Thursday, October 1, 2009

A Last "Last Chance" for Cyprus?

The International Crisis Group and its Turkey analyst, Hugh Pope, have had in recent years the thankless task of reminding the world (and the European Union, in particular) about the importance of solving the decades-old Cyprus problem. In a new report, ICG warns that time is really running out for a solution and that the island may be heading towards a permanent split. From the executive summary:
Three decades of efforts to reunify Cyprus are about to end, leaving a stark choice ahead between a hostile, de facto partition of the island and a collaborative federation between the Greek and Turkish Cypriot communities living in two constituent states. Most actors agree that the window of opportunity for this bicommunal, bizonal settlement will close by April 2010, the date of the next Turkish Cypriot elections, when the pro-settlement leader risks losing his office to a more hardline candidate. If no accord is reached by then, it will be the fourth major set of UN-facilitated peace talks to fail, and there is a widespread feeling that if the current like-minded, pro-solution Greek and Turkish Cypriot leaders cannot compromise on a federal solution, nobody can….

….In the absence of a Cyprus settlement, both communities on the island and Turkey will experience slower economic progress, greater defence spending and reduced international credibility.
You can find the summary and the full report here.

It's easy to dismiss the Cyprus issue, but it's one that matters -- not only for the divided island, but also for Turkey, the EU and NATO. The Cyprus problem not only has the potential to derail Turkey's EU bid, but it has already worked its way into the EU, where Cyprus uses the issue to punish Turkey, and NATO, where Turkey uses it to punish Cyprus. (For more background, take a look at a piece I wrote last year for Eurasianet). One imagines that a permanent division would only see that dynamic intensify, to the detriment of both organizations' ability to function properly.

As the report mentions, some in Turkey and Northern Cyprus believe that even if there is a permanent division, the island's tiny Turkish republic could achieve a kind of "Taiwanisation" -- de facto international recognition that leads to viability as a state. That belief, the report makes clear, is mistaken:
But north Cyprus and Taiwan can hardly be compared. Less than 300,000 Turkish Cypriots cannot measure against a large, self-governing modern industrial power with 23 million people. The EU is the most powerful actor in the eastern Mediterranean, and the Greek Cypriots are probably able to block any attempt by a member state to work in any way with the self-declared Turkish Cypriot state. Even sympathetic Turkic states like Azerbaijan and Kyrgyzstan have failed to lay on direct flights to the main Turkish Cypriot airport, primarily because of Greek Cypriot influence in the EU.

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