Turkish Cypriots want a solution

NICOSIA – From architects of an expanded European Union to NATO allies worried about Greek-Turkish tensions, many people have a stake in ending the 27-year division of the island of Cyprus. But Turkish Cypriots say they need a solution more than anyone. The first meeting in four years between the leaders of Greek and Turkish Cypriots – scheduled to start today – could bring the already visible outline of a settlement on the divided island into sharper focus. That would relieve Turkish Cypriots who feel they have paid a high price for nearly three decades of isolation. Their leader, Rauf Denktash, says that a solution will only be possible if the costs of failure are shared equally. «The EU is saying to the Greek Cypriots, ‘Whether you come to an agreement with the Turkish Cypriots or not, you are going to enter the EU as a member by 2004′,» Denktash said in an interview. «What motivation does this give Greek Cypriots to settle with us?» Greek Cypriots say Denktash blocked a settlement by quitting UN-sponsored indirect negotiations last year, refusing to return until his breakaway state is recognized. Turkey backed him, warning of increased regional tensions if the Greek Cypriots enter the EU without a settlement. While Cyprus heads the list of EU contenders, Turkey is unlikely to join for at least a decade – yet both Turkey and Turkish Cypriots have always said they should join the Union together. There are signs, though, that Turkish-Cypriot leaders are now ready to accept a solution that would see them join the EU before Turkey. «We could make some internal arrangements…if we understand that neither Turkey nor Greece should have an advantage,» said Ergun Olgun, Denktash’s chief adviser. Those arrangements could involve speeding up Turkish membership in the EU, he said. Western criticism of Turkey’s human rights record is one major reason Ankara’s bid for membership in the European club isn’t about to happen soon. «Anything can be settled, anything can be arranged,» provided that Greek Cypriots «accept they are not representing us in the EU,» Denktash said. A workable solution could revive aspects of the old 1960 constitution, giving both sides broad autonomy under a shared central administration that would represent the country abroad, Denktash said. If that worked, then «we could slowly give more powers to the center,» Olgun said. The model is similar in many ways to the Greek Cypriots’ preferred federal solution, but international recognition of the Greek-Cypriot administration as the island’s sole government is a stumbling block. Denktash’s own Turkish-Cypriot state in the island’s north is recognized only by Turkey, which invaded in 1974 following a short-lived coup by supporters of union with Greece. Turkey maintains 35,000 troops in the north. Turkish leaders say they will not compromise over Cyprus, even threatening to annex the north if the Greek-Cypriot government joins the EU. But some Turkish Cypriots feel their breakaway state is already too dependent on Turkey – especially since the Turkish economic crisis spread to northern Cyprus, leaving the prosperity gap on the island wider than ever. That has led many Turkish Cypriots to seek a future elsewhere. «We don’t have a youth problem, because we hardly have any youth,» said Ahmet Barcin, head of the Turkish- Cypriot teachers union. «There’s a big migration to Greek southern Cyprus and the EU.» That exodus, coupled with immigrants from Turkey, has left Turkish Cypriots a minority in the north – and many fear that their isolation could increase with Greek-Cypriot membership in the EU. «We’re worried that if they go in without us, we’ll be even more cut off from the world,» Barcin said. «We have to escape from economic domination by Turkey.» Turkish Cypriots who oppose their government’s policies fear a clampdown could accompany the latest phase of talks. «I’ve been cleared in 70 separate court cases,» said Sener Levent, editor of the Turkish-Cypriot daily Avrupa, which strongly opposes Turkish policies on Cyprus. «But as far as I can work out, there are still about 200 cases pending against me.» Denktash has slammed his critics in Turkey and Cyprus, saying they are undermining his bargaining power at the negotiating table. Today’s talks coincide with the arrival in Ankara of US Secretary of State Colin Powell, whose talks with Turkish leaders are expected to include the Cyprus issue – another sign of increasing international attention to one of the world’s longest-running disputes.

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