NEWS

Turkish Cypriots snub Denktash

NICOSIA – Three young men sit in a northern Nicosia courtyard bar and grumble about Turkish-Cypriot leader Rauf Denktash, whose star has plummeted since he said no last month to a solution for this divided island. The trio, clad in jeans and track suits, warn if Denktash does not reach an agreement to reunify the island before April 16 when the Greek-Cypriot Republic of Cyprus formally signs a deal to enter the European Union, Turkish Cypriots will take matters into their own hands. «We’ll kill him,» said Hasan, 28, only half-joking. His friend Utku, 21, chimed in more seriously: «We’ll take down the Green Line ourselves,» a reference to the buffer zone dividing the Turkish-occupied north from the Greek-Cypriot south for 28 years. Despite the bravado, Utku spells out a sentiment eating away at Turkish Cypriots since Denktash effectively nixed chances at last month’s EU summit in Copenhagen for a UN-brokered deal to end the island’s bitter division and allow the Turkish north to join Europe alongside Greek Cyprus. Until the December 12-13 EU summit, Utku – like many others – believed the 78-year-old Denktash, long touted as the man who stood up to the island’s Greek-Cypriot majority, was protecting Turkish Cypriots. But after the Copenhagen summit ended, with the Republic of Cyprus invited to join the EU, and the breakaway Turkish statelet still on the outside, Utku lost faith in the veteran leader. «I thought (Denktash) was trying to make something for us but I don’t think so after December 12,» said Utku. Pessimistic about a chance for a breakthrough before a UN deadline of February 28, Utku believes Turkish Cypriots must seize the day. «We are responsible for this situation,» he said. «The people are going to have to do something.» This resentment has already spilled over into the largest street protests in the the breakaway state’s history when 30,000 people demonstrated in Nicosia on December 26, demanding that Denktash resign or accept the UN plan which calls for a Swiss-style confederation of two equal component states. That the foul mood will not just blow over has become clear as a poll last week in the north’s top-selling Kibris newspaper showed 64 percent of the population backed the UN deal and only 25 percent opposed it. Turkish opposition leader Mehmet Ali Talat, whose Republican Turkish Party holds five seats in the local parliament, says even larger demonstrations are on tap. Marshaling the forces of the north’s trade unions and the opposition, he believes the next street protests could top 50,000 people – which even by conservative estimates would count one-quarter of the Turkish-Cypriot population. For his part, Denktash has dismissed the current UN plan as weak and as paving the way for Cyprus’s 625,000 Greek Cypriots to dominate Turkish Cypriots. But despite his efforts to explain his position, Denktash is being abandoned by once-faithful followers. A case in point is mild-mannered shirt-seller Husnu Guven, 41, who voted for Denktash in the last elections in 2000. He counts himself as one of those who grew disillusioned with the Turkish-Cypriot leader as he watched a year of negotiations with the Greek Cypriots climax in Denktash’s Copenhagen boycott. «Denktash does not support Turkish Cypriots. He supports Turkey,» said Guven at his shop in Nicosia, where off-duty Turkish soldiers comb the city in testimony to the 30,000-strong Turkish military presence here which props up Denktash. «We’ve had enough of this regime. We want a free state for our children,» Guven said. Even so, Denktash can still dig up some old supporters – those who cannot forget the island’s history before 1974, when Turkish Cypriots were targeted by Greek-Cypriot paramilitary groups. Bulant Kutay, 40, who was uprooted twice by Greek-Turkish communal violence, first in 1963 and then 11 years later, sees Denktash as the only one with the experience to cut a deal that keeps him safe. «I don’t want to live with the Greeks,» he said. And opposition leaders like Talat express doubt about whether they can make Dentash capitulate without Turkey’s go-ahead. Although Turkey’s newly elected Justice and Development Party government has spoken out against Denktash, Talat wonders whether 30 years of Turkish policy can be wiped away in a few months. «Denktash is stalling for time,» he said.