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In his column in the highbrow Islamic daily Zaman on 21 October 2004, Şahin Alpay presents his own assessment of developments in Cyprus. Translated from Turkish by Tim Drayton.

Will the Cyprus question wither away rather than be solved?

Şahin Alpay

Last Sunday morning found me walking around the Greek side of Nicosia, on the “other” side of the Green Line. The Catholic church, which juts into the Turkish side, was packed to the seams; it is experiencing a rebirth thanks to the immigrants from Sri Lanka to Cyprus.

The park just beyond the church is decorated with Sri Lankan flags and colourful flags that I later learned belonged to a Buddhist sect. I discover that this is a meeting place for Buddhists, the largest religious group in Sri Lanka. The majority of the eighty or so thousand foreign workers in the Greek part of Cyprus, with a population of 700,000, live in the area at the very foot of “Europe’s last wall” that looks pretty much as it did thirty years ago. They do the worst and heaviest jobs. The largest group of such workers are said to be the Pontic Greeks of Caucasian origin. They are followed by Sri Lankans, Filipinos and Bangladeshis. This has been one of the consequences of globalisation for Cyprus.

Among the 80,000 foreigners working in the Greek part of Cyprus there are 8,000 Turkish Cypriots. Following the opening of the gates as a gesture towards a solution by the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus (TRNC), as many as one thousand Turkish Cypriots have settled in the South; seven thousand commute to the South daily. You can see them as you cross the border from the North to the South. This is one of the first results of this year’s events in Cyprus. I witnessed another result on the shores of Famagusta. The TRNC is witnessing a construction boom. The rear cover of this month’s Cyprus Turkish Airlines’ (CTA) magazine advertises luxury villas for sale: International public opinion may consider the Cyprus question well on the way towards a solution. On this visit to the Turkish side of Cyprus I was once again struck by the fact that Turkish Cypriots have their own individual identity. Yes, they are Turkish and have a strong attachment to Turkey and need Turkey’s protection. But they are at the same time Cypriot. They have shown in their recent history that they will never agree to live as a minority under Greek domination. But they do not wish to live under Turkish administration either. This is precisely why they said “yes” with such a large majority to the Annan plan that would provide the Turkish Cypriot state with international legitimacy, with Turkey as a guarantor. In this context, the contents of a letter sent by a former TRNC minister from Dervis Eroğlu’s UBP party to Kıbrıs newspaper columnist Hasan Hastürer are of great significance. The former minister, after complaining that Turkey’s ambassador to the TRNC sees himself as the “governor of the country”, continues, “I am constantly asked why I left politics. I have a short answer. Because I wanted to be an actor in my own country, but certain persons did not permit this, they said you and those like you can only be extras. I refused to accept this. But it is a pity to see those who rightly criticised these faults when in opposition apparently becoming accustomed to being extras.” (Kıbrıs, 12 October).

I ask the taxi driver taking me along the dual carriageway to the Eastern Mediterranean University from the glittering new Ercan airport, where I had landed in a brand new CTA plane whether he has acquired a “Republic of Cyprus” passport. He says, “Not yet, but all my relatives have.” I ask, “They were afraid that Turkish Cypriots would get passports and emigrate to EU countries. Has this happened?” “No, there are only those who have gone to work in the South”, he says. OK, will there be a solution in Cyprus? “Probably”, he says, “But it might take a bit of time.” There is a theory that the Cyprus question will not be solved, but will wither away. How? Thus: Cyprus will never reunify, but Northern Cyprus as a European region will gradually integrate with the EU on a higher level. When Turkey accedes to the EU, the Cyprus question will cease to exist. This view is shared by my friend Niyazi Kızılyürek, the sole Turkish Cypriot university lecturer in the South.

Archive of Turkish press translations by Tim Drayton