- - Friday, August 22, 2014

At a time when, in the words of former U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine K. Albright, “the world is a mess,” it’s disturbing to see and read ugly depictions of Cyprus as though it’s a war zone.

Accordingly, I was disappointed to open up a recent copy of The Washington Times and discover an op-ed by Victor Davis Hanson (“Occupation hypocrisy: Gaza vs. Cyprus,” Aug. 14), implying that our situation is little different from the missile launches and airstrikes in Gaza and Israel, and a cartoon depicting blood from a Turkish flag dripping on one belonging to Greek Cyprus.

Both fail to acknowledge the most basic of realities: Turkish Cypriots and Greek Cypriots haven’t fired bullets at each other in decades. Moreover, the venerable Cyprus problem — started three years after the island received independence from the United Kingdom in 1960, when the Greek Cypriot leadership initiated repressive measures against the Turkish Cypriot population — appears considerably more solvable than the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. In fact, negotiations are at a critical juncture as there still exists an opportunity for a just and lasting solution. If solved, a united Cyprus will be the keystone of a wider area of cooperation and stability in the Eastern Mediterranean and beyond.

Serious challenges remain, however.

In the four decades since Turkey’s intervention to save Turkish Cypriots from the dire consequences of an attempted Anschluss with Greece’s military dictatorship, Greek Cypriot leaders and their allies abroad have worked to denigrate our existence as a people. They keep us isolated from the rest of the world, even being so petty as to try to prevent our institutions of higher learning from entering into student-exchange agreements with universities in Europe and the United States.

Their children are taught from school textbooks filled with patently offensive depictions of Turkish Cypriots and Turks. In 2004, Turkish Cypriots strongly backed a United Nations-sponsored peace plan put forth by then-Secretary-General Kofi Annan and supported by the Bush administration that would have reunified the island under a federal state. In stark contrast, the Greek Cypriots overwhelmingly rejected the proposal.

Do these disgraceful acts of delegitimization sound familiar to activists who insist that Israel be allowed to live peacefully and securely with its neighbors?

As a consequence of the latest round of U.N.-sponsored talks and strongly backed by Washington and Brussels, Turkish Cypriot President Dervis Eroglu and Greek Cypriot President Nicos Anastasiades issued a joint declaration last February setting out a new road map for comprehensive talks aimed at reaching a just and lasting settlement. The text of the statement was an unprecedented achievement, as it successfully addressed long and hotly contested issues, including sovereignty, citizenship and powers of the federation’s two constituent states.

Regrettably, the subsequent actions of Mr. Anastasiades and his advisers suggest that the Greek Cypriot side is unwilling to build upon this progress. Not only has his government failed to educate the man and woman on the street as to the importance of such an agreement, but there are now numerous, needless delays originating from his side.

The recent exploration and extraction of natural gas taking place underneath the levant basin ought to be strengthening the chances for a peaceful settlement on our island — and consequently, a more placid Eastern Mediterranean — but Mr. Anastasiades has to date shown little willingness to share these resources in a just manner. Were they to do so, tapping these hydrocarbons would ultimately provide vital economic benefits to all Cypriots.

Most pro-Israel groups in the United States say that they hope for a two-state solution, where Israelis and Palestinians live peacefully side-by-side and cooperating on important economic issues, including natural-gas exploitation. Turkish Cypriots enthusiastically endorse this vision. Similarly, we look forward to the day when every Cypriot, regardless of his ethnicity and religious affiliation, will live in a bi-zonal, bi-communal federation guaranteeing equal political rights for both peoples.

For that to happen, however, Turkish Cypriots need a partner on the Greek Cypriot side who places greater value on peace and reconciliation than on continued confrontation and hatred.

Ahmet Erdengiz is the Washington representative for the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus.

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