The tide is rising

The repeated demonstrations held by Turkish Cypriots against the government of Rauf Denktash and in support of UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan’s plan comprise a new factor in the geopolitical equation for Cyprus. The northern, occupied part has always had a left-leaning opposition but its political role has never been decisive. The presence of Turkish occupation troops always had a catalytic effect. It is indicative of the situation that in 1983, while several Turkish-Cypriot parties stood against the declaration of a breakaway state, they were ultimately forced to accept it under Ankara’s suffocating pressure. This time, however, things are different. Firstly, because Turkey’s intrusive meddling into the internal affairs of the breakaway state has seriously disaffected the Turkish Cypriots. Secondly, because the economic crisis that broke out in Turkey a couple of years ago brought the occupied part of the island onto the brink of bankruptcy and the inhabitants’ economic problems took on a dramatic dimension. Public despair sparked protest rallies and the ties between the large majority of Turkish Cypriots and their «motherland» came under serious strain. Denktash’s refusal to negotiate the UN plan in a constructive fashion has been the final straw. This time, the solution to the Cyprus issue was the key to Turk-Cypriot membership in the EU and, moreover, effortlessly. The prospect of unconditional EU accession is manna from heaven for the internationally isolated Turkish-Cypriot population. It guarantees their own state within a loose federation and participation in a central administration on equal terms. It also guarantees democratic governance and stability. Finally, it guarantees a steady flow of funds from the EU and the Greek-Cypriot community which will bring unseen economic prosperity to the area. However, Denktash’s regime is not isolated on the sociopolitical level. Apart from backing by Turkey’s occupying forces, it is also supported by the nationalist wing of Turkish Cypriots and the nucleus of Turkish settlers. Given that those settlers number half the total population of the breakaway state, there is clearly an internal division. The settlers, who according to the Annan plan will have to return to their homeland, make up a very combative minority. For this reason, it would be premature to make any predictions. But the recent demonstrations are, in any case, pressure on Denktash and Ankara.

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