Cyprus Mail
CM Regular Columnist Opinion

Cutting the umbilical cord

Most Turkish Cypriots are secular and Kemal Ataturk is their hero, role model and source of political inspiration.

By Alper Ali Riza

The presence of Turkey in Cyprus under President Erdogan is worrying because of the nature of his regime rather than anything he has said or done. To be fair, ever since he has been at the helm there has been more movement on Cyprus than under anyone else before him. From a Cypriot perspective, however, Erdogan presents Cypriots with a huge challenge because Turkey is no longer a secular state and this is likely to spill over into north Cyprus. This is why the last thing we want at the moment is the repeal of the Treaty of Guarantee.

The treaties of guarantee and alliance have been much maligned lately because they are regarded as responsible for Turkey’s intervention in Cyprus in 1974.

Actually, the position in international law is that there is no right to intervene militarily in Cyprus. Under the treaties, any military intervention has to be in accordance with the UN charter, under which military intervention is permissible only in self defence, or under the authority of a security council resolution.

We must be careful what we wish for pending a comprehensive settlement. The treaties of guarantee and alliance were designed to deal with two political problems. One was union with Greece (enosis) and the other was partition with Turkey. Union with Greece is no longer on the cards. The financial crisis in Greece and the discovery of gas in Cyprus’ EEZ has put paid to that, quite apart from the fact that most Greek Cypriots blame Greece for the coup in 1974 and Cyprus’ current predicament.

But partition is very much on the cards. Turkey is in effective control of north Cyprus and according to some reports president Erdogan is considering Turkey’s options following the collapse of the Cyprus talks. Whatever options he may be considering, one that is not available to him is partition or any other form of annexation. The reason it is not available is that it is expressly forbidden under the Treaty of Guarantee. So, hold your horses everyone before you get carried away with the zero guarantees slogan because the whole international community will come down on Turkey like a ton of bricks if, in breach of the Treaty of Guarantee which is deposited at the UN, she seeks to change the status of Cyprus.

As for the future, we must learn to be patient and less emotional. Anastasiades said the other day that Turkish Cypriots should break free from Turkey’s orbit – cut the umbilical cord is how he put it. I do not care much for such metaphors but I agree with him, even if it was a bit rich coming from someone who adopted wholesale the Greek foreign minister’s zero guarantees and zero troops policy.

The umbilical attachment of Greek Cypriots to Greece has been loosened even if most Greek speakers experience mixed emotions of inferiority and contempt at the sound of metropolitan Greek. I am sure that Anastasiades was taken in by the sound of the Greek foreign minister rather than by anything of substance that fell from the minister. So long as Greek Cypriots talk Greek with a Cypriot accent they will always look up to metropolitan Greeks. If you are Greek Cypriot in Greece and you open your mouth to say good morning the reply is invariably “Kiprios esthe?” – “Are you Cypriot?”  So, beware of Greek Cyprus’ new best friend. He does not really understand much about power. Intrigue perhaps but not power. You simply do not refuse a Turkish offer to reduce 40,000 troops to 650. Come on everybody! Just ask any military expert how many soldiers you would lose to dislodge 40,000 Turkish soldiers militarily with any chance of success.

But I digress, because the problem is that Turkey is still in Cyprus and she is no longer the secular republic set up by Kemal Ataturk. Most Turkish Cypriots are secular and Kemal Ataturk is their hero, role model and source of political inspiration. Erdogan is regarded as a political retrograde who gets elected on the back of an Islamic revival at the expense of Ataturk’s secular legacy. As the regime in Turkey has become more Islamic and more authoritarian, many Turkish Cypriots want out.

Unfortunately, the Greek Cypriot political class has either failed to grasp this or sensed it but sought to exploit rather than build on it. A few years ago, I met a group of Turkish Cypriot trade unionists in the British House of Commons and they all complained about how unreceptive the Greek Cypriots were to their problems with Turkey and their wish to be embraced by the Republic of Cyprus.

Yet the Turkish Cypriots are the only people who live under Turkish occupation. Just like many French people were content to be under German occupation during World War II, many Turkish Cypriots are content too – primarily for reasons of security –  but many are getting more and more unhappy as the regime in Turkey spirals out of democratic control.

Turkish Cypriots welcomed Turkey’s preparedness to reduce her forces to 650 because it would have gotten rid of the bulk of Turkey’s troops, giving sufficient breathing space for any settlement with the Greek Cypriots to take root. Why is that so bad? On any view 650 soldiers is not very significant and as the militarist Romans would have said, de minimis non curat lex – the law does not concern itself with insignificant numbers. But it fell foul of the new zero troops policy  of the Greek foreign minister because he does not understand power. Student politics maybe but not power.

So where do we go from here? The UN thinks that this is a time for reflection. Would that it were true. There are elections in 2018 so this is no time for reflection. But I am a great believer in democracy, whatever it yields. The left needs an articulate candidate to tell it the way it is. Someone who will explain that the Turkish Cypriots are on the same side. Someone who would run to win rather than to prevent someone from winning.  Someone with the cojones to solve this vendetta instead of pussy footing around a la Anastasiades, who has turned rejectionist. He thinks that way lies electoral success. But he may be misjudging the people like Theresa May did in Britain. The left has to pick a winner. I think Takis Hadjigeorgiou is a winner compared to Anastasiades and Papadopoulos, who cancel each other out politically.

Even if the rejectionists win, however, not all will be lost and people must not despair. The exclusion of the Turkish Cypriot community from the EU legal order will not last much longer if a comprehensive settlement proves impossible. The EU has laws on equality and non-discrimination that will ensure that its writ will run across the whole of the sovereign territory of the Republic of Cyprus even in areas not under the control of the government of Cyprus.

Turkish Cypriots are EU citizens on account of their citizenship of Cyprus, which they possess by operation of law not the exercise of any discretion. As EU citizens they have rights and the EU has obligations towards them, to which they are entitled even if there is no settlement.

The EU thrives on fudge and compromise. A way will be found to enable the Turkish Cypriots to acquire some sort of regional status within the EU in exchange for the return of land and property that many Greek Cypriots would have got under the convergences achieved during the talks.

In the end people must get land, property or compensation. If this has to be done by the Turkish Cypriots unilaterally, so be it.

In the meantime, justice to the refugees must be the left’s slogan to counter this zero everything slogan.

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