypriot independence for 20 years, will remain in a “symbolic” role. Prime Minister Mehmet Ali Talat, who campaigned for the plan, has emerged as the new leader.

“If he stays on as president … Mr. Denktash will not have much influence,” Mr. Bagis said.

Call Embassy Row at 202/636-3297, fax 202/832-

7278 or e-mail [email protected]


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