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The Cypriot revolt

Twelve years ago former Turkish prime minister Mesut Yilmaz declared that Turkey’s road to Europe went through Diyarbakir, the capital of south-east Turkey. Since 2005  it would be more correct to claim that it goes through Nicosia, the divided capital of Cyprus.

The main stumbling block on Turkey’s path is the Additional Protocol to the Ankara Agreement, which Turkey signed in July 2005 after being persuaded by Tony Blair that it was a “legal fact” that Turkey’s signature did not involve the recognition of the Republic of Cyprus. The EU took a different view and reminded Turkey that its accompanying declaration of non-recognition was unilateral and had no legal effect on Turkey’s obligations under the Protocol.

Consequently, Turkey’s refusal to open its ports and airspace to Cypriot registered shipping and aircraft has resulted in not only eight negotiating chapters being frozen by the European Council but a further ten being blocked because of French and Cypriot opposition. The result is now a stalemate with only three chapters being left to open.

The current round of reunification talks, which began in September 2008 under the two community leaders, Dimitris Christofias and Mehmet Ali Talat, has also stalled. On  1 July 2008 the two leaders, who share a common background in the trade union  movement, agreed in principle on the issues of single sovereignty and citizenship for a united Cyprus, which is in line with the agreed UN parameters for reunification.

However, the new Turkish Cypriot leader, Dervis Eroglu, who took over in April last year, has in new proposals submitted to President Christofias insisted on the sovereignty of two separate founding states, which muddied the waters at the Geneva summit on 26 January.  Officially Turkey adheres to the UN criteria for a federal partnership, but government rhetoric takes a different line. The Turkish Minister of State responsible for Cyprus, Deputy Prime Minister Cemil Cicek, has stated that two separate states, two separate republics and two equal peoples are the parameters for the solution of the Cyprus problem. And Turkey’s chief EU negotiator, Egemen Bagis, repeats like a mantra: “Every morning when the sun rises, it rises over two separate states.”

Now the Turkish Cypriots have taken matters in their own hands. In a manner similar to the uprising against Turkey’s satrap Rauf Denktash from 2000-2003, 40,000 Turkish Cypriots took part in a mass rally in Nicosia on 28 January to protest wage cuts imposed on them by the UBP (National Unity Party) administration. The rally, organized by a platform of trade unions, organizations and political parties, demanded civil and labour rights and the reunification of Cyprus.

One of the organizers, Sener Elcil, head of the Primary School Teachers’ Union (KTOS) stated: “the officials in Northern Cyprus are Turkey’s puppets”. And the president of the Secondary School Teachers’ Union (KTEOS) told reporters “we do not want to be slaves; we want peace, a united Cyprus”.

Characteristically, the Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan threatened with reprisals. “Who are these people? We have video records of them. They need to be submitted to the court.” But the Prime Minister’s comments, especially a reference to Turkish Cypriots being dependent on Turkish handouts, have produced a strong reaction both in Cyprus and Turkey.

Erdogan also let the cat out of the bag, when he remarked: “I have strategic interests.”  Since the Nihat Erim report from 1956, which argued for partition, Turkey’s policy towards Cyprus has been consistent, aiming to maintain a stranglehold on the island.

As Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu explained in his seminal work,  “Strategic Depth” in 2001: “Even if there was not one single Muslim Turk over there, Turkey would have to maintain a Cyprusquestion. No country could possibly be  indifferent to an island like this, placed in the heart of its vital space.” If push comes to shove and Turkey has to choose between maintaining its presence in Cyprus and the EU process, Deputy Prime Minister Cicek last year made it clear where Turkey stands: “For those who ask Turkey to make a decision between northern Cyprus and the EU, let me say that we will always, always, always choose Cyprus.”

Prime Minister Erdogan recently advised Hosni Mubarak: “Listen to the shouting of the people, the extremely humane demands. Without hesitation, satisfy the people’s desire for change.” When it comes to Cyprus, perhaps he should take his own advice. 

Robert Ellis is a regular commentator on Turkish affairs in the Danish and international press.

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