No one much has noticed, but what will probably turn out to be the biggest geopolitical event of the year took place last weekend. I’m referring to the announcement by Kofi Annan of a referendum on the reunification of Cyprus to be held on 21 April this year. There’s still room for something to go wrong, but I’ll present my analysis on the basis that the referendum will be held and approved, which seems likely at present.

Why should settlement of a long-running dispute on a Mediterranean island, with no recent flare-ups, be so important ? Let me count the ways.

First, this is another victory for the boring old UN processes so disdained by unilateralists.

Second, a settlement of the Cyprus dispute would mark the end of hostilities between the modern states of Greece and Turkey that go back to the achievement of Greek independence from the Ottoman Empire 200 years ago. Taking a longer historical view, the predecessor states of the modern Greece and Turkey have been at the frontline of hostilities between Islam and Christendom for 1000 years or more. By comparison with this dispute, the troubles in Ireland are of recent vintage.

Third, and most important, the positive role played by the Turkish government, until now the sponsor of the separatist government in Northern Cyprus, will greatly strengthen Turkey’s case to become a candidate for admission to the European Union. Admission of Turkey, which could be expected to follow by around 2010 would dramatically change the dynamic of Middle Eastern politics. Iraq, Iran and Syria would all have borders with Europe. With membership of the EU, Turkey would provide a model of an increasingly prosperous, secular and democratic state in a predominantly Islamic country. By comparison, the replacement of the odious Saddam Hussein with an imperfectly democratic Islamist government dominated by Shiites (the most plausible current outcome for Iraq) would fade into insignifance.

A decision by the EU to reject Turkey, despite its dramatic progress towards a fully democratic system of government, would be equally significant, but in the negative direction. The advocates of rejection, most notably the German Christian (!) Democrats would correctly be seen as being motivated primarily by anti-Islamic prejudice. This would be a big setback in the struggle against terrorist forms of Islamism.

20 thoughts on “Cyprus

  1. I pray and hope this suceeds but it will involve forgiveness and as with the problem in the middle east this is in very scarce supply.

  2. A victory for the UN’s processes?

    As you point out, the real reason this is happening is a change of policy in Ankara.

    How do you figure that a rejection or inclusion of Turkey in the EU would have an impact on terrorism? I don’t see the logic.. or rather, I do see the logic, but we’re talking about rather non-logical people here. (The Islamic Terrorists, not the EU)

  3. In terms of timelines the Irish troubles began with the Norman conquests about a thousand years ago. The Cromwellian nadir was nearly 400 years ago. It is interesting to think on the end of the Europe and Asia divide (in the ancient sense) that began between Rome and Persia and subsequently the Ottomans and Europe.
    Giscard d’Estaing trenchantly opposed the inclusion of Turkey along the lines of losing the “european” nature of the EU and being unworkable. And if Turkey why not all the mediterranean littoral states? Successful unification of Cyprus would be a tremendous boost for the UN as well as being good for Cypriots and the EU.

  4. SW:
    But the change of heart from Ankara was heavily influneced by the carrot and not the stick, of which the UN was part of.

    I disagree with you on the significance of Iraq, it remains to be seen how good the Iraq democracy will be, if it gets alot of support from the US (ie. real support that is for benefit of Iraq, not the US), and Iran becomes a much better democracy, it might do quite well. Although I do admit this has a very remote chance of happening.

  5. It took a long time to get from the Norman Conquest of England to charecteristically English troubles in Ireland.

  6. Phil’s point about how big an EU is valid one, given a degree of freedom of movement between member states. Take growth to its logical conclusion and it could swallow the UN(Australia?) The EU has support among its member states/citizens largely for its Judaeo/Christian roots, but this is also qualified by standard of living concerns. Turkey’s admission is problematic on both counts for EU citizenry. Ultimately it is the citizens who must decide how big and how inclusive their super state becomes.

  7. Oh dear, oh dear, oh dear. When JQ is good he is very, very good, but when he is bad…

    Precisely in as much as this would be victory, it would be a victory from reaching a “settlement”, i.e. regarding agreement as the object of the exercise. It fails to ask whether the agreement does or in some larger sense is good. Here, it isn’t.

    You should never, never, never use democratic processes like referenda or plebiscites as ways of determining questions of identity. You build in questions of identity when you frame them in the first place, and that sets a very bad precedent for other people elsewhere.

    It would not mark an end to hostilities, just open a new phase. I have heard a Greek favour republicanism in Australia because the Greek King “was a traitor”; enquiry revealed he meant that the King had favoured peace and an end to the Greek penetration of Asia Minor in the 1920s. Particularly with so many descendants of exchanged Pontics (even more particularly in Euboea, where they make a lot of political difference), there is always a strand of Greek political thought that wants to recover Asia Minor. A rope frays at the end; Enosis for Cyprus – loosely, “reunion” – only means attention will switch to the next itch. I presume JQ knows his subject matter or he would not be pontificating, so he cannot have forgotten that Enosis for Cyprus only started to resonate among other Greeks after Enosis was achieved for Crete.

    (Oh, as an aside, troubles with Ireland actually began shortly after 1066, when some of the expelled Saxon nobles took refuge in Irish courts, though they didn’t flare up until a generation later when Norman nobles went there to set up independently of their feudal overlord in England. That’s if you don’t count the Irish pirates who were raiding Britain between the time of the Romans and the Vikings.)

    It is testing things by special values to say a Cypriot settlement is good because it helps Turkey into the EU. That is itself only good by the standards it embodies. It would hardly provide an example to Islam; most of Islam blames the Turks for making them miss the boat in keeping up with Europe. There would be no credit given for grabbing seats on the other boat.

  8. “First, this is another victory for the boring old UN processes so disdained by unilateralists.”

    Oh dear. Don’t you think you’re beating the drum a bit early?

    “By comparison with this dispute, the troubles in Ireland are of recent vintage.”

    You are in urgent need of some Irish history; either that, or you meant the ‘Troubles’, which I suspect you didn’t. Either way, if it involves Seamus Heaney’s poetry, include me out.

  9. I agree the Cyprus settlement is important, but it was inevitable, and I’m surprised it didn’t happen earlier. Turkey wants to get into the EU so it will pay whatever price it needs to. I spent some months in Turkey in 1975 and it is a mistake to see it as Islamic. It is a very secular country. I had trouble finding educated people who knew anything in-depth about Islam. The Islamists are a minority who have much less influence than the fundamentalists in the US, and the Catholic church in Poland and Italy.
    Turkey will fit very well into the EU, particularly when the new generation fully takes over from the rather conservative old men who have been running things.

    The relationship between the Kurds and other Turks is the biggest problem they will face, and that is a real echo of the Irish problems.

  10. Have to agree that the role of the UN really should not be held up here as a motive force. UN auspices are important as a legitimizing factor (and it is true that is not so trivial thing as some in the American administration wanted to believe last February-March), but the pending referenda are in no way a “victory” for the UN. It will be, if it passes, a “victory” for Turkey, which badly needs to have somebody else fix its TRNC problem in order to clear the way for EU accession. Not that this is such a bad thing; don’t look a gift horse in the mouth just because your horse has his eye on the lump of sugar in the other shed, to completely annihilate a metaphor.

    I don’t think this is such a bad thing as P.M. Lawrence makes it out to be, either. “Identity” issues are far less at stake here than issues of political power and self-determination. Those are linked, but not (sorry for this) identical, concerns. Turkey won’t be sending any more troops to Cyprus, and the TRNC isn’t going to be doing any attacking of Greek Cypriots, so it’s hard to see where identity issues bleed into violence. TRNCers are expecting to see their standard of living go up substantially as EU members, and they’re right; it will. Rising standard of living is usually (though not always) a pretty good dampener of irredentism.

  11. Sure, identity issues are not the main driver in Cyprus at the moment. That wasn’t my point. My point was that it is a terrible precedent for the whole world that identity issues should be resolved through democratic machinery (as that assumes things about identity in the first place).

    It would be very, very bad for everybody to add to erosion of democracy and identity by abusing the machinery. All the more because it is no big deal just there – that only means, sacrificing the principle there will cost those people there less, so they won’t resist it so much. But the principle matters to us.

    Incidentally, people objecting to the Turkish invasion on grounds of principle already built in those identity flaws, assuming a single identity for Cyprus. Yet – leaving aside any colateral damage – the Turkish invasion was entirely constitutionally justified, just as much as British support of Belgium in 1914, on the back of the guarantees that set everything up in the first place (I read Mikes’ book on the area, that touched on the guarantees and was written before the invasion).

  12. Oh! the unintended ironies . . .

    Cyprus, curiously, has also been the site of several discussions by people engaged in other peace-processes around the world (notably Lebanon, but others as well). It has historically been fairly easy for most people to travel in and out of Cyprus because of good airline connections and a forgiving set of visa regulations.

    A curious consequence to the resolution of the conflict in Cyprus and its joining the EU is that these talks will then have to take place elsewhere as Cyprus initiates an EU compliant visa regime.

  13. What ireland missed was a conquest by Rome, I believe the invasion was planned, because of the pirates, but was never carried out.

  14. I bring up this particular issue of visas because I am trying to schedule a meeting in Cyprus. I’ve been told to make sure it happens sooner rather than later in order to be able to get everybody there. Our second choice is Beirut, which is just a bit less convenient for some people.

  15. “What ireland missed was a conquest by Rome, I believe the invasion was planned, because of the pirates, but was never carried out.”

    Not because of the pirates. The planned invasion was across a short stretch just south of the western end of the Roman border with the Picts (not yet walled, but with depots etc.). It was intended to cut off support that might have gone the other way, catching the Roman borders in the rear or going directly to the unpacified northern tribes. It is much the same logic as drew the Romans across from Gaul in the first place.

    The Irish pirates weren’t a great threat while the Romans had good naval forces around, and those were not much additional cost since they were needed anyway because of the Saxons.

    For what it’s worth, there has been some speculation that southern Irish ports got used for Roman trading posts, with a permanent Roman presence between sailing seasons to gather and store goods for shipping.

  16. “another victory for the boring old UN processes”

    and when was the last one… Katanga?

    It hard for me to see how the Turkish decision to sell the TRNC down the river will do more open opportunity for the first ethnic cleansing ever in an EU member state.

    And what happens when Turkey’s application for membership is turfed on a wave of anti-Moslem immigrant sentiment (Madrid bombings, anybody).

    What we have here is a classic example of how internationalization serves to take solved problems like the partititon of Cyprus, the Falklands, deterring Saddam, blah blah blah and make them unsolved once more.

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