Like many politicians of his generation Jack Straw, Britain’s former Labour foreign secretary, who recently wrote an article in the Independent newspaper in support of the partition of Cyprus, used to be a Marxist when he was a student, and as every student of politics knows Karl Marx was not very good on prescription and neither is Jack Straw.
The fundamental flaw with Jack Straw’s prescription is that it is not a wish the Turkish Cypriots share. Partition is not the wish they expressed when they voted in favour of federation within the EU in 2004, and it is not what they voted for when they gave Mustafa Akinci a clear mandate to negotiate a federal settlement three years ago.
In his article Jack Straw said that the EU made a strategic error in agreeing to accept Cyprus as a member of the EU absent a solution because in his view the Greek Cypriot leadership has no incentive to solve the Cyprus problem. Well, yes and no. But assuming he has a point, why the clamour for partition from a former British foreign secretary when there has been no such clamour from the Turkish Cypriots? Just because the Greek Cypriot leadership is going through a supine phase does not mean the Turkish Cypriots have to betray their island state.
It is important for Jack Straw and other sympathisers of the Turkish Cypriot case to appreciate that promoting partition – like promoting enosis – is repugnant to the treaty of establishment of the Republic of Cyprus in which the Turkish Cypriot community shares sovereignty.
Many Turkish Cypriots lost trust in the Greek Cypriot political leadership when right bang in the middle of the most critical phase of the recent negotiations, the Greek Cypriot House of Representatives passed an amendment to a regulation to enable state schools to celebrate the long-forgotten anniversary of the enosis referendum of 1950. The same applies in the same way to promoting partition.
There was never the same irrational attachment by Turkish Cypriots to partition as there was by Greek Cypriots to enosis. I like to think that no Turkish Cypriot leader would have jeopardised negotiations by passing a law to celebrate the time when the Turkish side began clamouring for partition – if indeed there ever was such a time. Partition was just an antidote to enosis, and the Turkish Cypriot leadership at the time of independence was very happy with shared sovereignty and favourable power sharing under the 1960 independence arrangements rather than partition.
Even now that the Turkish Cypriot community is concentrated in one area in north Cyprus, and even though this has been the case since 1974, and even after being rebuffed by their compatriots, the Turkish Cypriots keep voting in favour of an island state.
Jack Straw is no longer foreign secretary and does not officially speak for Britain. He is still a member of the privy council, however, and a former lord chancellor and as such he has taken the Queen’s shilling and should not be promoting a policy contrary to Britain’s obligations in international law that in any event is contrary to the wishes of the community whom he purports to support. He should be told in good Anglo Saxon English to mind his own business.
Promoting partition is also unfair to the Greek Cypriots because however you look at the problem they have been more sinned against than they have sinned, and while it is true that the Turkish Cypriot community is the least to blame for Cyprus’ travails, it is also true that Turkey has overstayed her welcome in north Cyprus and it is packing-up time.
Under the treaty of guarantee, restoring the state of affairs established by the treaty of establishment was intended to have some sort of timetable which, irrespective of the debacle at Crans-Montana, the Turkish Cypriot community needs to set for Turkish disengagement. This is necessary to enable the Turkish Cypriot community to strive for some sort of regional status within the EU in which the European legal order (the acquis communautaire) must now be extended by the EU to fend off a Turkish Cypriot Brexit.
A lot of water has gone under the bridge since 1960 but treaties are treaties and they must be followed (pacta sunt servanda) otherwise there is a complete breakdown in international order. There is a tendency in Cyprus to cherry pick the parts of international law that suit and to ignore obligations that do not. That way lies perdition. Turkey purported to intervene in accordance with the treaty of guarantee, and she must now begin withdrawal in accordance with that treaty, the neophyte foreign minister of Greece notwithstanding.
Cyprus was established and exists in an international and constitutional context that now includes membership of the EU. Turkey has changed under president Erdogan. She is no longer the nation Ataturk built with which most Turkish Cypriots identify. Ataturk was a soldier-statesman who grew to hate war – peace at home and peace in the world was his slogan; not this zero this and zero that nonsense that Davutoglu and Kotzias peddle.
He loved European modernity in all its manifestations including the creation of a secular state and the emancipation of women. Now that Cyprus is in the EU Turkish Cypriots are within touching distance of what Ataturk would have wished for Turkey. For many complex reasons it is no longer what president Erdogan wants for Turkey. Erdogan is no Ataturk. He is no soldier-statesman. He has a different vision of Turkey, a vision Ataturk rejected. Erdogan is the democratically elected president and good luck to him and to Turkey but the Turkish Cypriots prefer Ataturk’s vision.
We are a small island people with small island pre-occupations. Some of us are big fish in a small bowl but the truth is that most people here want to lead a quiet life in the healthy pursuit of wealth and the good life. Unfortunately we find ourselves in a turbulent part of the world and the trick is – as the Chinese proverb goes – ‘to keep our friends close and our enemies closer’.
Our compatriots have become bitter because of all the trials and tribulations inflicted on them by bad leadership, a wayward motherland and an overbearing Turkey. It is our responsibility to change their attitude by trying to understand the source of their bitterness and ameliorating it.
Alper Ali Riza is a queen’s counsel in the UK and a part time judge