Re­uni­fi­ca­tion of Cyprus?

A fed­eral re­pub­lic with two states, each largely but not ex­clu­sively com­mu­nal, is per­fectly pos­si­ble

Cape Breton Post - - EDITORIAL - Gwynne Dyer Gwynne Dyer is an in­de­pen­dent jour­nal­ist whose ar­ti­cles are pub­lished in 45 coun­tries.

It was not so much a straw in the wind as a cheese in the wind. It’s a chewy, salty cheese that is de­li­cious grilled: hal­loumi, as they call it in the Greek-speak­ing Re­pub­lic of Cyprus, or hel­lim, as it is known in the Turk­ish Re­pub­lic of North Cyprus.

This week, the is­land’s two ri­val gov­ern­ments jointly ap­plied to the Euro­pean Union to give hal­loumi/hel­lim “Pro­tected Des­ig­na­tion of Ori­gin” sta­tus, like French cham­pagne or Greek feta, so that no other pro­ducer can use the name. It was a small mir­a­cle.

Cyrus has been di­vided since 1974, when a bloody coup backed by the gen­er­als’ regime in Athens, in­tended to unite the is­land with the “mother coun­try”, was an­swered by a Turk­ish in­va­sion to pro­tect the Turk­ish-Cypriot mi­nor­ity. Tur­key ended up hold­ing the north­ern third of the is­land, and Greek-Cypri­ots who lived in that part of Cyprus fled south while Turk­ish-Cypri- ots in the south­ern part of the is­land fled north.

When the dust set­tled, there were two Cypruses: the in­ter­na­tion­ally rec­og­nized Re­pub­lic of Cyprus, now al­most ex­clu­sively Greek-speak­ing, and the Turk­ish Re­pub­lic of North­ern Cyprus (TRNC), rec­og­nized by no­body ex­cept Tur­key. Forty-one years later, Cyprus is still di­vided – but maybe not for much longer.

For the Turk­ish-Cypri­ots, time is run­ning out. There are only 120,000 of them, and they are al­ready out­num­bered by the Turk­ish im­mi­grants, most of them ill-ed­u­cated and un­skilled, who have flooded in since 1974. In the past 10 years, with a con­ser­va­tive Is­lamic gov­ern­ment in Tur­key, they have also been fac­ing the creep­ing Is­lamiza­tion of their tra­di­tion­ally sec­u­lar so­ci­ety.

So the Turk­ish-Cypri­ots have good rea­son to seek a deal that gives them their own state within a re­united, fed­eral Cyprus. For Greek-Cypri­ots a deal is less ur­gent, but with 30,000 Turk­ish troops still on the is­land and neigh­bours whose iden­tity is be­com­ing more Turk­ish and less Cypriot their fu­ture is un­cer­tain. The prob­lem is that pres­i­dents come and go, and there are rarely pres­i­dents on both sides will­ing to make a deal at the same time.

Now there are. Mustafa Ak­inci was elected pres­i­dent of the TRNC in April, and im­me­di­ately asked to start re­uni­fi­ca­tion talks with his op­po­site num­ber, Pres­i­dent Ni­cos Anas­tasi­ades – who im­me­di­ately agreed. “The pas­sage of time is not help­ing a so­lu­tion,” said Ak­inci. “The more time passes, the more the di­vi­sion be­comes con­sol­i­dated.”

There is much op­ti­mism about these talks, be­cause both lead­ers un­der­stand that there can be no go­ing back to the good old days be­fore 1974 (good for the Greek-Cypri­ots, at least, although many Turk­ish-Cypri­ots were liv­ing un­der siege in bar­ri­caded ghet­toes). Most of the refugees of 1974 (or their de­scen­dants) will not be go­ing “home” again. Too much has hap­pened, and even now Turk­ish-Cypri­ots would not feel safe in a uni­tary state.

But a fed­eral re­pub­lic with two states, each largely but not ex­clu­sively com­mu­nal, is per­fectly pos­si­ble. It would free Turk­ish-Cypri­ots from their long iso­la­tion, and ex­pand eco­nomic op­por­tu­ni­ties for peo­ple in both com­mu­ni­ties. The Turk­ish army would go home, the barbed wire and en­trench­ments of the “Green Line” would van­ish, and Nicosia, the world’s last di­vided cap­i­tal, would be one city again.

It is just good sense, and Pres- idents Ak­inci and Anas­tasi­ades will prob­a­bly make the deal – Ak­inci reck­ons they will be there be­fore the end of the year. There is just one prob­lem. A very sim­i­lar re­uni­fi­ca­tion was ne­go­ti­ated in 2003-04 with the help of the Euro­pean Union and the bless­ings of both the United Na­tions and the United States.

In the 2004 ref­er­en­dum, the Turk­ish Cypri­ots voted for it by a two-to-one ma­jor­ity, but the Greek-Cyri­ots re­jected it by a crush­ing three-to-one ma­jor­ity. Af­ter all, they greatly out­num­ber the Turk­ish-Cypri­ots and they are far richer. Things are peace­ful right now, so why should they com­pro­mise?

Be­cause Cyprus lives in a very dan­ger­ous neigh­bour­hood, and it’s a re­ally bad idea to keep the old do­mes­tic hos­til­i­ties go­ing as well.

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