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Cyprus: Another OXI we should be proud of

Thursday, April 24, 2014  | 

10 years ago today, the fifth — and perhaps most flawed version — of the Annan Plan for Cyprus went down in ignominious defeat when put to referendum before the people of Cyprus.  76% of Greek Cypriots and 35% of Turkish Cypriots voted against Annan.  That certain “experts” and elites can still argue with a straight face that Annan was a good plan, that the negotiation of Annan and its presentation to the people of Cyprus was done well, or that Greek-Cypriot unjustly rejected the Annan Plan is ridiculous.

The great analysts/cheerleaders of the Annan Plan try to distort the debate with nonsensical comments like “[Annan Plan] certainly had flaws. All peace plans do. But I believe it could have worked with the right political will.”  They don’t explain what “flaws” could have been corrected with political will, or how.  We never hear from them that they got it wrong, or how the plan for reunification could have been adjusted to come up with a more workable solution.  Instead, in an attempt to vindicate their short sightedness, they ask if people regret their “No” vote.

Perhaps the most aptly titled book on Cyprus is Christopher Hitchens’ Hostage to History. The most fundamental flaw of the Annan Plan is that it would have kept Cyprus as a hostage — to Turkey, to the U.K., to foreign nationals that would be given seats on Cyprus’ Supreme Court, Central Bank and other governing bodies.  The Annan Plan was not about solving the Cyprus problem, not about reunifying Cyprus in a workable manner, and certainly not about justice on Cyprus.  It was an attempt to unload the Cyprus problem.  Too many people still exhibit the same attitude towards Cyprus that is reflected in President Lyndon Johnson’s infamous tirade towards the then Greek Ambassador to the U.S.: “America is an elephant. Cyprus is a flea. Greece is a flea. If those two fleas continue itching the elephant they may just get whacked by the elephants trunk.”  State Department and National Security Council officials, UN envoys, scholars at the London School of Economics might be tired of an occupied Cyprus remaining an issue in other contexts (EU-Turkish relations, relations between the West and Turkey, etc), but their need to move on led them to play “Pontius Pilate politics” and try to wash their hands of the Cyprus issue with utter disregard for what would come next.

There are significant differences between the 2004 reunification process and the present one.  To begin with, the sheen is off of the Erdogan government.  People can legitimately believe that Turkey wants a solution on Cyprus, but Prime Minister Erdogan isn’t going to be trusted and credited the way he was in 2004.  The energy equation is of utmost importance as well (NOTE: if Annan had passed, Turkey would have had the rights to block the exploration and developments to date, or extorted more for itself.)  The fact that Cyprus and Israel are forming an energy alliance the same time that Turkey’s relations with Israel have deteriorated so sharply may be the biggest game changer of all.  Turkey now has a more concrete economic incentive (its EU membership was not going to be guaranteed only by ceasing its occupation of Cyprus) to seek a solution.  And, if analysts are honest, for the first time outside players — the U.S., the E.U., Israel — seem to be prioritizing what kind of Cyprus they will have to deal with the day after a solution as much as the solution itself.

Those who really want a reunified Cyprus have to start by admitting the flaws not only in the Annan process, but the lack of real leadership by world powers.  That the anniversary of the “No” vote on Annan coincides with the commemoration date of the Armenian genocide is fitting.  Successive U.S. Administrations appear to share allergic reactions to the words “invasion,” “occupation,” and “genocide.”  Hopefully the U.S. is ready to truly lead and play honest broker.  If it learned any lesson in the last ten years, it should be that it cannot force just any solution on Cypriots.  It is going to have to prioritize a solution that results in a free and truly independent Cyprus, not one that has traded occupied status for hostage status.  If Greek and Turkish Cypriots get to a Nai/Yes soon, it will be because of the courage of those who said Oxi/No to an unjust and unstable solution in 2004.

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