Amerikali Turk


A Visit to Northern Cyprus, a Place That Does Not Exist

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November 17, 2012 11:11 PM

Just this past week, on November 15, 2012, the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus (TRNC) marked the 29th anniversary of the establishment of the republic.


Last summer, I had the opportunity to visit the TRNC, a place which apparently does not exist, as it is not recognized by any country other than Turkey, and is under international embargo. Since planes can not fly there directly, the only way to fly there is via Turkey. The TRNC is an international pariah.


Yet, I can attest to the fact that there are living, breathing people in Northern Cyprus, that the TRNC is a democracy with religious freedom and that it is actually quite a beautiful place. Thousands of students from around the world attend universities in Northern Cyprus.


Cyprus declared its independence from Britain in 1960. However, Greek Cypriots did not abandon their long-standing goal of enosis, the union of the island with Greece. There was mounting inter-communal violence, and, in the face of attacks from Greek Cypriots, Turkish Cypriots retreated into enclaves to ensure their safety and the UN established the United Nations Peacekeeping Force in Cyprus (UNFICYP) to create a buffer between the two communities. In 1974, the military junta in Athens supported a coup against President Makarios, replacing him with a hard-line supporter of enosis. Turkey tried desperately to convince London and Athens (the two other guarantors of the 1960 Cyprus Constitution) to act jointly with Turkey to avert a disastrous crisis, but to no avail. On July 20, 1974, Turkey deployed its forces on the island to protect Turkish Cypriots and ended up in control of one-third of the island. On August 19, 1974, US Ambassador Rodger Davies was assassinated by Greek terrorists. Turkish Cypriots in the South fled to the North, Greek Cypriots in the North fled to the South, and the separation between North and South Cyprus continues to this day.


When diplomatic efforts during 1975-1983 produced no tangible results, the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus (TRNC) was declared on November 15, 1983. Only Turkey has recognized the TRNC. The Republic of Cyprus in the South is recognized by the United States and many other nations and is not only a member of the European Union (EU), but is also currently the President of the EU.


The Cyprus of today is thankfully devoid of military clashes and people can generally pass freely through checkpoints between North and South. Regretfully, however, there is little official cross-communication and interaction between the two sides.


In 2004, a plan supported by the United Nations and the United States would establish a bi-zonal, bi-communal federation, providing political equality for Greeks and Turks. This plan (named after the former UN Secretary General Kofi Annan) was accepted by a vote of the Turkish Cypriots, but rejected by Greek Cypriots (yet, the Turkish Cypriots, who had been in favor of settlement, continued to be subject to restrictions).


To illustrate how frustrating the situation is, the city of Nurnberg, Germany donated an ambulance to the Health Ministry of the TRNC, but Greek Cypriots protested this. Also, athletes from the TRNC wanted to compete in the London 2012 Olympics, but the International Olympic Committee prevented them from participating even under the Olympic Flag because Greek Cypriots did not want these athletes to be recognized as being from Northern Cyprus.


Here is the irony – the Republic of Cyprus (in the south) is struggling economically, seeking huge bailouts and loans from Europe. Combining the energies of Greeks and Turks on the island would improve the lives of all Cypriots, Greek and Turk alike. There are glaring problems, such as water shortages, the high cost of electricity and the need to build and strengthen the economy of the island. Yet – it is the pull of history that is holding back future generations of Cypriots, Turkish and Greek.


The Republic of Cyprus’ EU membership has not inured at all to the benefit of Turkish Cypriots. Turkish Cypriots dressed as ghosts protested outside of the European Council building in Brussels on June 27, 2012, upset that they are not represented in Cyprus' EU presidency.


Bills introduced in the United States Congress, by ignoring the reality on the ground, unfortunately fail to contribute to a solution of the problems facing Cyprus. H. Res. 676 introduced by Congressman Engel and its companion bill in the Senate by Senator Menendez provide for respecting and accepting the “sovereignty of the Republic of Cyprus as the only sovereign state on the island of Cyprus”. Such legislation ignores the existence of the TRNC, and appears to be, in many respects, a function more of interest group pressure than a serious effort to work out this thorny issue for the betterment of all Cypriots, Greek and Turk alike.


The two communities are stuck in their remembrance of historical events. Somehow, a solution needs to be arrived at that moves all Cypriots beyond these seemingly intractable historical problems. Also, a way must be found to foster communication and interaction between the two authorities on the island - these contacts will contribute to peaceful relations and an eventual settlement.


The recent discovery of oil and gas resources around the island of Cyprus presents a golden opportunity for combined efforts by Turks and Greeks to share these valuable resources and to make these exciting resource discoveries a “win-win” for the entire island of Cyprus. This will require the serious effort of all parties to work out a deal that will help to forge a better future for all Cypriots.


By Mark Meirowitz*


*Mark Meirowitz is an attorney in New York