Cyprus offered another chance at marriage

MOSCOW. (RIA Novosti political commentator Andrei Fedyashin) - New Cypriot President Dimitris Christofias has fulfilled his main election promise - on March 21, less than a month after his election, he met with Mehmet Ali Talat, the leader of the self-proclaimed Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus in the UN office in Nicosia.

It was expected to be a trial meeting that could hardly make any breakthrough. Yet, it has become a step forward. The two leaders agreed to set up joint commissions to prepare for a new round of talks on reunification in three months. Considering that the previous talks died out in 2004 (minor meetings in 2006 not counted), this is a great progress.

The two leaders even agreed to open a checkpoint on the famous pedestrian shopping Ledra Street in Nicosia. It has become a symbol of strife between Greeks and Turks since 1974, when the island's northern part was occupied by Turkish troops. This street runs across the capital's green UN line that divides the island into two unequal parts.

It is hard to say what results this good initiative will produce. It is clear that checkpoints and handshakes of the leaders will not get matters off the ground. It will take time to break the stalemate created by former Turkish Cypriot leader Rauf Denktas (who insisted on the island's north independence), and his former Greek counterpart Tasos Papadopulos. However, many European experts believe that time is of the essence or it will be too late to unite the island - younger generations may get so used to the division that they won't wish to change the status quo. Public opinion polls on the Greek side already show that only those who are over 50 are firm advocates of reunification.

Both new leaders (Talat came to power in 2005) have declared more than once their readiness for reunification. Cyprus came close to it in 2004 when the UN and the European Union (EU) offered it a plan of settlement on the basis of a federation consisting of two communities with broad rights and an almost amorphous common government. Cypriot Turks voted for this plan, but the Greeks opposed it.

The two leaders will have to remove the old reasons behind the refusal to accept the plan. This will not be easy. The Greeks turned down the UN plan in 2004 because it did not return their homes and lands from which they were ousted by the Turks; it lacked provisions on compensation for confiscated property; the plan gave the new settlers from Anatolia the right to remain on Cyprus, that is on the former Greek lands in the North; it allowed part of the Turkish troops to continue to be deployed on the island. The Turks were supposed to own only 29% of the island's territory as compared to 38% occupied by the Turkish army in 1974. But the Greeks believe that this was too much because before 1974 the Turkish community amounted to a mere 18% of the island's population. Now, there are 160,000 Turks out of the island's population of 850,000. More than 80,000 settlers arrived from Turkey's mainland to develop the unrecognized republic. In short, reunification is an uphill road.

But it is worth resolving the problem. Experts from the Oslo-based International Peace Research Institute believe that the united island will gain additional benefits from direct trade with Turkey (the island's southern part does not trade with Anatolia), and the EU (until now Northern Cyprus has had no commerce with the EU). It will give Cyprus about $2.8 billion a year.

Cyprus is the only EU country (joined in 2004) illegally divided into two parts, with the dividing line splitting even the capital, Nicosia.

It appears that the new Cypriot president is ready to talk with the Turks. Since 1988, Christofias has been the General Secretary of the Progressive Party of Working People (AKEL). AKEL was once a communist party, but now has nothing communist about it. It owns big trade and industrial companies, and one solid investment firm. Christofias prefers to call himself a Social Democrat or progressive socialist. He hopes that this year he will be able to visit the land of his ancestors, a small village of Dimko in the island's north, which is still occupied by the Turkish troops.

But for this, it is necessary to arrange a not-so-equal marriage between the Greek Κύπρος (Cyprus), and the Turkish Kibris (Cyprus). This is not impossible. Many countries live in a marriage of convenience.

The opinions expressed in this article are the author's and do not necessarily represent those of RIA Novosti.

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