Athenians Assess a Post-Referendum World

ATHENS. – The defeat of the *#8220;Kofi Annan Plan*#8221; for the reunification of Cyprus surprised few people in Athens. Indeed, some were impressed that as many as 25 percent of Greek Cypriots actually voted in favor of the plan. Athenians, as well as Diaspora Greeks, were taken aback by the storm of protests heaped on the Greek Cypriots by the British, Germans, French, and a majority of other European governments.*nbsp;

In the Greek capital people are amazed, in particular, at the self-righteous tone of Greece*#8217;s E.U. partners, who they argue will exploit the Cypriot rejection of the Annan Plan as a means of denying Turkey*#8217;s admission to the European Union because the French and Germans fear an influx of Turkish Muslims in their cities. Moreover, Greeks are not at all fazed by America*#8217;s negative reaction to the referendum result since they take it for granted that the U.S. will support Turkey over Greece regardless of the issue. The common rationale for this notion is the premise that the Americans feel guilty over their actions in Iraq and by backing Turkey they are trying to make amends to the Muslim world.

Most Athenians, however, are convinced that the Cypriots have lost their moral high ground by voting down the plan. The bitter protests of the international press that came in the wake of the referendum paid scant attention to past wrongs, such as the 1974 Turkish invasion and subsequent occupation of one third of the island, prior to this the Turkish Cypriots could only claim about 20 percent of the territory. In addition, the world media castigated the Greek Cypriots for vetoing the proposed unification out of selfish and greedy motives.

Initially, most citizens of the Republic of Cyprus had accepted the earlier U.N. scheme for reunification that was based on a kind of Swiss-style confederation, but a series of last-minute demands by Turkey made the plan unacceptable to the Greek Cypriots. The final version of the U.N. proposal guaranteed the occupation of Cyprus by permitting the presence of Turkish troops on the island as well as a large number of Anatolian peasants sent by Ankara since 1974 in a vain attempt to increase the number of Turks on the island. Furthermore, the Greek-Cypriots would have been denied access to the homes and villages from which they had been driven out thirty years ago and many were refused compensation for the loss of their property and homes. The primary concession by Ankara was to return eventually nine percent of the occupied territory.

Until April 24, 2004, practically all the population of Greece was holding its breath that the Annan Plan would prove acceptable to Cypriots and thus terminate three decades of Greek-Turkish confrontations over the disposition of the island. Despite a furious U.N. public relations campaign underwritten by Washington and accompanied by not-so-subtle threats of *#8220;now or never*#8221; with respect to re-unification, the Greek Cypriots chose to reject the United Nations*#8217; proposal. The 100-plus pages of the Annan scheme appeared just too blatantly stacked in favor of the Turks. Even minute details such as the preservations of Turkish monuments, including those that honored the Turkish Army that had invaded and killed thousands of Cypriots, made no mention of Greek Cypriot memorials.

Although the aims of the *#8220;Annan Plan*#8221; were to end the Turkish occupation and bring about the reunification of the island, the referendum only succeeded in further exposing the chasm that separates the two communities. For thirty years, the Cypriots have remained in their respective solitudes while the island underwent a major transformation. The occupied northern zone hemmed in by barbed wire is an economic wasteland. Rusting Turkish tanks and military vehicles serve as metaphors and testaments to military urban planning. In contrast, the rest of the island is home to picture-perfect postcard beaches, manicured golf courses and five-star hotels*#8212;all symbols of a vibrant and thriving economy.

For most Turkish Cypriots the *#8220;Annan Plan*#8221; offered hope that they too could share in the prosperity of their Greek neighbors, while for Turkey the admission of Cyprus would have removed a major barrier in eventually receiving the nod to join, what some Turks call, *#8220;the European Christian club.*#8221; For the U.S., the re-unification of Cyprus meant the end of Greek-Turkish rivalry in the southeastern Mediterranean and the eventual admission of Turkey in the E.U., guaranteeing that the only Muslim democratic state in the region will be able to hold back the tide of Islamic fundamentalism now sweeping the Middle East.

There were also fears that the impact of the negative referendum would undermine Greek-Turkish relations and lead to another round of crises in the Aegean. Yet the opposite is the case. Remarkably, both Athens and Ankara have chosen to disregard the setback of the *#8220;Annan Plan*#8221; and work towards further improving relations between the two countries. The Turkish premier, Tercip Erdogan is scheduled to visit Athens on Thursday and has strongly hinted that Turkey will recognize the Cypriot Republic despite the results of the referendum. According to anonymous government sources, Kostas Karamanlis, the Greek Premier will announce that Greece will support Turkey*#8217;s admission to the E.U.*#8212;even if it is the only member of the European club to do so.