Wednesday, 2 September 2009

Christofias postpones Talat meeting after Turks prevent Morphou pilgrimage

The meeting due to take place tomorrow between President Christofias and Turkish occupation leader Mehmet Ali Talat inaugurating the so-called second phase of Cyprus negotiations has been called off. This was done at the insistence of the Greek side following today's events at the Kato Pyrgos-Limnitis checkpoint during which the occupation regime refused to allow 650 pilgrims from the Tylliria and Paphos districts to cross into occupied Morphou and attend services at the Monastery of St Mamas, whose feast day it is today.

The Cypriot government thought it had an agreement with the Turkish side that if it allowed Turks living in occupied Cyprus to cross without checks to the Turkish Cypriot enclave of Kokkina to commemorate the battle that took place there in 1964 (in which Turkish aircraft strafed and dropped napalm on Greek villages to prevent Cypriot forces from overrunning the terrorist TMT stronghold of Kokkina), then Greek Cypriot pilgrims would be allowed, on the same terms, to enter occupied Morphou and attend the St Mamas celebrations.

The Turks made their trip to Kokkina, on 14 August, unimpeded and, up until yesterday, and despite rumours to the contrary, the Christofias government was insisting that the occupation authorities would allow the Morphou crossing to take place without the pilgrims being forced to go through rigourous ID checks.

However, today, as soon as the pilgrims crossed into the occupied areas, the buses in which they were travelling were halted by 'police' from the occupation regime, who proceeded to board the buses and carry out stringent, Kafkaesque ID checks, taking several people off the vehicles and declaring they would not be allowed to cross. After three hours of harassment and calculated humiliation – during which time the services at St Mamas had finished – the Greek Cypriot pilgrims felt obliged to abandon the pilgrimage and return to the free areas.

Three points emerge from the incident.

First, it reveals the fundamental flaw in Christofias' policy towards the Turkish occupation. The man thought that efforts to resolve the Cyprus problem had gone nowhere since the Annan plan in 2004 because of the inflexible and forensic approach taken by former president, Tassos Papadopoulos, and that all that was necessary for the start of a meaningful process aimed at reaching a mutually acceptable Cyprus solution was goodwill, gestures and reconciliation mantras.

Yet, the Turks have interpreted as weakness Christofias' goodwill and gestures and taken advantage of his reluctance to pin the Turks down on detail so that, after almost 18 months of Talat-Christofias negotiations, the Turks have not deviated one inch from their long-term aim of a confederal two-state solution in Cyprus – the Turks as 'masters in the north, partners in the south' scenario.

Second, it's all very well for Christofias to postpone the start of the second round of talks in protest at today's events; but we all know he'll be there for whenever the meeting is rescheduled and the same process as before will take place: he'll put forward the Greek minimalist positions and the Turks their maximalist positions. Eventually, the talks will grind to a halt, allowing the Turks to declare that reunification is impossible, partition is the only way forward and the 'Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus' now deserves recognition, like Kosovo. As such, the talks – and the flimsy basis on which Christofias agreed to them – were a trap that Christofias fell into. Today's incident, therefore, was not simply intended to humiliate the Greek Cypriot side and show who is 'master' in the north, but also to poison relations on the island and undermine the negotiations, prove their worthlessness. (Turkey, it must be stressed, would like nothing more than for the talks to collapse).

Third, the history of Greek-Turkish relations since 1922 tells us that any agreement the Turks enter into is not worth the paper its written on. For the Turks, an agreement is merely a means to an end, which will be discarded the moment it no longer serves Turkey's purpose. Thus, it was entirely predictable that the 'agreement' reached over Kokkina and St Mamas would not be adhered to and that the 'assurances' given to the Cypriot government were meaningless.

This raises Papadopoulos' question during the debate over the Annan plan: how can the Greek side be sure that Turkey will abide by any commitments it enters into? In fact, it was this question that Christofias claimed was the deal-breaker for him over Annan, i.e. he was not convinced that the plan provided the mechanisms to ensure Turkey would do what it agreed to do and not even last-minute phone calls from US secretary of state Colin Powell to Christofias assuring him that the USA would insist Turkey honour its commitments managed to persuade Christofias to change his mind.

The Papadopoulos question, therefore, remains of paramount importance. If the Turks cannot be trusted to keep to an agreement on the simple matter of a religious pilgrimage, then how can we expect the Turks to fulfill any obligations it enters into on matters of much greater significance, such as the withdrawal of Turkish troops and settlers from Cyprus, the return of territory and so on?