John Laughland

Hands off Northern Cyprus

John Laughland finds Rauf Denktash determined to fight integration with Europe - and Greece

Text settings

A trip to Northern Cyprus is a trip to the 1970s. While the Greek South of the island - home to the Russian Mafia and to the ecstasy-induced raves of Ayia Napa -seethes in corrupt prosperity, the Turkish North indulges in the gentler delights of crazy paving, the New Seekers and Ford Capris. Neither the dried flowers nor the lurid earthenware lamps in my hotel had been changed since the current Turkish manager took the place over from its unfortunate Greek owner; while the second-hand bookshops in northern Nicosia have clearly had no new stock since partition, and are consequently full of paperbacks about Harold Wilson and the dangers of joining the Common Market.

If Kofi Annan and the European Union get their way, however, all this will be swept away. As is attested by the minarets stuck on the cathedrals, and by the curry and mashed potato which intrude into the mezze, Cyprus's history is one of persistent and ugly foreign interference. So is its present: the UN and the EU have delivered an ultimatum to Cyprus, demanding that the 29-year-old partition of the island be resolved by next Friday. It matters little to the international planners that huge chunks of the so-called 'plan' are, in fact, blank pages, in which the most intractable issues have been simply left unresolved, or that the 'peace plan' will require 50,000 Turks to leave their homes, with 60,000 more to follow over the next 20 years. It matters little, indeed, that the mere announcement of the plan's existence has wreaked havoc in the North's housing market, as banks have started to call in their mortgages on disputed territory. This dog's dinner of a plan was served up to the veteran Turkish Cypriot leader, Rauf Denktash, while he was lying in a US hospital following heart surgery at Christmas. Evidently Mr Annan hoped to bounce the old fox into signing in a few weeks what he had spent the last quarter-century trying to resolve; or perhaps, as one diplomatic wag commented, the secretary-general was secretly hoping that the old boy would quietly die from the shock.

For it is clear that the international community wants to get rid of the man who has headed the unrecognised Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus since 1974. Fat with a 750,000-euro grant from the European Union - which is itself only part of the 20 million euros the EU has spent on pro-EU propaganda in Cyprus - the Chamber of Commerce of Northern Cyprus was put up to organise a spontaneous demonstration for 'peace' and 'Europe' in Nicosia late last December. The republic's teachers helpfully went on strike that day, so that their pre-voting-age pupils could be bused in to swell the numbers on the march; people were also flown in from Britain and America. The organisers were careful to distribute banners in English, so that the world's media would duly spin the image of massive popular feeling for Europe and against Mr Denktash. The mainland Turks have also been co-opted: the so-called Islamist leader of the governing party in Ankara, Recep Tayyip Erdogan - a man who is the toast of the town in all the chancelleries of the West - announced brusquely at the beginning of January that Ankara did not intend to continue its Cyprus policy of the last 40 years. In other words, Mr Erdogan is preparing to drop the Turkish Cypriots in the soup, if betrayal is the price demanded for allowing Turkey to shin an inch further up the greasy pole of EU membership. For the campaign against President Denktash is following precisely the strategy outlined by the former EU ambassador in Turkey, Karen Fogg, in a series of emails which, rather embarrassingly for her, were leaked to the Turkish press this time last year.

One of the key players in the pro-EU movement in Northern Cyprus is that beacon of business respectability, Asil Nadir. After he jumped bail in 1993, following the collapse of Polly Peck, his fraudulent business empire in London, Nadir fled to his native North Cyprus, where he duly started up new business operations. Among his many holdings are the republic's main media outlets. The biggest daily, Kibris, used to have an anti-EU and pro-Denktash editorial line. 'But in December the owner ordered a change in our editorial policy,' the editor of the paper, Basaran D