Playing Cyprus Card With Turkey
Is this the beginning of the end of EU isolation for Turkey? At a Dec. 17, 2004, summit in Brussels the European Union agreed to begin accession talks with Turkey in October this year. The setting of a date for negotiations—expected to last about a decade—has been hailed as a historic breakthrough after 40-odd years of Turkey’s striving to get to this starting point.
After persistent, decades-long rebuffing of the Muslim nation by a largely Christian Europe, is this a dramatic change of heart for Europeans? Or does the EU have ulterior motives? The answer largely revolves around a strategically located island in the eastern Mediterranean: Cyprus.
Cyprus is a divided nation, with the majority Greek south having been accepted as an EU member in May last year, leaving the Turkish Cypriots in the north on their own. Since 1974, when Turkey annexed the northern portion of the island in response to a Greek-backed attempted coup, Ankara has refused to acknowledge the legitimacy of the Greek Cypriot government in Nicosia. After decades of negotiations and peace talks, the situation remains a stalemate, with over 30,000 Turkish troops still occupying the north of the country.
A primary condition for Turkey to start official negotiations with the EU was that it formally recognize Cyprus. Though Ankara didn’t go that far, at the December summit it accepted a compromise deal whereby it promised to extend its customs union with the EU to the 10 newest member nations—including Cyprus.
For Turkey, formal recognition of Cyprus would mean acknowledging the Greek Cypriot government as sovereign over the entire country and withdrawing recognition of the northern Turkish Cypriot administration. It would also raise the question of whether Turkey’s 30,000 troops stationed in the north are occupying EU territory.
If Ankara does not recognize Cyprus as an EU member, Nicosia has threatened to veto Turkey’s EU membership every step of the way. To clear this hurdle, Turkey now has a new incentive to push for a peace settlement that would enable it to recognize the Cypriot government.
In reality, the carrot of EU membership—and the threat of a Cypriot veto—is a means of inducing Turkey to allow the EU to gain more influence over Cyprus.
In a referendum last April, Greek Cypriots rejected a United Nations peace plan because the Turkish north didn’t agree to enough concessions. However, just days after the EU summit, Turkey’s prime minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan—in a clear indication that he’s prepared for further compromise—said the rejected plan could be revised.
Such compromise would mean the “Turkish Cypriots must be ready to live without the Turkish security umbrella” (Financial Times, London, Dec. 23, 2004). Indeed, Nicosia “has hinted it will place more demands on the table … such as the withdrawal of some 30,000 Turkish troops occupying the north of Cyprus” (Agence France Presse, Dec. 17, 2004).
Watch for the EU to force Turkey to make every concession possible, but still ultimately refuse it EU membership. At the same time, watch as the EU prepares to use Cyprus as a bridge into the Holy Land. A Cyprus peace agreement leading to a reduction of Turkish troops on the island would open the way for EU “peacekeeping” troops to take charge in Cyprus—and be in place to pursue further “peacekeeping” missions in nearby Jerusalem.
In August 1998, editor in chief Gerald Flurry wrote, “More than one crusade has been launched from Cyprus. Will we see the last crusade launched from there as well? … Is the EU already thinking about Cyprus as a launching pad from which to protect [its] Jerusalem interests?”