Greeks shrug off electoral overture

It is an exchange that seems to typify much of the reaction among Greek Cypriots to Sunday's voting by their neighbours across the UN-patrolled buffer zone known as the Green Line.

    Pro-settlement parties are on strong ground in Turkish Cyprus

    "Once upon a time, this whole island was Greek," a young mother says to her eight-year-old son as they stroll in late winter sunshine up to the concrete and breeze-bloc barricade that cuts Nicosia's Ledra Street in two.

    On the other side, across a brief shambles of overgrown ruins, lies the Turkish Cypriot side of the island, guarded by some 30,000 Turkish troops.

    "Do you know what happened then?" the young mother asks.

    "No," replies the child.

    "Then," she answers, "the Turks came."

    "Ah," replies the child. "The bad guys."

    This balloting saw the victory of Mehmet Ali Talat's pro-settlement Republican Turkish Party (CTP).

    However, "that means nothing", says Elli Stafanolou, a Greek Cypriot shop owner near the Ledra Street barricade. "People don't understand the reality here "the Turks want to take and take and give nothing."

    Painful past

    Many of the Greek Cypriots living around here remember all too vividly the Turkish invasion of the island in 1974, when fighting left hundreds dead and tens of thousands as refugees.

    While Turkish Cypriots may argue that the invasion came as a response to an attempt to ethnically cleanse them from the island, this cuts little ice with many Greek Cypriots.

    The breakaway northern part
    is recognised only by Turkey

    The Turkish Cypriot north of the island, which declared itself independent in 1983, is still referred to by many as the "occupied areas", with its political system, parliament, prime minister and president unrecognised and unacknowledged.

    That independence in the north remains unrecognised by any other state too, apart from Turkey.

    And as a result, many Greek Cypriots see Sunday's elections in the self-declared Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus as at best an irrelevance, at worst a sham.

    "The northern Cypriot government is not recognised," columnist Vangelis Vasiliou from the Greek Cypriot newspaper Politis says.

    "So many Greek Cypriot politicians say that the message the election sent was not from Turkish Cypriots but from Turkey."

    Big brother

    The widespread view is that the north, being occupied, cannot hold free and fair elections. Therefore, the result of any such ballot has been rigged by the Turkish Cypriots' big brothers in Ankara.

    It is a view that disappoints many Turkish Cypriots. Talat claimed last night that his pro-settlement party's victory sent a message to the Greek Cypriots that the north was committed to a solution and to reunification. It seems to be a message that has largely fallen on deaf ears.


    Turkish Cypriots see reunification
    as essential for ending isolation

    "The Greek Cypriot government reacted to the election by saying it was not a real expression of the Turkish Cypriot view, and that Turkish settlers from mainland Turkey had come and voted Talat back in," James Ker-Lindsay, director of the Civilitas Research thinktank in Nicosia, said. "It's an unfortunate example of how the government sets the tone here."

    Yet, since an island-wide referendum last April on the last UN peace plan was accepted by Turkish Cypriots but rejected by Greek Cypriots, many European and

    international bodies have expressed their displeasure with the Greek Cypriot leadership.

    "The reason the Greek Cypriot government pours scorn on the Turkish Cypriot elections is because they recognise that the pressure is on them," continues Ker-Lindsay.

    "Talat has long been the standard bearer of a settlement, so we can expect a lot more moral pressure from the international community on the GreekCypriots."

    Changes unlikely

    However, such pressure, many feel, is unlikely to produce any changes.

    "Will the Turkish Cypriot elections have much effect on things?" wonders Vasiliou.

    "No. Of course, the elections sent a message, but Greek Cypriot politicians don't want to see it like that."

    Greek Cypriots seem to be in no
    mood to accept settlement now 

    Few believe that the current Greek Cypriot leadership, under President Tassos Papadopolous, is likely to push hard for any settlement. Two factors are widely seen as holding this back.

    "First, there are presidential elections in the north in April," says Vasiliou, the columnist. Then, veteran Turkish Cypriot leader Rauf Denktash, whom many on both sides blame for years of impasse in settlement talks, will step down as the Turkish Cypriot president and chief negotiator.

    "These elections will be very important," Vasiliou adds.

    The hope is that this ballot will see a firming up of the pro-settlement camp's control on Turkish Cyprus' negotiating team.

    Second, there is the continuing progress of Turkey towards the start of its accession talks with the European Union, scheduled to begin on October 3.

    Problem of recognition

    According to the deal struck between Turkey and EU leaders back in December, prior to starting accession talks, Turkey has to sign a custom's union agreement with the Republic of Cyprus.

    "Turkey is very uncomfortable with this," Ker-Lindsay says. "In one way or another, the customs union is some form of recognition."

    Turkish Cypriot leader Mehmet
    Ali Talat has his work cut  out

    Turkey has refused to recognise the Republic of Cyprus since the Turkish Cypriots split off.

    "This might mean the Turkish government would be more interested in negotiating a settlement with the Greek Cypriots so that by the time October comes, the island is reunited and the problem of recognition is avoided."

    Yet back on Ledra Street, such ideas seem far off. Above the barricade, which now acts as a viewing platform for many tourists and Greek Cypriots, run banners reading: "Nothing is Gained Without Sacrifices and Freedom Without Blood" and "Nicosia: the Last Divided Capital."

    The message of violence and bitterness seems a stark, if incongruous, reminder to the Monday morning shopping crowd passing by below.

    SOURCE: Aljazeera


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