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A Step Towards Reunifiying Cyprus

By on June 19, 2013
Endy Zemenides

Endy Zemenides

Ever since the 2004 referendum on the fatally flawed Annan Plan, the continued illegal division of Cyprus has been constantly portrayed by American foreign policy elites as being the fault of the victims of the Turkish invasion in 1974 – the Greek Cypriots. They ignore the conclusions of the Clinton Administration and Richard Holbrook that then Turkish Cypriot leader and the Turkish occupation regime were the main obstacles to a reunified Cyprus. They ignore the countless U.N. Security Council Resolutions, the European Court of Human Rights judgments against Turkey. They ignore the 40,000+ Turkish occupation troops, the demographic changes Turkey is carrying out in Cyprus, the destruction of Christian cultural heritage in the northern part of Cyprus. They ignore that once Turkish Cypriots changed leadership from Talat to Eroglu, they started to renege on areas of agreement, and withdrew from talks altogether because the Republic of Cyprus had assumed the presidency of the European Union. In the face of all this, they kept the focus on the Annan vote.

Over the second half of President Obama’s second term, a particularly inaccurate and ignorant talking point emerged – that Greek-Cypriots don’t have a bottom line in reunification negotiations. Washington D.C. nearly canonized Turkish Cypriot leader Talat in 2009 for the “risks” he was taking for peace, but remained absolutely hostile to the President of the Republic of Cyprus Demetris Christofias despite his making concessions that were unpopular among Greek Cypriots and staking his career on peace. Perhaps none of this should have been surprising. After all, the top two Obama Administration officials on the issue – National Security Staffer Elizabeth Sherwood Randall and Phillip Gordon – focused in part on Turkey during their stint at think tanks during the Annan process. Both were openly critical and dismissive of the Greek-Cypriot rejection of Annan. Now, when they were guiding policy, the continued occupation of Cyprus was the Greek-Cypriots’ fault. Go figure.

Up against such ill-informed prejudices against Greek-Cypriots came in a new government of the Republic of Cyprus. If Americans want to give credit for taking “risks” for peace, they have their men in President Nicos Anastasiades and Foreign Minister Ioannis Kasoulides. The first months of the Anastasiades government has been dominated by Cyprus’ financial crisis, but that hasn’t stopped Anastasiades and Kasoulides from trying to move the ball forward on Cyprus’ reunification.

In early May, on his first official visit to Washington, D.C., Foreign Minister Kasoulides delivered a major address at the Brookings Institution. Not waiting for comprehensive negotiations to be restarted, Kasoulides – on behalf of the Anastasiades government – offered up specific confidence building measures. On the defense front, Kasoulides declared the Republic of Cyprus’ willingness to lift its veto over Turkey’s participation in the European Defense Agency and to process its own application to NATO’s Partnership for Peace program, thus overcoming Turkey’s stated justifications for blocking EU/NATO dialogue. This proposal is of considerable value to the Western alliance. Given the threats in the region – especially in the Middle East – NATO and the EU have a greater need for defense cooperation than ever before. Furthermore, making Cyprus – with its strategic location, ports, and British bases that some argue should be converted to NATO bases – an asset for NATO would augment the alliance’s power projection as much if not more than any other potential member state.

Beyond playing this geo-strategic card, Foreign Minister Kasoulides proposed a “win-win-win” for Turkey, Turkish Cypriots, and the Republic of Cyprus. In the Minister’s address, he stated: “We are open to lifting our own veto on [c]ertain chapters of the accession negotiation of Turkey with European Union, a win for Turkey; permit world trade, direct trade with the Turkish Cypriot community through the port of Famagusta under the supervision of the European Union, a win situation for the Turkish Cypriots; and we want Turkey to relinquish the town of Famagusta, an empty town, a ghost town, to its rightful inhabitants, which is a win situation for Cyprus.”

There is much to commend in these proposed confidence-building measures. Given the bluster of the Erdogan government vis-à-vis Cyprus, the lack of credibility of Alexander Downer (the U.N.’s chief representative on Cyprus), and the fact that negotiations have been stalled for one year, it is unlikely that a referendum on a comprehensive solution can be advanced any time soon. Yet greater NATO/EU is needed now with the Eastern Mediterranean falling apart. Advancing Turkey/EU negotiations may encourage reforms that address the democratic aspirations expressed in the Taksim protests in Turkey. The return/liberation of Famagusta would be the greatest symbolic moves towards peace, as well as a way to put thousands back to work in rebuilding the town. Finally, opening up the world to the Turkish Cypriots under EU supervision would demonstrate to them the advantages of being fully integrated into the EU member Republic of Cyprus rather than remaining a colony of Ankara.

The Republic of Cyprus has made a bold move for peace. Are Turkey and the American elites who have castigated Greek-Cypriots for a decade ready to respond?

Endy Zemenides is the Executive Director of the Hellenic American Leadership Council (HALC), a national advocacy organization for the Greek American community.  To learn more about HALC, visit www.hellenicleaders.com

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