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A Deadline Looms in Paradise

June 24, 2002|RANAN R. LURIE | Ranan R. Lurie is a senior associate at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, D.C., and a syndicated columnist and political cartoonist.

There's a remote yet beautiful country in the eastern Mediterranean, whose name, I would venture, a sizable percentage of Americans can't even spell: Cyprus. It's a picturesque island, about the size of Connecticut, that breeds good-natured, easygoing and capable people of Greek and Turkish extraction. Cyprus has never attacked another state, and "never" in Cyprus means 10,000 years. The Cypriots are a human treasure that the rest of the world should preserve as a token of appreciation for the people who really "made love, never war."

There are two reasons why the Cypriots are so nonaggressive. They live in an island nation, which means there are no border frictions. And second, by nature, they're genteel and love to mind their own business. The downside of this fine character is that Cyprus has been invaded and brutalized many times throughout history.

On July 20, 1974, a massive force of Turkish paratroopers, supported by the Turkish navy, descended on Cyprus and took over the northern part of the stunned island. According to Umit Pamir, Turkey's knowledgeable ambassador to the United Nations, there was a reason for that outburst of unhappiness by his country: One Greek Cypriot, Nikos Sampson, booted the Greek Cypriot president, Archbishop Makarios, out of office and was planning to annex Cyprus to Greece.

All this caused great displeasure in Turkey, which sent its airborne forces to "protect" the Turkish Cypriot minority, mostly in northern Cyprus. To the credit of the Greek Cypriots, they in turn booted out Sampson within days. But Sampson's actions, which triggered the Turkish invasion, were backed by the Athens junta. Considering the tremendous fiasco in which its darling Sampson failed so miserably and single-handedly brought the Turkish punishment upon Greek Cyprus, the junta had to give up power (the one upside of the Turkish invasion).

Cyprus learned to live as an island divided between the two people, like a divorced couple who still have to share a house that has only one shower. Good-natured Cyprus was invited to join the European Union, something that would make the island's life much more interesting and flourishing.

However, U.N. Resolution 1251 of June 29, 1999, reaffirmed the United Nations' position that a Cypriot settlement must be "based on a state of Cyprus with a single sovereignty, an international personality and a single citizenship." Thus, if the two groups would come to an understanding and unite while maintaining social autonomy, says Cyprus' ambassador to the United States, Erato Markoulli, the 650,000 Greek Cypriots and the 200,000 Turkish Cypriots could join Europe and almost immediately elevate their economic situation and quality of life.

Turkey, which also hopes to join the EU, feels like a chess player who suddenly realizes that a weaker opponent has managed to move a pawn ahead and that this tiny piece will become a queen in the next move. Once Cyprus enters the EU, it will be able to cast its veto against Turkey's admission.

Right now, the Greek and Turkish Cypriots have a deadline to reach a conclusion of unity by the end of the month. If the deadline is missed, Turkish Cypriot leader Rauf R. Denktash will watch as President Glafcos Clerides and his clever people on their two-thirds of the island enter the EU as the Republic of Cyprus.

Clerides, 83, was a bomber pilot during World War II. He promised that Cyprus would encourage the entry of Turkey to the EU. "We are interested in a democratic, wealthy and happy big neighbor to our north," he told me some time ago. "Turkey is the only democratic Islamic country nowadays," said the veteran official, "and joining the EU will cement its democracy and economy. Cyprus can only benefit from it."

Denktash, also a mature leader, knows that the only way to elevate the Turkish Cypriot standard of living (about $4,000 per capita) and bring it to the standards of the Greek Cypriots (about $17,800 per capita) will be to join the EU as one country. This can hurt no one, and would make many happy.

History may have, for a change, a Greek tragedy with a happy ending.

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