The Greek Cypriot dilemma
The death of Rauf Denktaş no doubt pleased many Greek Cypriots for whom he was a bitter nemesis.
Greek Cypriot President Demetris Christofias was nevertheless civilized enough to call for respect to the feelings of Turkish Cypriots as they grieved for their former leader.
It is true that Denktaş worked against the Annan Plan in 2003, which many – myself included – still believe was the best chance for a settlement on Cyprus. He was castigated for this in Turkey and Turkish Northern Cyprus, which went on to vote overwhelmingly in favor of the plan in a referendum.
With his stance on this plan and the radical change in Turkey after the advent of the Justice and Development Party (AKP) in 2002, Denktaş’s time as a key player in Cyprus was over.
But, as Edward Mortimer of the Financial Times pointed out (on Jan.14), he lived to see “his life’s work vindicated by the Greeks, at the very moment when his own people had disavowed him.” The reason was the overwhelming rejection of the Annan Plan by Greek Cypriots in their separate referendum, a development that also shocked many in Europe at the time, while pleasing Denktaş for whom the basic problem was always a simple one. He believed to the end that Greek Cypriots were not prepared to share power, or anything for that matter, with their Turkish counterparts. He also believed, based on past experience, that Turkish and Greek Cypriots could not live together in peace if intermingled. The rejection of the Annan Plan by Greek Cypriots appeared to prove him right.
So, the Cyprus stalemate continues today. In the meantime, the fact that the “EU juggernaut” has been unable to force Ankara into a specific position on Cyprus has increased frustration among Greek Cypriots, who clearly expected more from their EU membership.
In the backdrop to all this, we now have the developments in the Eastern Mediterranean that Cyprus is increasingly caught in the middle of. It remains to be seen if the Greek Cypriot administration can look beyond its obsession with Turkey and manage these regional dynamics that also have global implications.
Given its delicate location there are developments which suggest that even enforcing the EU’s sanctions against Iran or Syria may be difficult for Greek Cyprus. In the meantime Greek Cyprus has discovered large quantities of natural gas off its shore and is investing a lot of hope in this, expecting it to provide not just energy and wealth but also leverage against Turkey.
But Turkey has already made it clear that Turkish Cypriots have a stake in this gas, suggesting that attaining their gas wealth and extra leverage against Ankara through this way may be more problematic than is assumed. Meanwhile Greek Cyprus is cozying up to Israel, in order to avail of the fall out between this country and Turkey, may point to a “new alliance against Turkey” in the region.
This may please Greek Cypriots, but one can’t help wonder if they all of a sudden think their traditional economic and political ties with Arab countries are no longer important. Put another way, depending on the course these take, Greek Cyprus’ ties with Israel could end up alienating the Arab world.
Then there is the economic crisis in Europe which is already affecting Greek Cypriots.
Greek Cyprus will hold the EU’s term presidency this year in an environment of economic turmoil. This will force President Christofias to think about much more than just how he can use the EU against Turkey.
Given this general picture all one can do is wish him luck as he tries to juggle the need to work against Turkey with one hand while trying to manage the unpredictable dynamics of the eastern Mediterranean with the other.