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Majority of Turkish Cypriots Favor Negotiations with the European Union


April 8, 1998 No. 20/98


The Turkish Cypriot leadership in Cyprus has reacted very negatively to the start of accession negotiations between the Republic of Cyprus and the European Union on March 31, 1998. In contrast to the established view of the international community as expressed by British Foreign Minister Robin Cook that "Cyprus' accession should benefit all communities, including the Turkish Cypriot community and help to bring about civil peace and reconciliation on the island," Mr. Rauf Denktash has rejected the negotiations. On March 28 he asked UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan to "use all his power to stop full membership negotiations with the EU." On April 4, US mediator Richard Holbrooke said that Denktash did "not yield an inch from this position."

It is becoming increasingly apparent, however, that Mr. Denktash's rejectionist line does not reflect democratic opinion among the Turkish Cypriot community. Instead, it is clear that Mr. Denktash is acting under direct guidance from Ankara and that his actions are designed to promote Turkey's interests rather than those of the Turkish Cypriots.

Opinion polls among Turkish Cypriots have consistently shown large majorities in favor of the EU. According to a poll conducted in December 1997 by the independent Cyprus Public Opinion and Market Research Company (COMAR) 89.6% of Turkish Cypriots declared themselves in favor of joining the EU in the expectation that this will confer tangible benefits in such areas as education, employment, health, and security. A sizable majority (76.6%) also believed that EU accession would allow Turkish Cypriots to close the economic gap with Greek Cypriots.

Disregarding these opinions, Mr. Denktash couches his rejection of the EU in terms of Turkey's strategic interests and its competition with Greece. On March 30, Mr. Denktash said that "the day Cyprus joins the EU, it will defy Turkey." On April 3, Mr. Denktash stated that "Turkey has as much right over Cyprus as Greece and that it is impossible to erase Turkey's geopolitical rights."

Such sentiments echo those of Turkish ministers. On March 31, Turkish State Minister responsible for Cyprus Sukru Sina Gurel said, "Turkey will in no way allow Cyprus to be isolated from Turkey." On April 3, he repeated that "everybody should know that the island of Cyprus cannot be separated from Turkey." On April 5, Turkish Foreign Minister Ismail Cem stated that "naturally, Turkey will not hand Cyprus, which is located in the eastern Mediterranean, an area that will become the world's most strategic region in the 2000's, over to Greece."

Turkey is taking concrete measures to consolidate its geopolitical ambitions on Cyprus. On March 31, it formed a "Partnership Council" with Mr. Denktash, the objective of which, according to Mr. Denktash is to allow "Turkish Cypriots to deepen their relations with Turkey and take integration steps with Turkey." The Council held its first meeting in Ankara on March 31. It is an illegal body, violating Security Council Resolution 550 (1984) of May 11, 1984 which mandates all states to refrain from assisting or facilitating the Turkish occupied areas of Cyprus in any way.

The Turkish Cypriot leadership's deference to Turkey has met opposition from democratic organizations in the occupied areas. The Republican Turkish Party, the New Cyprus Party, the Secondary Education Teachers Union, the Teachers Union, the Civil Servants Union, Dev-Is (Federation of Revolutionary Worker Unions), Cag-Sen, Er-Sen, and the Union of Chambers of Engineers and Architects issued a joint written statement saying that the "Partnership Council" meeting constituted an obstacle to the peace efforts being conducted in the region and may pave the way for war. The statement called for the resumption of UN-based intercommunal talks in order to reach a mutually acceptable agreement and pave the way to peace on the island."

Mr. Denktash's statements and those of Turkish leaders have made identified the real obstacle to progress in Cyprus. While the overwhelming majority of Turkish Cypriots wish Cyprus to join the EU, their wishes are being overridden by the Turkish military which regards the occupied areas as an asset for Turkey's aggressive policy toward Greece. As the search for a settlement of the Cyprus problem goes forward, the United States and the international community must have regard for the views of the whole Turkish Cypriot community, not just the leadership which is being manipulated by Turkey.