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Plate Tectonics

By John Psaropoulos, Athens News
Reprinted by Permission

THE WHEELS and cogs of Cypriot reunification may be breaking through 27 years of painted-over rust. Groans and squeals can be heard coming from the jammed machinery, still straining to bring the severed halves of the island back together.

The mere fact of this unifying tension's existence underlines the error of the central Turkish position from which all of Turkey's Cyprus policy flows: that the island's ethnic groups are alienated beyond redemption. If this were true, Greek-Cypriots and Turkish-Cypriots would have established diplomatic relations long ago. Sovereignty is separateness, and its recognition a desire to make that separateness permanent.

But even the staunchest separatist could not deny the existence of a Cypriot identity encompassing both ethnic groups that was not stamped out in 1974, when a Turkish invasion carved out a separate Turkish-Cypriot entity. For 27 years that identity has continued to ring like a telephone in the empty buildings of Famagusta. Suddenly there is a glimmer of hope that life may re-enter those buildings, and someone may finally pick up the phone.

Probably for the first time since they were fellow lawyers, Rauf Denktash and Glafcos Clerides dined together in northern Nicosia on December 4. The dinner was as important symbolically as it was substantially. Clerides stepped onto Turkish-Cypriot soil for the first time since 1974, and Denktash dropped his pre-condition of prior recognition for the breakaway Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus. The two agreed to talk face-to-face, taking the UN-sponsored negotiations to the next stage (until then they spoke through UN mediator Alvaro de Soto), and to keep talking until a solution is found.
To the naked eye, nothing has changed on the ground. But seen through the microscope of Cypriot time, momentous change is taking place on a cellular level.

Rapprochement of the nuclei is usually followed by a breakdown of the cell walls and the merging of their contents.

This change is not coincidental. It is directly linked to Cyprus' approaching European Union accession. Turkey must decide whether to react to Cypriot membership of the EU by continuing further down the path of intransigence (formally annexing the TRNC), or turn over a new leaf and cooperate with the UN process.

The first option, European officials have said, would mark the death of Turkey's EU membership hopes. The second strengthens those hopes, but risks undermining Turkey's great political myth - that the Cyprus question was "solved". Prime Minister Bulent Ecevit, responsible for the 1974 invasion, must be acutely aware of that risk.

Turkey seems to be betting in favour of cooperation. Turkish Deputy Prime Minister Mesut Yilmaz made conciliatory noises while addressing some of the country's top business brass on November 29. He called the UN's ideas for a bi-zonal, bi-communal federation an element that "strengthens the Turkish position". He stressed that a non-solution in Cyprus will prevent Turkey's EU accession.

This sudden endorsement of federalism (Turkey has repeated its preference for a confederation of separate states like a broken record) is more than appeasement of a progressive group keen to do business with Europe. It is a change in course, demonstrating that concerns over national security are losing ground to a desire for prosperity and a good name.