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Greek Cypriots

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New Start in Cyprus

19 February 2008

New Start in Cyprus

By Gwynne Dyer

To call Tassos Papadopoulos a dinosaur is a slur on the entire Cretaceous era, but at least the age of the dinosaurs has ended in Cyprus. Running for re-election as president last Sunday, Papadopoulos, the man who almost single-handedly scuttled a peace settlement in Cyprus four years ago, came third and was eliminated from the race. Both the remaining candidates want to reopen negotiations for a peace deal.

The Greek-Cypriot newspaper Simerini was slightly more generous about the 74-year-old Papadopoulos, calling him “the last of the Mohicans,” but the sense that his defeat marks a turning point in the affairs of Cyprus is widespread. For more than half a century Cyprus has been a divided and heavily militarised island kept quiet by a UN peacekeeping force, but there is hope on the horizon.

Papadopoulos, who founded his presidency on resistance to a UN-backed plan to end the division of Cyprus, trailed only a few thousand votes behind his two adversaries, former foreign minister Ioannis Kasoulides and Communist Party leader Demetris Christofias, each of whom took almost exactly one-third of the vote. But that means that two-thirds of Greek-Cypriots are now ready to reconsider the final settlement that they rejected in the 2004 referendum.

Nobody in Greek-Cypriot politics will admit that, of course. Both Kasoulides and Christofias insist that the UN-brokered 2004 deal is dead, and the UN says that the Greek- and Turkish-Cypriots should sort it out for themselves this time round. But everybody knows that the 2004 UN deal is the template for a final settlement, just as everybody knows that the documents from the Taba summit in January 2001 contain the outline of the final Israeli-Palestinian settlement (if and when everybody is ready for it).

What we have here, only sixty years late, is the dawning of strategic realism in Cyprus. According to old census figures, almost four-fifths of the Cypriot population spoke Greek and only one-fifth Turkish, so if the island had been located somewhere off the west coast of Greece, it could just have joined Greece when it got its independence from Britain in 1960. If the Turks didn’t like it, they could leave.

But Cyprus is not an island off the west coast of Greece. It is a large island off the south coast of Turkey, and the Turkish mainland is ten times closer to Cyprus than the Greek mainland. Moreover, Turkey is a militarily competent country with about seven times Greece’s population. The Greeks may love the Greek-Cypriots, but they were never going to wreck their country by going to war with Turkey for them.

It’s not about historical justice, if such a thing exists; it’s about strategic realities. The Greek-Cypriot majority COULD NOT drag its Turkish compatriots into union with Greece, it could not expel them, and there was even a limit to how badly it could mistreat them. Turkey would not stand for it, and Greece would not intervene militarily.

That was why Cyprus’s independence constitution was a document of Byzantine complexity, dividing every aspect of the government between the Greek and Turkish communities and creating interlocking vetoes over every decision. By 1963 frustrated Greek-Cypriots were trying to change it, mutual suspicions flared, and within a year almost all Turkish-Cypriots were living under siege in barricaded quarters of villages and towns all across the island.

That was when the UN peacekeeping force arrived, and froze the situation for a decade. Then in 1974 the military junta in Greece backed a military coup against the Greek-Cypriot government and installed a new regime that promised to unite the entire island with Greece. It was a miscalculation on a par with the Argentine invasion of the Falklands, but it wrecked many more lives.

Turkey invaded the north of the island to create a safe haven for Turkish-Cypriots, and the Greek armed forces, predictably, did nothing. Almost half the Turkish-Cypriot population, some 90,000 people, lived outside that Turkish-controlled enclave, but they abandoned their homes to seek safety there. About 200,000 Greek-Cypriots, forty percent of that population, fled south to escape the Turks. And for the next thirty years, nothing much happened.

By 2003, however, with Cyprus about to join the European Union and Turkey negotiating its entry terms, a new effort was launched to clear up the mess. UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan came up with the terms after consulting both sides, and the deal was put to a referendum in 2004. Two-thirds of Turkish-Cypriots voted yes; over three-quarters of Greek-Cypriots, at the urging of President Papadopoulos, voted no. It was one last outing for Greek-Cypriot strategic fantasy.

Admittedly, the UN-brokered deal was not perfect from their point of view. It mandated a bi-zonal, bi-communal republic in which the Turkish-Cypriots largely run their own affairs, not the unitary state of today in which Greek-Cypriots would automatically dominate. It allowed Greek-Cypriot refugees to return to some parts of the north, but not to most. But it sent the Turkish troops home, and it conformed to strategic realities.

In 2004, Papadopoulos persuaded Greek-Cypriots to reject this deal. In 2008, they have rejected him. Whether Kasoulides or Christofias wins the run-off election next Sunday (probably the former), the new president will soon open talks with the Turkish-Cypriot government. With enough realism, there could be a deal within a year.


To shorten to 725 words, omit paragraphs 4 and 7. (“Nobody…it”; and “It’s not…militarily”)

Cyprus: Freezing Turkey Out

21 April 2004

Cyprus: Freezing Turkey Out

By Gwynne Dyer

“Life would not be the same, and that everyone has to know,” said Javier Solana, head of foreign policy for the European Union, as he contemplated a Greek-Cypriot vote against reunification of the island on the eve of Cyprus’s entry into the EU on May 1st. The leader writer in the Cyprus Mail, the island’s English-language daily, was less diplomatic: “In the highly likely event that the No vote wins, on May 1 we will be the first police state to become a full member of the EU….We are witnessing the state engaging in open suppression of information, blatant lies, and the imposition of its views on the citizens.”

The UN-backed deal for the creation of a federal government in Cyprus, divided between hostile Greek- and Turkish-speaking communities since 1974, is, in the words of UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan, “the best and fairest chance of peace, prosperity and stability that is ever likely to be on offer.” Neither side gets everything it wants, but both sides get a lot. In the referendum this Saturday (24 April), however, the Greek-Cypriots will probably vote No.

The Turkish-Cypriots will vote Yes to reunification — but that won’t help them if the Greek-speakers vote No, because only the government on the Greek side of the Green Line has international recognition. It will join the EU on May 1 anyway, while the Turkish-speakers languish in poverty north of the barbed wire and trenches that still divide the island. It doesn’t seem reasonable, but then not much of Cyprus’s recent history is.

Greek-Cypriots never fully accepted that the 18 percent Turkish-speaking minority had a right to be there, so the power-sharing constitution that Britain left behind in 1960 never worked. By 1964 Turkish-Cypriots were living in besieged enclaves — and in 1974 the same EOKA terrorists who had waged a guerilla war against the British in the 1950s, backed by the colonels who then ruled in Athens, carried out a coup aimed at achieving ‘enosis’ (union with Greece). Turkey invaded to stop it, and by the end of the fighting all the Turkish-Cypriots had fled north, 200,000 Greek-Cypriots had fled south, and 37 percent of the island’s land was in Turkish hands.

There it has stuck for thirty years. The Greek south has prospered, while the so-called Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus, recognised only by Turkey, has sunk ever deeper into isolation and poverty. So Turkish-Cypriots are eager to reunify the island, join the EU, and enjoy free movement and prosperity — while the Greek-Cypriots, guaranteed entry to the EU no matter what they do, don’t feel compelled to be reasonable.

Under the UN deal, each community would run its own affairs, but a federal government would handle financial affairs and foreign and EU relations. About a quarter of the Turkish-Cypriot zone would be handed over to the Greek-Cypriots, including the port of Famagusta. The 38,000 Turkish troops in the north of the island would shrink to 6,000 by 2008, and eventually to 650. And there would be over $2 billion in foreign aid to rebuild infrastructure and compensate refugees who can’t return to their old homes.

But the refugees are the deal-breaker. If all the Greek-Cypriots who fled in 1974 went back to the north, the Turkish-Cypriots would be swamped, so for the next twenty years (or until Turkey joins the EU), the number of Greek refugees who can return is restricted to 18 percent of the Turkish-Cypriot population. It is not just, but it could not be otherwise.

Tassos Papadopoulos, the new Greek-Cypriot president elected in February, is the hardest of nationalist hard-liners. He was a leading EOKA member in the 50s, and in the 60s he was second-in-command of the Akrotiras organisation, whose goal was to rid the island of Turkish-Cypriots in the 60s. In a tearful speech on April 7, Papadopoulos warned that the Turkish government could never be trusted and told Greek-Cypriots to reject the deal — and EU spokesmen trying to explain the deal are being kept off Cypriot television.

It’s working: opinion polls predict that about two-thirds of Turkish-Cypriots will vote Yes to the deal, but two-thirds of Greek-Cypriots will vote No. Former Cypriot president George Vassiliou said: “People need correct information about the details of the plan, but they’re not getting it. The media are giving out half-truths and misleading interpretations…. The current mood is one of nationalist hysteria, but when people wake up, it will be a painful reckoning.”

It will, but not just for the Greek-Cypriots, who will lose $2 billion in promised aid and probably never see their country reunited. Turkish-Cypriots will lose too, even if Europe tries to make it up to them with aid, and even if some countries now recognise their breakaway state. Above all, Turkey and Europe will lose: the Greek-Cypriot government, once it becomes an EU member in May, will very likely use its veto to prevent Turkey from beginning entry negotiations, promised for next year, in an attempt to blackmail everybody into changing the deal.

So Europe will show itself to be anti-Muslim, and the brave attempt by Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan to make his country a full European-style democracy worthy of EU membership will be punished by disillusioned Turkish voters, and much that is of value will slowly slide off a cliff. If the EU had any guts, it would respond to a Greek-Cypriot No vote by suspending the island’s entry until they re-think their answer. But I wouldn’t hold my breath.


To shorten to 725 words, omit paragraphs 6 and 7. (“Under…otherwise”)