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May 07, 2012, Monday

Cyprus again

Over the years, I have had the pleasure of visiting Cyprus many times. I have grown to love the island and have made many friends there.

 When writing about the Cyprus problem, I have always tried to take a balanced approach but am aware this is easier said than done. Commenting on the issue is rather like walking across a minefield.

Still, I was particularly disappointed to read a number negative comments posted online in response to my article dated April 29 labeling me pro-Turkish and anti-Greek Cypriot, implying I blame the failure of the current round of talks aimed at reunifying the island on Greek Cypriot intransigence. This is simply not true.

In the first place, I have never said the talks collapsed simply because of the Greek Cypriots. While they obviously contributed, they are certainly not wholly responsible. Frankly speaking, neither side has demonstrated enough political will for a solution. Moreover, I certainly do not see myself as pro-Turkish. While the Greek Cypriots may have voted “no” on the 2004 Annan Plan, there were many other opportunities before that which were squandered because of Turkish intransigence. Indeed, I have consistently been critical of Turkey’s policy, including the continued settling of Turkish nationals in the north of the island, which has resulted in the Turkish Cypriots becoming almost a minority in their own community; talk of annexation; the continued presence of tens of thousands of Turkish forces on the island; and the policy of keeping Varosha, once the most glamorous and lively resort on the island but now a derelict ghost town, hostage for almost four decades.

Rather, I have always seen myself as “pro-Cyprus” and have deep sympathies towards both the Turkish and Greek Cypriot communities, the suffering that they have gone through over the years and the negative role that external powers have played.

Yet, I also believe that we have to call a spade a spade. While there is no hiding the fact that the current Turkish Cypriot leader, Derviş Eroğlu, has historically never favored a bi-zonal, bi-communal federation, he was elected because the man who did support such a solution, the man who had a clear vision of a united Cyprus, Mehmet Ali Talat, was voted out of office as he was unable to deliver. One of the reasons for this failure was that his friend, Greek Cypriot leader Dimitris Christofias, failed to sign off on a number of issues that he and Talat had agreed to verbally and which could have been key in helping him remain in office. While I still like believe that when Christofias took up the presidency he was genuine in his desire for a bi-communal, bi-zonal solution, at the end of the day, domestic pressure hobbled his ability to act and he was not strong enough to fight it. The calls for no deadlines or timeframes and the outright dislike of many in the Greek Cypriot community towards sharing power with the Turkish Cypriots actually worked to help Mr. Eroğlu, and I believe the Turkish Cypriots have been able to “checkmate” the Greek Cypriots. For Christofias, particularly in recent times, talking about compromise has been a clear political loser, which Eroğlu and Turkey were able to exploit. Thereby, while the Greek Cypriots were seemingly dragging their feet, feeling secure as an EU member, the Turkish Cypriots were acting proactively, particularly in the latest period running up to the UN decision over whether or not to hold an international conference.

Now we have the Turkish Cypriot plan B, although so far there has been little elaboration as to what it could be. The Turkish media has suggested the opening of Varosha, allowing Greek Cypriots to reclaim property they lost in 1974 when the Turkish military seized it. Frankly, this seems unlikely, firstly because most (although not all) Greek Cypriots who have property in Varosha would refuse to live under the Turkish administration. Furthermore, it would be illegal because Varosha is protected by a 1984 UN Security Council resolution (Resolution 550) that states it should be transferred to UN control. Although Turkey already violates a number of UN resolutions on Cyprus, I doubt Ankara would move to do this without some sort of international approval given that Turkey wants to be seen as a serious regional player. Furthermore, Varosha is uninhabitable. It is an environmental hazard with its infrastructure destroyed. Most of the buildings are derelict and dangerous. Who would pay for the reconstruction, which would cost billions? I doubt very much Turkey would be ready to foot the bill, and I do not believe the Greek Cypriots would help finance something that would be under Turkish control. Apparently, more details of plan B will be revealed shortly, I guess on the eve of the Cypriot presidency of the EU. Maybe the Greek Cypriots also have a plan B. Let’s wait and see. Perhaps in the meantime the Greek Cypriots should ask themselves what they want, and begin an honest, serious discussion with the population over the future of the island, which is clearly never going to be a unitary state.

Previous articles of the columnist