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AMBASSADOR'S COMMENTARY IN THE WASHINGTON TIMES
2002-07-23 10:43:29

THE WASHINGTON TIMES--July 21, 2002
A time for change in Cyprus?
Erato Kozakou Marcoullis

"Over the last three decades, much has changed in the world in which we live. The Cold War is over, the Soviet Union has collapsed, apartheid was abolished in South Africa, and many autocratic and repressive regimes in Europe and around the globe have vanished, opening the road to more freedom and democracy.

More recently, on September 11, the entire world was jarred into a new era of insecurity, but also to a new spirit of solidarity and unity to fight international terrorism.

The world may have changed a lot in 28 years, but not in my country where Turkey continues to occupy northern Cyprus against the test of time. The unacceptable status quo of division remains unbroken.

Like Berlin before the wall crumbled, Nicosia remains the only divided capital in the world. Greek and Turkish Cypriots live on opposite sides of a barbed wire fence that cuts across the island, separating the two communities. And the northern third of the country, with more than 40,000 occupying Turkish troops, is one of the most heavily militarized areas in the world. The irony is that the country responsible for this unacceptable situation is a member of NATO — an alliance created to protect and promote freedom and democracy.

Yesterday marked 28 years since the slashing that left the ugly scar of division across the body and soul of Cyprus and its people. Unfortunately, though words of condemnation have been strong on a global scale, little has changed in Cyprus since that fateful July 20, 1974, when Turkey invaded and occupied the northern third of the island. The people of Cyprus are forced to mark, for yet another year, a sad anniversary full of painful memories, holding onto hope that the day will soon come when their country will again be whole and free.

Today, our hope rests largely on the European Union enlargement process. Cyprus is one of the leading candidates to join the European Union in December when the EU takes the historic decision to further unite Europe by adding more nations — without a Cyprus settlement.

Turkey will soon find itself in the awkward position of being an EU candidate and at the same time occupying militarily territory that is part of the European Union.

This is why the Cyprus reunification talks, which have been under way since January between Cyprus President Glafcos Clerides and Turkish-Cypriot leader Rauf Denktash are likely to take on increasing urgency as the EU decisions approach. While progress in the talks has remained disappointingly slow and the June target for agreement has not been met, the United States, the United Nations and the European Union continue to support the talks and a comprehensive solution to this longstanding conflict.

The government of Cyprus is doing all it can to help usher in a new era of peace, where Greek Cypriots and Turkish Cypriots alike can share in the promise of prosperity the EU holds. In contrast, the Turkish Cypriot side, as the U.N. Security Council observed recently, "has been less constructive in its approach and has declined to support the goal of resolving the core issues by the end of June."

Clearly, the time for change in Cyprus is long overdue. A historic opportunity now exists for the transformation of the entire Eastern Mediterranean into an area of peace, stability and prosperity.

An important missing link so far has been Turkey's willingness to take those bold decisions necessary to turn a new page in its relations with Cyprus. But the choice is now clear. Either Turkey can enhance its own prospects for EU membership by cooperating to bring peace in Cyprus, or it can unleash greater instability — particularly at a time of economic and political turmoil at home and growing uncertainty in an already troubled region — thus putting at great risk its EU prospects.

If the United States and its allies act decisively to convince Turkey that the best path for its own future stability and prosperity is the European one, including dropping its hard-line stance on Cyprus, 2003 could be the year we celebrate both the enlargement of the EU and the reunification of Cyprus, one of its newest members, as well as the opening of a new important chapter in EU-Turkish relations. The choice is clear.

Erato Kozakou Marcoullis is the ambassador of the Republic of Cyprus."

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