Robert Ellis: Ireland has inherited the most complex problem on Earth - Cyprus
At the same time Ireland has committed itself to supporting the membership bid of another problematic country, Turkey.
In this connection, European Affairs Minister Lucinda Creighton has been caught between a rock and a hard place, because in 2010 she called President McAleese’s support of Turkey’s EU membership “fundamentally flawed” and “misguided” but now she has to support the Irish government’s official position.
However, when EU ministers for Europe meet on 21 January, she will have the opportunity to raise certain central issues not only with her European colleagues but also with Turkey’s EU minister, Egemen Bagis.
Since 2006 Turkey’s path to the EU has been blocked by one issue, Cyprus.
A total of 18 negotiating chapters have been frozen not only by the European Council and Cyprus but also because of French opposition to Turkish membership.
Now Francois Hollande has succeeded Sarkozy as president, France is expected to relent and Lucinda Creighton has declared it is Ireland’s goal to open at least one chapter during the Irish presidency.
In his speech at Dublin’s Institute of International and European Affairs a month ago, Egemen Bagis said that the energy chapter was one of “the irresponsible blockages” caused by Cyprus and expressed incomprehension that the other 26 EU members looked the other way.
Here Bagis was characteristically ingenuous, as Turkey is itself the root cause of the standoff between Europe and Turkey.
Bagis also made a superficial attempt to link Ireland and Turkey while ignoring, or being unaware of, the closer links between Ireland and Cyprus.
Both islands are old Christian civilisations who have suffered under foreign domination; in Ireland’s case Britain, and Cyprus has experienced both Ottoman and British rule.
In the 1950’s a close bond was formed between the IRA and EOKA, the National Organisation of Cypriot Fighters, in their struggle to get rid of the British, and both Ireland and Cyprus have experienced the same imposition of another culture with the Plantation of Ulster and the Anglo-Irish Treaty and the invasion and occupation of northern Cyprus by Turkey in 1974.
As far as the EU is concerned, both Ireland and Cyprus are peripheral economies as well as members of the eurozone.
Ireland is now on the painful road to recovery after the property bubble burst, necessitating an EU/ IMF bailout to the tune of €85 billion.
Cyprus is now in the same situation after heavy exposure to Greek bonds, which will need a €17.5 billion bailout, equivalent to the country’s GDP.
When it comes to the partition of Cyprus, there are a number of villains. Britain, USA, Turkey, Greece and the Cypriots themselves.
In the 1950’s the Greek Cypriot majority under the leadership of Archbishop Makarios struggled for self-determination and enosis (union with Greece) while the Turkish minority, supported by Turkey, Britain and later the USA, opted for partition.
Three years after independence in 1960, inter-communal fighting broke out and in 1974 an attempt by the Greek junta to overthrow Makarios led to Turkey’s intervention.
As documented by the European Human Rights Commission in 1976 and the US Helsinki Commission in 2009, the conduct of the Turkish army and the cultural devastation of northern Cyprus are unworthy of any civilized nation.
In contravention of the Geneva Convention Turkey has replaced about 180,000 Greek Cypriot refugees with settlers from Anatolia, so that the indigenous Turkish Cypriots are now a minority.
This in turn has led to demonstrations against Turkish rule and the imposition of Sunni Islam on the secular Turkish Cypriots.
Today there are 43,000 Turkish troops on the island and despite a number of UN and EU resolutions calling on Turkey to withdraw Turkey has refused to end its occupation.
As the Turkish foreign minister Ahmet Davutoglu noted in 2001: “Even if there was not one single Muslim Turk over there, Turkey would have to maintain a Cyprus question. No country could possibly be indifferent to an island like this, placed in the heart of its vital space.”
After 44 years of talks still no solution has been reached. In 1983 northern Cyprus declared itself independent but this is a fiction only upheld by Turkey at a cost of €1.4 billion a year.
Now the ball is in Ireland’s court. Lucinda Creighton claims that the best way to further democracy in Turkey is through engagement. On Monday she will be able to put this contention into practice.
Robert Ellis is a regular commentator on Turkish affairs in the Danish and international press.