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The Guardian (London) January 20, 2003
2003-01-21 10:35:55

Copyright 2003 Guardian Newspapers Limited
The Guardian (London)
January 20, 2003
Behind the barbed wire of despair: Turkish Cypriots want to join the EU, but their leader isn't listening
By Peter Preston
Wander through the alleys of Nicosia with the shoppers and tourists any summer night: a light-hearted, prosperous place. Cotton shirts and laughter. Then, suddenly, there it is. Another bloody wall, another ramshackle mess of concrete and barbed wire bringing arbitrary separation; another city divided. Two decades ago, it was only a feeble copy of Berlin. Now it is simple affront. And the moment to tear it down has finally come.

That moment, as it arrives, will be a European moment: impelled by Europe, orchestrated by Europe, all about the future of Europe. That's why the next six weeks are so crucial far beyond Cyprus. In Britain, we still talk about the EU with boredom and paranoia. The stuff of rules and quotas and harmonisation, bureaucracy incarnate. A Europe that has kept the peace for half a century? We shrug. But peace (and security) are no shrugging matter here. They are the reasons Greek Cyprus first applied to join the union. A year or so hence, with enlargement, they will be our gift to Nicosia.

But there are other gifts the union brings. To 70,000 Turkish Cypriots, demonstrating beyond the wall last week, these are the gifts of hope and jobs, and an end to choking, barren isolation. Politics doesn't come much braver, or more passionate, than this. Forty thousand mainland Turkish troops have their camps only a few miles away. They have called most of the shots here for 29 years. And their generals seem at one with Rauf Denktash, the so-called president of this so-called state: the wall is not for dismantling yet, if ever. Their base camps go on and on.

Put the pressures together and see what a strange brew they make. Across the Mediterranean, Greece and Turkey want to be friends at last - and, more than that, partners in Europe. Greece is a prime ally for Ankara's dream of EU membership. There's warmth, but there's also danger. Turkey, at long last, has a new, potentially strong government with the will to campaign vehemently for membership. Don't doubt that Reccep Erdogan and his Justice and Development party really want to join: because the EU offers them economic progress and a definition of national interest, to be sure - but also because it offers Erdogan another kind of security.

He and his colleagues are an Islamic force in a secular state, and the army, since Ataturk, is the guardian of that secularity. It banned the last Islamic party to win an election, and it effectively bars Erdogan's route to the prime ministership. Would that behaviour be tolerated, for a second, if Turkey were already inside Europe? Of course not.

No wonder some of the top brass are dubious about the union. It may spell a new beginning for Turkey, but it would also be the end of their brooding influence and power. An end to coups and spasms of military dictatorship; an end to privilege.

Meanwhile, on Cyprus, the toiling UN has come up with yet another plan - for a loose cantonal solution to the healing of division, a return of some of the Greek lands seized by the invading Turks in 1974 and a continuing role for a much-diminished Turkish army presence. If Denktash, and Glafcos Clerides, the Greek Cypriot president, can agree it by February 28 - the starting date for accession - then Cyprus as a whole can join Europe. If not, then Turkish Cyprus, with its huge, occupying force, hangs outside in ominous limbo, potentially disrupting enlargement itself, blighting Ankara's great expectations, turning progress back into milling crisis.

This isn't just about whether Clerides and Denktash, most ancient of adversaries, can agree at last. It isn't even just about that wall, the miseries of exile and the exorcising the ghosts of 40 years ago. In the profoundest sense, it's also about the shape of our new, expanded Europe. It could hardly be more important, in national or human terms. The 70,000 on the streets, marching for peace, say so.

Yet the need and the longing may still drain away in futility. Erdogan, the voice of Ankara, may urge the need for a solution on Denktash. The Turkish Cypriot president's own people may clamour for his acquiescence. The UN and Europe may push and shove. But the deal has still to be done by this maverick 78-year-old, who loathes Europe with rare fervour and would rather see his mini-domain merged with Anatolia than allow it to find a fresh place in the sun. And he can hang back. He's been hanging back for four decades. He says there's "not enough time" for negotiation. He warns of Greek Cypriot takeover in the most ludicrous, lurid terms. Whoever's against him - say, the world community - he cherishes the assumption that the army is for him. That, even now, there need be no deal.

Who would dance in the streets if that happened? The fomenters of old hatreds, the exploiters of division; the no-change brigade. But perhaps the baldest head jiggling above the throng belongs to Valery Giscard D'Estaing - for here's a sweet and certain way of slamming the European door in Turkey's face.

Is that what Britain wants? What the elected governments of Turkey and Greece want? What the EU or the UN want? What the Americans, keenest proponents of Turkish membership, want?

No. But one leftover warrior with his shadowy chums thinks he can still keep the wall of depression and despair built high. He can still trade in fear, and a fear of the military which haunts Turkey itself. Is he right? It's a question for us all - and thus, naturally, for the last superpower left. George Bush gets sick and tired pretty easily these days. When will he get sick of Rauf Denktash?

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