by Austin Bay
April 28, 2004If it's possible to win by losing, Turkish Cypriots did so April 24 when two out of three voters in their fraction of Cyprus supported a United Nations reunification plan. Seventy-five percent of Greek Cypriots rejected the deal. The reunification plan required approval in both Greek and Turk zones.
Greek Cypriots spurned a chance to let bitter history fade in favor of a more stable and less-fearful future.
There are many Turks, and some Western Europeans, who think the Greek Cypriot rejection was guaranteed from the get-go. The Turk Cypriots were supposed to reject the deal as well, and take the rap for the failure.
It didn't play out that way. Turkish Cypriots chose potential prosperity in the European Union over nursing historical grievance and persisting in ethnic distrust.
Both the United Nations and the European Union share in the blame for the vote's failure in Greek Cyprus. So do three decades of news coverage that gave Greek Cypriots the rarely questioned illusion of moral high ground in a complex tragedy with no innocents but many victims.
Greek Cypriot rejectionists argued the unification deal's property arrangements weren't adequate. While the deal was imperfect, it beat lurking alternatives like another generation split by minefields or another cyclic war of revenge. Rejectionist politicians argued Greek Cypriots would receive a full restoration of property lost in 1974 if they just "hung tough." Besides, there was no down side. "Greek" Cyprus was assured admission May 1 to the European Union no matter the vote result. The European Union and United Nations gave Greek Cypriots the European Union carrot without any accountable political stick.
That should not have been the case. In 1974, Greek Cypriot guerrillas with links to the Greek "Colonels" junta in Athens attempted a coup aimed at "enosis" -- the unification of Cyprus with Greece. The coup collapsed when the Turk military garrison in Cyprus was reinforced by troops from mainland Turkey.
The Turkish response was generally portrayed in the western media as an aggressive invasion akin to Saddam attacking Kuwait. That's a malicious slander. Protocols from 1960, when Cyprus became independent, gave Greece, Turkey and Great Britain (the former colonial power) the right to guarantee Cyprus' sovereignty. The Turk intervention left Turk Cypriots (20 percent of the population) controlling 40 percent of Cyprus, with a "Green Line" snaking through the capital, Nicosia.
The intransigent figure of Turk Cypriot leader Rauf Denktash -- a man of ancient feuds, narrow vision and monarchical ego -- didn't help his people's public case. The continuing presence of Turkish troops became the media focal point, with the Greek fanatics' coup d'etat attempt somehow forgotten -- by almost everyone except the Turks.
But in these embedded conflicts involving land, religion and culture, no one forgets, and only the wise few forgive. The bad blood long pre-dates 1974, and the bigger picture involves Greece and Turkey's tangled history. I've met Greeks still ruing the loss of Constantinople in 1453 to the Ottomans. I've met Turks -- Republic of Turkey, we're not Ottomans, they remind me -- who whisper, "those Greeks, they want to take the heart of Anatolia" (central Turkey). Recall, they say, voices rising, the great Greek Anatolian offensives in the Greco-Turk War following World War I and the Ottoman Empire's collapse? To many Greeks, Greek Cypriots fleeing the Turkish Army in 1974 was a replay of the Turk attack on Smyrna (Izmir) in 1922. Greek civilians were massacred. Turks point to atrocities against Turk civilians after Greek forces landed in Izmir (Smyrna) in 1919.
Since 1999, when Turkey suffered a terrible earthquake and Greece sent aid, Greece and Turkey have pursued a steady, economically driven rapprochement, setting the stage for reunifying Cyprus. In turn, adding Cyprus to the European Union would prepare the political and cultural path for the eventual admission of Turkey.
Cyprus' "split decision" leaves a mapmaker's riddle. The geographic whole of divided Cyprus allegedly joins the European Union, but Turk Cypriots don't -- not quite.
The European Union must reward Turkish Cypriots for choosing a shared future over the separate past. E.U. leaders are considering providing them with monetary aid. Fine and dandy, but Turk Cypriots have earned E.U. passports.