Cyprus: Years of Stalemate - and Stability
On the 20th Anniversary of the Turkish invasion, Greek and Turkish islanders discuss obstacles to reconciliation
NICOSIA, CYPRUS — WHILE Greek Cypriots yesterday commemorated the 20th anniversary of a national disaster, Turkish Cypriots were celebrating the memory of a glorious salvation.
From their very different perspectives, the two communities were marking the same event: that morning in July 1974 when some 30,000 troops from mainland Turkey landed in northern Cyprus.
They are still here today. While barriers have been coming down in other parts of the world, Cyprus and the capital Nicosia have remained stubbornly divided by the ``Green Line'' that runs across the island.
Twenty years later, the two sides seem far apart on the question of a settlement, and peace efforts are once again deadlocked. Symbolically, the run-up to the 20th anniversary found the two communities more tightly sealed off than ever.
In protest over a ruling at the European Court of Justice earlier this month invalidating export certificates from the north, the Turkish Cypriots halted all movement at the Ledra Palace Hotel in Nicosia, the only crossing point on the line.
Greek Cypriots marked the anniversary by staging demonstrations, ringing church bells, and sounding air-raid sirens. Traffic stopped for five minutes on the Greek side of Nicosia, while people came out into the streets to stand in silence to remember what they regard as a barbarous invasion that led to an alien occupation.
Greek Cypriots tend to regard the 1974 invasion and occupation as the core of the problem. Some 180,000 Greek Cypriots - about one-third of the population - fled their homes in the north and have been unable to return. More than 1,600 went missing and remain unaccounted for.
Although Turkish Cypriots make up only 18 percent of the island's 650,000 population, the Turkish intervention gave them control of about 37 percent of the land - much of the best land. In 1983, they declared their own break-away ``Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus,'' which has won recognition only from Turkey.
While Greek Cypriots call Turkish intervention an invasion, Turkish Cypriots refer to it as a ``peace operation'' that liberated them from years of harassment by the Greek majority. ``But for the arrival of Turkey here, by now you would not have found one single Turkish Cypriot in Cyprus,'' says their leader, Rauf Denktash. ``Everyone forgets the 11 years before 1974, during which we lived in caves and in terrible conditions, denied every right.
``Twenty years ago, we were saved ... from that position by Turkey,'' he added in an interview at his Nicosia ``White Palace'' - the former residence of the British District Commissioner in colonial times. ``Turkey is not occupying Cyprus, it is helping us to survive and to defend ourselves.''
Mr. Denktash and his followers accuse the Greek Cypriot leaders of constantly scheming to Hellenize the island completely and reduce the Turkish Cypriots to a subservient minority.
This is the dilemma the peacemakers have failed to resolve: how to provide the Turkish Cypriots with the security they feel they need against the Greek Cypriot majority, while at the same time meeting the fears of Greek Cypriots about Turkey.
``We believe that Turkey has a long-term policy one day to occupy the whole of Cyprus and is using the Turkish Cypriot community as a bridgehead,'' says the Greek Cypriot president, Glafkos Clerides.
While the Turkish Cypriots feel secure with 30,000 to 40,000 Turkish troops to protect them, the Greek Cypriots feel permanently threatened by the Turkish presence. That is why the internationally recognized Greek Cypriot government, and the Greek government in Athens, are paying half the cost of UNFICYP, the United Nations buffer force that patrols and monitors the Green Line.
IT is also, international mediators say, one reason why the Greek Cypriot side tends to be more flexible in negotiations and is generally more keen to find a solution. ``We have spent millions creating in the south what we lost in the north,'' President Clerides said in an interview at his elegant presidential palace - another legacy from British colonial days. ``We don't want to risk losing it again. We may be building on sand unless we find a solution to the Cyprus problem.''
But Denktash and the Turkish Cypriots appear to feel less of a need to change the status quo. ``This has to be the solution, until a better one is found to give us the same security, the same freedom,'' he says. ``How can we settle the problem by sacrificing from our freedom, our security, our dignity, our political equality?''
As the price for dispensing with the Turkish presence - but not security guarantees - Denktash insists that Greek Cypriots must recognize the political sovereignty and equality of the Turkish Cypriots, despite their minority numbers. Only if they have that separate identity, he argues, would the world regard any Greek Cypriot move against them as grounds for outside intervention.
But Clerides says he could never grant that. ``If I were to recognize Turkish independence in the north, I would be recognizing the partition of my country,'' he says. ``And what is my guarantee that once I recognize their separate sovereignty, they won't just say goodbye?''
For years, UN negotiators have tried to win agreement on a federation in Cyprus, but talks have foundered over the issues of land, freedom of movement, ownership, and constitutional arrangements.
For the past 15 months, mediators have tried to break a chink in the wall by promoting a package of ``confidence building measures'' - like the reopening of Nicosia airport to both sides. But even that eluded agreement.
The UN Security Council is working on a fundamental review of the basic issues and is expected to come out shortly with a new set of proposals in which the security concerns of both sides might be given more priority. But there is little optimism that peace may be close. ``It doesn't look as though we're on the verge of a breakthrough right now,'' admits Gustav Feissel, the UN special envoy to Cyprus. ``But the Security Council is clearly becoming increasingly impatient with the situation.''
Few observers believe, however, that such impatience would lead the UN to present the two sides with a Bosnia-style take-it-or-leave-it peace plan.
While there are some factors pressing for a solution, they are not as compelling as in many other world crises. Any solution would require hard decisions, especially, for the Greek Cypriots, giving up property in the north. The situation has remained stable for 20 years, and, especially in the south, people are prospering.
``If you've got to have a problem, it's about as nice a problem as you could have,'' says a senior international diplomat. ``Nobody's getting killed. There's no violence. The lid is on. And the UN peacekeeping operation here is cheap.
``If there's ever a solution to the Cyprus problem, there will be no dancing in the streets,'' he adds. ``There will be a lot of apprehension and disappointment, and a lot of complaints and criticism.''