Greek Cypriots wary

NICOSIA – This week’s referendum on a UN reunification plan for Cyprus may have polarized the Greek-Cypriot community but the rival «no» and «yes» camps are united in their distrust of giant neighbor Turkey. «We are counting on Turkish good will, and this is tied to Turkey’s EU aspirations. Who can assure me that Turkey will continue to behave if they are rejected?» asked Nicosia housewife Sylvia Avraamides. Fellow «ochi» (no) supporter Nikos Karacosta, a 51-year-old pharmacist, was more alarmist. «I think it’s the third invasion, the third ‘Attila,’ but this time using refined politics,» said the refugee from the picturesque hilltop village of Bellapais, which would stay under Turkish-Cypriot control in the Annan plan. Cyprus was under Ottoman rule between the 16th and 19th centuries, and Turkish troops invaded the northern third of the island in 1974 after a short-lived coup in Nicosia aimed at «enosis,» or union with Greece. Under UN chief Kofi Annan’s plan to end three decades of division, Turkey retains the right of military intervention that was established when Cyprus gained its independence from Britain in 1960. «I don’t trust the Turks. History shows that. (Turkish Prime Recep Tayyip) Erdogan talks now, but who will be there tomorrow and who will protect us?» asked Karacosta. Even the «nai» (yes) camp, far outnumbered in opinion polls but who predict a late rally in time for Saturday’s vote, share the anxiety over Turkey’s key role in the planned settlement just before Cyprus joins the EU on May 1. «Turkey is a fear, but a Turkey inside the European Union is not a fear. If it does not get in, then we are in big trouble,» said 35-year-old businessman Afxentis Afxentiou, seated at a downtown restaurant with a Turkish-Cypriot chef. Among the undecided, estimated to number between 20 and 30 percent, Pat Fetocacis, a 51-year-old entrepreneur, agreed that the main concerns over the Annan plan for the Greek Cypriots were security and international guarantees. «What I fear most is that if they don’t keep their word, America will be there to back its ally Turkey,» she explained. Akis Demetriou acknowledged that a settlement would also entail a leap of faith by the minority Turkish Cypriots with whom a joint administration lasted only three years before intercommunal strife broke out in December 1963. «There are stupids on both sides. It is easy to find people who had relatives killed in 1963-1964 who want to create problems,» said the 60-year-old pediatrician. «It is not so easy to forget what happened.» Roberto Nicolaou, a 49-year-old DIY store owner, tried to sum up the dilemma facing Greek Cypriots. «If we vote yes, it’s like we release them from their responsibility for the 1974 invasion. At the same time, I feel that something is better than nothing,» he said. Mona Soteriades, whose late husband was the first Cyprus ambassador to Britain after independence, said her fellow Greek Cypriots would have to swallow their fears for the sake of the island’s future. «Nobody told us it was going to be easy. It is in nobody’s interest to let the Turks take the whole island (if the agreement runs into trouble), certainly not that of the international community,» she said. «The biggest fear of the Greek Cypriots should be that they are giving it all away for good» if the Annan plan is rejected and the partition is solidified, said Soteriades. The UN chief himself has clearly warned that his plan, endorsed by the EU and the United States, is the only game in town and the sole settlement on offer for the foreseeable future. The Greek Orthodox Church, an influential player on the Cypriot scene, has little faith in any guarantees, whether they come from the UN Security Council, Washington or the EU. «Turkey has never honored an international agreement over the past 100 years. I don’t think Mr Powell or any other foreigner can guarantee anything,» said Father Savvas. «Of course Turkish Cypriots also feel insecurity, but we, the majority, feel unsafe because of the presence of Turkey,» said Savvas, who as a child fled his northern village in the face of advancing Turkish troops in the summer of 1974. Another Greek Cypriot, insistent on not being identified because of his profession, pointed out that rejection of the Annan plan on the basis of deep-rooted animosity would not change the geopolitical realities. “We have always been at the mercy of Turkey. Anyway, how long could our National Guard hold out against their control of the skies?» he asked, referring to a force which would be disbanded under the peace blueprint.

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