Turkey's EU entry may suffer a set back

Turkey's EU entry may suffer a set back

The election victory on Sunday of hardline Turkish nationalist candidate Dervis Eroglu in the Turkish Cypriot presidential election is a consequence of the partitionist policy pursued by Ankara for decades. Turkey may suffer if Eroglu scuppers negotiations to reunify the island, divided since Turkey occupied the north 36 years ago, and Cyprus and Greece block Turkey’s entry into the European Union (EU).  

Eroglu, 72, is a disciple of Rauf Denktash, the veteran Turkish Cypriot leader who saw himself as the Muhammad Ali Jinnah of Cyprus. Denktash and his supporters in Ankara used inter-communal conflict to promote this cause before and after independence in 1960 and in 1974 achieved de facto partition when the Turkish army invaded and occupied the northern 36 per cent of the island and ethnically cleansed Greek Cypriots from the area. Turkish Cypriots living in the south, controlled by the internationally recognised government of the republic, were compelled by Turkey to relocate to the north.

Turkey based 35,000 troops there, paid an annual subvention to the separatist administration, installed ‘advisers’ in its ministries, and settled 110,000-160,000 of its own citizens in the area. They now outnumber native Turkish Cypriots. In 1983 the ‘Turkish Republic of North Cyprus’ issued a unilateral declaration of independence recognised by no country but Turkey.

While Turkey consolidated its hold, Ankara encouraged its surrogate regime to engage in long-drawn out negotiations with Greek Cypriots for the reunification of the island in a bizonal, bicommunal federation. Greek Cypriots, the UN and the EU insisted that Cyprus, a small island with just over a million inhabitants, should reunite in a single state with a single citizenship and sovereignty. But Denktash and Ankara sought to impose a ‘two state solution’ involving two sovereign states linked cosmetically by a loose confederation.

Serious negotiations

As Cyprus prepared to enter the EU in 2004, Turkish Cypriots under the leadership of Mehmet Ali Talat — the politician defeated by Eroglu in the presidential poll — mounted popular demonstrations with the aim of staging a coup against Ankara’s partitionist policy. They demanded serious negotiations for reunification in a polity acceptable to both communities.

Ankara played along, sidelined Denktash, promoted Talat, and appeared to adopt the reunification-federal formula. But Turkey’s real intentions were revealed when a plan, drawn up by UN officials under instruction from Turkey’s friends, the US and UK, was rejected by Greek Cypriots. Instead of reuniting the island, the plan reaffirmed its division, separation of the two communities, and Turkey’s dominance of the north.

End deadlock

Greek Cypriots were castigated for rejecting the plan, isolated until 2008 when they elected to the presidency Demetris Christofias, the communist party boss. He pledged to end the deadlock and reach a deal with Talat, who had been elected Turkish Cypriot president in 2005. The two men, old friends, met 70 times in 19 months and achieved some progress but did not reach a deal. Turkey did not permit Talat to negotiate freely as a Turkish Cypriot looking after Cypriot interests.

Furthermore, ahead of the election, Talat was being undermined by mainland Turkish opposition parties which dispatched activists and funds to the Eroglu campaign.

While Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan backed Talat, his call for voters to cast their ballots for ‘reunification’ rang hollow. Erdogan had, after all, promoted the ‘two state’ line ever since his moderate fundamentalist Justice and Development Party won power in 2002.

Now it is payback time. Eroglu says he is ready to negotiate with Christofias. But Eroglu holds that they should start from scratch rather than from the point the process broke off. He continues to demand separate sovereignty, the continuing presence of Turkish troops and the right of Turkey to intervene in Cypriot affairs. Since Greek Cypriots reject  these propositions, negotiations are expected to collapse. Cyprus and its ally Greece will then use their vetoes in the EU to block Turkey’s entry.

Ergogan, who has staked his party’s rule on securing EU membership for Turkey, will lose credibility ahead of the coming parliamentary election. Denied EU entry, Turkey could also lose the opportunity of containing its controlling military and developing a truly democratic political system. Turkey’s relations with Greece could deteriorate, weakening the eastern flank of Nato at a time the US and Britain, facing the Taliban in Afghanistan and Pakistan, seek to strengthen the organisation. Therefore, Washington and London could also pay a price for supporting Turkey’s partionist policies.