Al-Ahram Weekly Online   29 April - 5 May 2004
Issue No. 688
Published in Cairo by AL-AHRAM established in 1875

Still torn

The UN-backed Cypriot reunification plan was rejected by Greek Cypriot voters in a referendum last Saturday. Michael Jansen reports from Nicosia

The rejection by 640,000 Greek Cypriots of the United Nations' plan for the reunification of the island shows that every so often a small, vulnerable group of people can stand up for their rights against the will of the world.

The day after 76 per cent of Greek Cypriots voted "Oxi-No", President Tassos Papadopoulos said that the UN, Europe and the US had expected them to "rubber stamp" a plan that had been tailored to accommodate Turkey's demands. He added that the UN had also ignored the needs of Turkish Cypriots, 64 per cent of whom nevertheless voted "Evet-Yes" on the plan for a bi-zonal, bi-communal federation.

Among the international political figures who have exerted massive pressure on the normally cautious Greek Cypriots are US President George W Bush, British Prime Minister Tony Blair, UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan, and European Union Enlargement Commissioner Guenter Verheugen. None of them gave the Greek Cypriots a chance to really voice their political demands.

Like mainland Greeks, Greek Cypriots annually commemorate the "Oxi" vote of 28 October 1940, delivered by Greek dictator John Metaxas in response to fascist Italy's ultimatum to capitulate or suffer invasion. The Greeks said "No" and defeated the Italians, only then to be occupied by Nazi Germany. This time, the Greek Cypriots had initially approved of the UN plan but not, in the end, of reunification itself. President Tassos Papadopoulos spelt out his community's reasons for this rejection: "Greek Cypriots do not accept the presence of Turkish troops in [northern] Cyprus in perpetuity," and oppose the strengthening of Turkey's status as a guarantor power entitled to the right of unilateral military intervention. Greek Cypriots want concrete assurances that Turkey will not intervene in the affairs of the proposed United Cyprus Republic, as Ankara continued to do after independence in 1960.

Papadopoulos said that Greek Cypriots "failed to understand why, under the plan, 45,000 [mainland] Turkish settlers were to be given citizenship in Cyprus" and another 25,000 were to be given permanent residence with citizenship after four years. He said the plan permitted the flow of Turkish settlers to Cyprus because it stipulated that 66 per cent of the population of the north should be native Turkish speakers. He also said Greek Cypriots do not trust Turkey to implement the provisions of the plan which mandate the withdrawal of all but a fraction of its 35,000 to 40,000 troops, and the reduction of the area under Turkish control from 37 to 29 per cent. Turkey, an ally of Israel, has a history of ignoring UN resolutions and international obligations.

Mumtaz Soysal, the mainland Turkish constitutional adviser to hard-line Turkish Cypriot leader Rauf Denktash, made the point that the Turkish Cypriot "Yes" to the Annan plan amounted to a "No" to Turkey. Having lived with the Turkish army and under Ankara's indirect rule for 30 years the Turkish Cypriots are now demanding self-rule, the departure of troops, reunification with their Greek Cypriot compatriots and democracy and prosperity within the EU. Still, in spite of their rejection of Turkish rule, they felt reassured that the Annan plan retains Turkey as the guarantor of their security.

Prior to last Saturday's referenda, Annan had declared that a "No" from either side would render his 9,000-page plan "null and void". Shortly after the outcome was declared, a formal statement from Annan was read out by his envoy, Alvado de Soto. Annan, it said, "intends to give careful thought to the implications of [the] result". Once he has done so he will report to the UN Security Council that will decide whether or not the plan remains alive.

While the proportion of the Greek Cypriot "No" seems insurmountable, modifications in the plan could alleviate Greek Cypriot concerns. The Greek Cypriot political scene is dominated by two large political parties commanding more than half the vote -- the left- wing Akel and the right-wing Democratic Rally. Akel, which was expected to recommend a "Yes" vote to its supporters shifted to "No" when its leadership learnt that two-thirds planned to defy the party's recommendation and vote against the plan anyway. Rally members were also split.

Meanwhile, Annan may be angry over the Greek Cypriot rejection but he and his team have invested too much time, effort and prestige in the effort to resolve the Cypriot problem to give up now when a solution is within reach. While Turkish Foreign Minister Abdullah Gul dismissed the possibility of calling for new negotiations and another referendum and instead proposed that the breakaway Turkish Cypriot state be internationally recognised, his Justice and Development Party (AKP) government has taken too many risks to secure a settlement on the question of Cyprus to adopt a negative stand now.

Turkey cannot expect to become a serious candidate for EU membership as long as its troops occupy the territory of another EU member in violation of UN resolutions and international law. During the drive for a deal on Cyprus, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan marginalised Turkey's powerful politico-military elite as well as Denktash, the architect of the partition plan. By doing so, Erdogan placed Turkey on the road to demilitarised democracy. This major achievement could be reversed if Erdogan does not actually secure a deal on Cyprus.

EU officials and leaders are furious with Greek Cypriots and are determined to ensure that they enter the union. But the officials also know that there is no option but to carry on with the struggle for a negotiated settlement. The entire island will join the EU on Saturday but the north will still be considered territory outside the control of the legitimate government. Turkish Cypriots will be entitled to EU passports and to the same rights as Greek Cypriots although they live in an area outside the EU. The EU's eastern border will bisect Cyprus. There will be endless arguments over the status of this de facto division. Controls will have to be imposed which keep out illegal immigrants without harming Turkish Cypriots.

Ahead of the expected Greek Cypriot rebuff of the Annan plan, the Turkish Cypriot Mayor of north Nicosia, Kutlay Erk, told Al-Ahram Weekly that in his opinion there could be new negotiations "by the end of the year". "Dealing with the Cyprus problem is like riding a bicycle," the mayor said -- you just have to keep peddling.

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