Sunday, June 25, 2006

Oh Cyprus, Kıprıs

The biggest issue in Turkish foreign policy for the last forty-forty five years has been without doubt, the Cyprus Issue. To debate what was done wrong or right in the past is irrelavent now and the status quo only helps the Greek Cypriots and especially hurts the Turkish Cypriots, politically and economically.

Since the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus (TRNC) was formed in 1983, the only country that has recognized this state and has diplomatic and economic relations with it has been Turkey, its GDP has only reached 1/3 of the Cyprus Republic in the south and the TRNC economy still runs afloat with the financial aid from Turkey in the amount of around half a billion dolars a year.

Years ago when I visited Cyprus, what I saw at a park in the Turkish side of Nicosia made quite an impression on me. This park was right on the green line that divides the Turkish and Greek sides of Cyprus. When you looked down from the elevated park that was surrounded by barbed wire, you could see a street on the Greek side of Nicosia. The rooftops of the apartments on the street were manned by Greek soldiers in their machine gun posts. What was more interetsting was M\maybe 4-5 feet away and 10 feet below the feet you could see a street that clearly belonged to different world from the streets of Turkish Nicosia. This clean, beatifully paved street with fancy cars passing by was clearly, a European street. The Turkish Cypriots that see and are aware of this difference every day want the status quo to change and the isolation to end. That is why they voted for Mehmet Ali Talat to be president and thats why they voted in favor of the UN's plan to unite the divided Cyprus (which the Greek Cypriots rejected). The sad part is that no matter how much they try, an isolated and unrecognized TRNC can not achieve much on the international stage without Turkey's help.

We have to stop looking to the past look to the future if we really want to move forward in this issue. For the sake of Turkey's bid for the EU and the welfare of the Turkish Cypriots this cycle of quandary has to end and I can assure you this is not as complicated as the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. I think its safe to say that the international community has been behaving in a double standart, especially after the UN's plan was rejected by the Greeks and promises were made to lift some sanctions against the TRNC, but as long as the international community sees the situation as Turkish forces occupying Northern Cyprus, their bias is not going to change and the Greeks are going to keep playing innocent. The main reason that the Greeks rejected the UN's plan is that they really dont want the status quo to change and if Turkey and the TRNC would pressure them for change their mask will surely fall. For example, a partial withdrawal of Turkish troops would be a good start in this direction.

If the Turkish government is really aiming for zero-problems with its neighbors then it shouldn't play it safe on the Cyprus issue. They should make a bold, historical move and show that they indeed deserve another term heading the Turkish nation and its foreign policy.

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