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Asian Tribune is published by E-LANKA MEDIA(PVT)Ltd. Vol. 20 No. 110

The Cyprus Issue: What Is the Next Step?

*By Abdul Jaleel Al Marhoon

During two visits I made last year to Northern Cyprus, I was destined to stand over some "neutral lands" as well as those divided by ramparts in both Famagusta and Nicosia. To tell the truth it is a very disheartening sight, because the lay individual on both sides is the one, who is paying the price for this unnatural situation, which has been going on for so long.

The Cypriot authorities on both of the Greek and Turkish sides have agreed in the year 2003 to decrease the restrains on visitations between the two halves of the island and to establish five crossing points on the green line, but the conundrum remains.

On the 8th of last December, Turkey announced officially its approval to open a sea port and an airport for the Greek Cypriot ships and airplanes for a year while a comprehensive settlement is reached for the Cypriot issue, Ankara conditioned that with the European Union opening up a similar number of airports and seaports in Turkish Cyprus.

But Greek Cyprus was very hasty to decline the Turkish offer, making it clear that it could agree to open any of the airports in Turkish Cyprus for international flights except for those heading for Turkey.

According to many sources, when Turkey announced to the Finnish presidency of the European Union in the first of last December of its approval to open an airport and a sea port to facilitate the shipping movement coming from Greek Cyprus, its proposition was based on mutual compromises. The Associated Press conveyed from Finnish source its conformation that the Turkish offer "was coupled with conditions", one of which is putting an end to the isolation of Turkish Cypriots.

On the other hand Anatolia Press Agency said that the Turkish offer is linked to the European Union Ending the isolation of the Turkish Cypriots by allowing commercial activities via Ercan Airport and Famagusta seaport, in the same context Reuters conveyed from a source in the Turkish Foreign Ministry "it is a two sided agreement. We demand opening of the same numbers of seaports and airports on both sides".

At the end the Turkish was not meant to see the light, and the Cypriot conundrum remains in its place. Embracing this proposal could have rippled the stagnant waters, a price which is paid by Cypriot individuals in the North and the South, but in differing portions.

The truth is the Turkish offer was clearly balanced, and it would have benefited Cypriots on both halves of the island, it would have even presented a launch pad on the path of the final settlement of the Cypriot issue.

When I traveled to Northern Cyprus in last November to attend the celebrations of the commemoration of the establishment of the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus, I found a lot of the conversations there centered around the European take on opening the Famagusta Port for European maritime, an offer which is coupled by Turkey opening its ports whither sea or air for the Greek half of Cyprus. In a speech in front the invited delegations, President Mehmet Ali Talaat saw that the European offer did not come balanced, and it wouldn't accomplish to the Northern half what it would to the Southern one.

And when I visited Famagusta port I learnt from some of the locals there that the yearly income of the port forms but a humble amount and that a considerable amount of marine trade revenue of the Northern half comes from Carina port which is only 40 kilometers away from the Turkish City of Adana.

Carina is considered the only city which lies completely in the Northern part of the island, where Famagusta is considered a divided city as is the capital Nicosia.

And as I have learnt from some Turkish Cypriots, the European offer concerning Famagusta port states that the port should be handed over to the Greek half after a year of its opening to the European maritime. In another words the European trade with Turkish Cypriots would be run later by Greek Cypriots.

Most importantly is that the European offer does not include any diversion of air flights to Ercan International Airport which is located in the Turkish portion of Nicosia; which means the aerial siege will continue on Turkish Cypriots.

The tragedy of the siege seems obvious to the mass, there aren't other countries flying flights to Ercan except Turkey; passengers coming from the rest of the world must wait for hours on hours in Istanbul airport to be able to move from there to Ercan airport.

And the situation doesn't differ a lot when it comes to the chances of marine transport; at the time of the second Lebanese war which took place last summer, I spent a week in Carina north of Cyprus. And I learnt at the time that the Turkish Cypriot authorities have mobilized to relocate the enormous human mobs which found themselves stranded and surrounded in Lebanon due to the war.

But the movement of Turkish Cypriots in this direction was terminated and sabotaged by the government in the Greek part of Cyprus. And although that mobilization was a consequence of an extremely harsh humanitarian reality and in spite of the fact that international law obligates all individuals, organizations and countries capable of helping to do so; and this is exactly what Geneva's forth treaty stated regarding the protection of civilians in the time of war, and which was dated on 12 th of August 1949.

A lot of promises were made to the Turkish Cypriots about alleviating the siege, and that was after their affirmative vote in the 2004 referendum on the plan of the former Secretary General of the UN Kofi Annan concerning reuniting of the island; a plan which was supported by the international community and rebuffed by Greek Cypriots.

And on another face of the Cypriot issue, Turkish Cypriots objected over Greek Cyprus's efforts to re-demarcate the continental reef of the island with some of its Mediterranean neighbors, and they objected rigorously over its announcements of attracting offers for oil excavation in regional waters.

Generally, Turkish Cypriots object to any Cypriot party to enter into any settlements connected to rights and regional rule before reaching a final resolve for the island's conundrum; and they see that a step such as thus may raise problems present and ahead with some of the neighboring countries.

The oil and gas excavation offers which has been revealed by the Greek Cypriot government encompasses an area of seventy thousand square kilometers adjacent to the island's coastline; some specialized studies estimates the oil and gas reservoir in the marine part of the island by eight billion barrels, with total value of over 400 billion dollars.

In addition to the problems stirred with the Turkish Cypriot half of the island, this Greek Cypriot steps caused another crisis with Turkey, which rushed to demand its withdrawal. Ankara saw that such action could cause a forced reality which violates the joint rights of both Cypriot groups; and it reassured the reality that all Cypriots share the natural resources of the island including the oil and gas reservoirs. Ankara also saw that no one has the right to deal with the Greek half as if the Turkish Half does not exist.

The truth is that the Greek Cypriot action has consequences on the regional security which could be difficult to imagine now, for all the experiences of the region points that a step such as this may lead to an armed confrontation. Two decades ago Turkey and Greece almost got into war on a backdrop of excavation rights in the Aegean Sea.

Three years back we used to say that the European Union should have waited for a while until the Cypriot issue was completely solved and hen granting its membership for the whole of the island, but it announced then that it granted its membership to Greek Cyprus regardless of the future of the political settlement of the island which was a reason for the rejection of the plan of the Secretary General of the UN, even if the EU itself wants it to succeed.

Today the EU is responsible of salvaging what could be salvaged, specially advocating the political settlement option, and creating primal agreements between the two Cypriot groups encompassing all hanging issues, especially the explosive ones and those which threaten a regional conflict.

Within the same context, the European Union is obliged to fulfill the commitments it offered to Turkish Cypriots after their positive vote over Anan's plan, especially those concerning the establishment of a form of a commercial and economical direct connection and offering financial aids. A policy of this sort would reflect positively on the aspired settlement efforts.

In the light of their siege, Turkish Cypriots strived to enhance their self-advantages, driven by their harsh reality. And on their quest they succeeded in developing what is considered now one of the best higher education models in the Middle East, and hence a lot of students join it from many neighboring countries.

Finally, and regarding what is concerning us as Arabs, it is clearly obvious that our best interest as Arabs dictates that we should establish some sort of civilian, commercial and cultural connections with Turkish Cypriots. And it's not in our interest to stand by and wait for others to take the initiative, because then we will be at the rear of the convoy, and many chances will have passed them by. For this island will regain the unity of its lands one day sooner or later, and most probably is going to be a federal government with special specifications, each party within it will retain many Jurisdictions; and Arabs must be aware of this approach and work on its light.

*Abdul Jaleel Al Marhoon Bahraini researcher. Author of " Gulf Security and the Nuclear Armament Issue" .Bahrain Center for Studies and Research. Manama 2007

- Asian Tribune -

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