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July 05, 2012, Thursday

Get serious on Cyprus

NICOSIA-- “Get [Egemen] Bağış on TV. Get him to talk weekly [to the Greek Cypriot public]. Turkey, to the average Greek Cypriot, is the invader. It’s the oppressor for the last 35 years.

It has no other image, [and while] there are areas where it is [the invader], there are [also] areas where it is not. But they are not putting this across.”

Perhaps this quote summarizes it. The view belongs to a Greek Cypriot -- one of the 50 interviewees that the Turkish Economic and Social Studies Foundation (TESEV) quotes in its new report on how the troubled island, divided into Turkish and Greek sections, perceives Turkey and its role.

Prepared by Middle East Technical University (ODTÜ) Associate Professor Rebecca Bryant and International Center for Transitional Justice Country Manager for Cyprus Christalla Yakinthou, the report comes as Greek Cyprus takes over the EU presidency as “the bailout member” with complete political deadlock with Turkey, which stands out in the region as a rapidly emerging, stable economic power.

As can easily be guessed, the views expressed in “in-depth interview” format, of businesspeople, civil servants, union leaders, civil society representatives and journalists, across genders, leave us with a deep sense of gloom. Both communities are less hopeful for a settlement and find common ground in anxieties and fears. But in many aspects, they differ in their reasons.

“…while the relationship with Turkey was foremost in the minds of many of our Turkish Cypriot interviewees, the corollary was clearly not the case among our Greek Cypriot participants. In the south, the role of Turkey in the neighborhood and the relationship with Turkey was often not the highest in the hierarchy of pressing concerns about the island’s future. In many cases, the relationship with Turkey was seen as a more-or-less stable, if unwanted factor. More pressing was the impending collapse of the Greek economy and the direct spillover into Cyprus by way of economic, cultural and social impact. One of the main factors influencing Cypriots’ current views on both sides of the island was Turkey’s exponential economic growth. While Turkish Cypriots were cautious about the effects of that growth for them, some Greek Cypriot interviewees tended to see it as an opportunity that might enable Greek Cypriot-Turkish cooperation, as interest in the Turkish market seemed to create incentives for the business community to bridge the divide. Indeed, ironically, while Turkey’s implementation of neoliberal policies has created considerable anxiety amongst Turkish Cypriots, the Greek Cypriot business community has tended to view these changes in a more positive light,” argues the report.

In the North, Turk Cypriots are concerned that “the limited sovereignty with which they have lived for so long is being increasingly breached by a Turkey that often views the island’s north as an extension of Anatolia, more a province than a protectorate. For this reason, when interviewees were asked to find a word to describe the relationship between Turkish Cypriots and their patron state, they variously named it a ‘guardianship’ (vesayet), a ‘relationship of submission’ (biyat), an ‘asymmetric relationship,’ a ‘difficult relationship’ (zor bir ilişki), or various forms of dependency, including the European Court of Human Rights’ label of ‘subordinate authority’ (altyönetim).”

Turkish Cypriots focus on the failure of two political “projects”: recognition of their statelet by the international community and the reunification of the island. But the failure of the Annan Plan referendum again left them without a clear future. “One interviewee recalled that at the time of the referendum, an EU diplomat had encouraged them to ‘jump aboard the train.’ ‘We jumped aboard the train,’ the interviewee remarked, ‘and then we looked and saw that the train had no locomotive. They took off and left us behind, and the train was still in the same place.’ They all feel in a limbo,” the report underlines.

Greek Cypriots highlight their fears of Ankara. “These fears, together with the perceived zero-sum and aggressive public and negotiation strategy in relation to Cyprus, continue to play the largest role in shaping how people view Turkey.” But, it seems clear; they were divided on whether Turkey’s economic power would play negatively or positively on their future. And some blamed Greek Cypriot politicians who “for their small wins missed the bigger picture,” bringing the island to the edge.

The report ends with a number of recommendations from both communities addressing Turkey. The Turkish side emphasizes measures on independence, while the Greek side underlines trust and confidence-building. But, the real value in this report is how helpful it will be for Brussels to understand -- once more -- that by dealing with Turkey’s accession in a dishonest manner it is only extending the suffering and instability on the island. Time to get serious then.

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