This weekend, things got even more complicated for Turkey, already at center-stage in the debate about military action in Iraq, when Tassos Papadopoulos won an unexpectedly easy victory in the Greek Cypriot presidential elections. Until Sunday’s vote, it seemed possible that a U.N. plan to forge a power-sharing federation for Cyprus’ two communities—Turkish Cypriots in the north and Greeks in the south—might bring about the reunification of the island, divided since 1974. The United Nations said the two sides must accept the plan by Feb. 28, because on April 16 Cyprus is due to sign the accession treaty that will allow it to join the European Union, and both ethnic groups must endorse the deal by referendums before that date. If those deadlines aren’t met, the European Union has previously indicated it would allow Greek Cyprus to join alone. The Financial Times observed, “That would not only cement the partition of the island, but poison the EU’s blossoming relationship with Turkey, which desperately wants entry to the union too.”
According to the Guardian, 69-year-old Papadopoulos is “a hardliner who has rejected all previous UN attempts to reunify Cyprus.” The Turkish Daily News reported that during his election campaign he criticized his opponent, the incumbent president, for giving away too much in the U.N.-sponsored talks. The Guardian said that under the U.N. plan, “Turkish Cypriots, who account for 18% of the population but control 37% of the land, would give back around 10% of territory in exchange for power sharing.” Papadopoulos insists that all Greek Cypriot refugees forced to flee from the Turkish-occupied north since 1974 should be given the right to return, a concept rejected in the U.N. negotiations. U.N. spokesmen said it is too close to the Feb. 28 deadline to make such drastic changes, so the agreement now seems doomed.
Commentators suggested these developments might actually present Turkey with a tactical advantage in its long-running rivalry with Greece. According to the Turkish Daily News, Turkish Cypriot leader Rauf Denktas was “very unhappy” with the U.N. plan, but he was forced “by some power circles in Ankara to agree to the terms.” (The Financial Times said Turkey’s new Justice and Development Party government “appears to understand well that the 36 per cent of Cyprus Turkey seized after an attempted Greek-incited coup in 1974 is a millstone—not the strategic asset the generals and mandarins in Ankara have traditionally considered it.”) If Cyprus’ moves toward unification now appear to stall because of Papadopoulos’ intransigence, EU members may “seriously consider whether to ratify the entry of a country that had the chance to make itself whole again, but whose leadership wilfully frittered away the chance to make peace.”