Annan’s sword hangs over Cyprus

A week from today, Cypriots on both sides of the cease-fire line will vote on whether they want to undo, to some extent, the results of the Turkish invasion in 1974 and commit themselves to a common future. Two weeks ago, despite polls showing that a majority of Greek Cypriots were not happy with the proposal presented by UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan, we believed the people of Cyprus would be able to prepare themselves for the April 24 vote by examining the pros and cons of the Annan plan itself and all the possible consequences of its acceptance or rejection. At the same time, we thought, Cypriots on both sides would have to make their calculations while coming to terms with the very understandable fears and uncertainties raised by the possible end to the 30-year status quo. Political leaders on the island, in Athens and Ankara were expected to help illuminate the more obscure aspects of Annan’s plan and its ramifications. What is at stake is the future of Cyprus and its people. Up to now, Cyprus has also largely determined relations between Greece and Turkey and, consequently, between these two and other countries and organizations. The stakes could not be higher, so we expected the greatest seriousness from all involved. In part, this expectation was fulfilled. People on all sides have taken the Annan plan very seriously and it has become the subject of passionate argument and, inevitably, division. But the great disappointment has been that the secretary-general’s plan has not been the subject of serious analysis and public debate. Instead, it has become a touchstone by which each camp reinforces its own position while demonizing the other. The interesting thing is that there are divisions on both sides of Cyprus, in Greece and in Turkey. But in the end it will be the final tally of Saturday’s voting that will establish the future course of Cyprus. And it is there that the Greek side has a problem. President Tassos Papadopoulos of Cyprus, as is his duty, has taken a firm position on the Annan plan. He has called on his compatriots to voice a «resounding ‘No’» in the referendum. One cannot argue with his right to push for this. Unfortunately, in an hour-long broadcast to the nation on April 7, Papadopoulos presented a catalog of woes that he said would stem from accepting the Annan plan without presenting a single benefit. «We believe the dangers of ‘yes’ are far greater and non-reversible than the consequences of a ‘no’ vote,» Papadopoulos said. He stressed that the Republic of Cyprus would be dissolved just as it is about to join the European Union. «What we achieve is that we buy hope in exchange only for the expectation that Turkey will have the good will to stick to the agreement,» he said. «We are called on to abandon our only shield, our state entity, at precisely the moment that it gains greater power.» And then he got to the point. «I was given a state to lead, I will not hand over a community,» he declared. All of this had very little to do with the essence of the Annan plan and the demands that the Greek Cypriots and Greece have been making for the past 30 years. First of all, the Annan plan did not grant Turkish-Cypriot leader Rauf Denktash the one thing that he had been pushing for since the Turkish invasion and since his unilateral declaration of a Turkish-Cypriot state in 1983: international recognition. It did grant the Greek-Cypriot demand for a bi-zonal, bi-communal federation – something which Papadopoulos too had negotiated for – in which Greek Cypriots will play the leading role. Secondly, the Turkish side had presented as non-negotiable the demand that the European Union change its primary law to limit the number of Greek Cypriots allowed to live and buy property in the Turkish-Cypriot component state. This was not accomplished, and, according to the plan, in 19 years at most, Greek Cypriots will be able to live and buy property all over the island without any curbs. From the start, some 120,000 Greek Cypriots will regain homes in territory that will be handed back by the Turks. Furthermore, the Turkish demand for a military presence on the island would soon be limited to 650 Turkish troops (from 35,000 today) and 950 Greek soldiers. Papadopoulos cited constitutional experts’ advice in presenting his case but did not mention what benefits these same experts might have found in the Annan plan. And in perhaps his most blatant distortion, Papadopoulos presented a case in which Greek Cypriots would face no difficulties or complications if they say «no» and the Turkish Cypriots say «yes,» declaring confidently that when Cyprus joins the EU it will make Turkey dance to Nicosia’s tune. But the one thing that EU leaders do not want to do is to have to keep dealing with the Cyprus issue. Former Prime Minister Costas Simitis, whose government got Cyprus into the EU, said this very clearly in an opinion piece. And Prime Minister Costas Karamanlis went even further on Thursday, saying Turkey’s closer ties with the EU would not hinge on the Cyprus issue. (But more on this later.) Papadopoulos clearly has his finger on his people’s pulse, giving them what they want after so many years of promises of an ideal solution in which all of Cyprus will be theirs and they will only need to tolerate a Turkish-Cypriot minority in their midst. A poll among Greek Cypriots made public on Thursday showed that since Papadopoulos’s statement, more people had decided to reject the UN plan. On April 6, the RAI polling company found that 42 percent had decided to vote «no» and another 25 percent would probably do so. A week later, 62 percent rejected the plan and another 16 percent said they would probably do so. On the other hand, a majority of Turkish Cypriots appear ready to adopt the Annan plan. (One might argue that this is natural, seeing as a deal will allow them to become members of the EU along with Greek Cypriots on May 1. But they are making a leap of faith in placing their fate in the hands of the EU, seeing as in less than two decades Cyprus will be one again, to all intents and purposes. If the Greek Cypriots say «no,» how will they patch things up with their once and future countrymen later?) But the big surprise of this week came when AKEL, the Cypriot Communist Party (the island’s largest political group which has always been in favor of a bi-communal, bi-zonal solution), backed down from initial support of the UN plan to argue, instead, for a six-month delay in the referendum, saying it wanted time to persuade the Greek Cypriots to vote for it. As this was rejected by Turkey, AKEL’s proposal is for rejection of the plan, all but dooming the reunification effort. AKEL obviously has reasons for blinking at this critical point, but one can only wonder whether fears for party unity or the political cost can justify fence-sitting. The island’s second-largest party, the center-right Democratic Rally, voted by 78 percent late on Thursday to back the plan, becoming the strongest proponent for the «yes» vote on the Greek side. And this brings us to Greece. After weeks of declaring that «Cyprus decides and Greece supports it,» Prime Minister Costas Karamanlis finally took a stand on Thursday. He said «yes» to the Annan plan, but he qualified it in such a way and he couched it in such language as to allow every side to read what it wants into his statement. «In the light of (Cyprus’s) future in the EU, the positive points may prove stronger than the negative ones. Of course, the final responsibility for their country’s future lies with the Cypriot citizens. We will respect their decision fully,» Karamanlis said after a meeting of Greece’s party leaders. He said «yes» so as not to say «no,» but he also let the Cypriots feel, as Papadopoulos had done, that there will be no problem if they reject the plan. The Greek Cypriots will have to read between the lines to understand just how isolated they will be after their proud «no.» Instead of promising, as Papadopoulos had, that Turkey will be pushed about by EU member Cyprus, Karamanlis overturned the dogma of decades that Turkey’s road to the EU passes through Cyprus. «No one must interpret any expression of the Cypriot people’s sovereign will as a precondition or as an obstacle for the development of friendly relations and confidence between Greece and Turkey,» he said. «Our neighbor will find us supporting it in every effort which… brings it closer to Europe.» In other words, for Turkey (whose prime minister has pulled the rug from under an enraged, naysaying Denktash) the Cyprus problem is over either way and the road toward the EU will not be blocked by Athens. Will Cyprus try to do so on its own? But Karamanlis added also that after a «no» vote, «reunification must be pursued once again, as soon as the suitable conditions are created.» Karamanlis is saying that the Greek Cypriots should accept the Annan plan because there is no alternative. But he is whispering. This caution may seem politically prudent now, but when Greek Cypriots find themselves facing the consequences of the Turks holding the diplomatic high ground, this will not be good enough, because leaders are expected to lead, no matter how unpleasant they may have to appear. The Cyprus issue is extremely complicated, but it does come down to confirming division or pursuing unity. And we remember that Solomon, known for his wisdom, held a sword over a child, threatening to cut it in two, so as to discover which of two quarrelling women was its mother – which one loved it enough to let it live, even at the cost of letting it go.

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