Select Committee on Foreign Affairs Written Evidence

Written evidence submitted by Christopher Price

  I note that you are about to do a Cyprus enquiry. I am possibly the only member of the 1975 select committee still in contact with the political situation and still writing. The attached piece I expect to be published sometime in late August or September. I felt it may be of interest. I'm copying this to Andrew Mackinlay (whom I know well). I wonder if you could give a copy to the Chairman—who knows me well.

Christopher Price

31 July 2004


  Exactly 50 years ago this July there was a classic row in the House of Commons just before the summer recess. Henry Hopkinson, a long forgotten conservative colonial secretary, used the "n" word from the dispatch box. In an astonishingly prescient statement about the future of Cyprus, he said that there were some countries which could never expect to be fully independent. The sentence had all the fingerprints of the security services on it, both British and American; under the post-war settlement, the US regarded the military bases and the information from the listening stations on the island quite as much as theirs as ours. As a result Cyprus attained only qualified independence, an independence further restricted when Kofi Annan, earlier this year, accepted a Turkish demand that its troops, like those of the British, should retain to right to stay in Cyprus in perpetuity.

  Hopkinson's statement was followed by (and plausibly actually generated) a chain of events—a war of independence, British military bases, a phoney constitution, an invasion by the Turks and a divided island with an unrecognised mini-state in the north. More recently the United Nations took on responsibility for finding a solution in Cyprus, once its application to join Europe had been effectively insulated against a Turkish veto. ("Turkish veto" here is shorthand for the EU agreement to allow the Cyprus application to go forward to full entry whether or not political reunification was agreed by the entry date.) This elaborate finesse of playing the UN and the EU cards simultaneously, has proved in the event too clever by half and made the eventual unification of Cyprus more intractable than ever.

  The parties to the UN negotiations, Greece, Turkey, the (Greek) Cypriot government and the (still internationally unrecognised) Turkish Cypriot administration met in April at Bürgenstock in Switzerland, having allowed Kofi Annan in advance to make his own arbitration decisions on any unresolved issues when the negotiations ended; in their final stages a last minute tranche of extra demands were made by the Turkish military—which the Turkish Cypriots had not asked for and did not want. Urged on by the EU and the US, Annan accepted them all—including the proposal that Turkish troops remain in the island in perpetuity. This concession was calculated to smooth the path of Turkey towards EU membership (the deadline for negotiation on which has been set for the end of 2004) and to demonise the Greek Cypriots as scapegoats if a political solution did not materialise. In the short term this part of the plot has worked. The Turkish Cypriot "yes" and the Greek Cypriot "no" in the subsequent referenda generated carefully choreographed accusations against the Greek Cypriots of "democratic irresponsibility", not wanting the island's reunification and jeopardising Turkey's EU membership.

  When the UN sought to complete the humiliation of the Greek Cypriots with a resolution regretting their intransigence, it was the Russians who came to their aid. Arriving at Bürgenstock as observers of a process in which they had quite as much an interest as Britain and the US, their fellow security council members, they were treated as intruders and told there was no room for them in any hotel in the secure area. "Why?" These hotels were reserved for the "negotiating parties". "Why were the British there, then? Britain was not negotiating." Britain was a guarantor of the former Cypriot constitution, they were told. "What was the US delegation doing there, then?" The US delegation was technically part of the British one, came the reply. The Russian response to this elaborate pretence was to return to New York and veto the proposed resolution criticising the Greek Cypriots.

  The task of Europe's democratic institutions now is to explain to the world the real obstacle to a political settlement. This involves the current struggle for power between the fragile civilian government of Turkey and the country's "deep state", the tight freemasonry of senior generals who have everything—power, status and economic clout—to lose from the genuine democratic institutions which EU membership requires. The constitutional veto powers of the General Staff of the Turkish Armed Forces are theoretically there to defend the integrity of the secular, non-Islamic state founded by Kemel Ataturk. In reality, they are now being used by a small unelected elite in a wholly self-interested way. The General Staff purport to see grave dangers to Turkey both in the turbulent state of the Middle East and in their own elected government of prime minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, which they see as dangerously pro-Islamic. Their professed fear is of Iraq splitting into three parts and opening up a corridor which will bring an increasing flow of Kurdish and Islamic fundamentalist pressure on Turkey; and their professed belief is that a continuing military presence in northern Cyprus is necessary to keep this threat at bay. It is, of course, a belief with no strategic rationale. Troops to defend Turkey should be stationed in Turkey. But some old generals, who remember Tikrit as once part of Turkey and dream of the 21st century as a new era of Turkish expansion, see the annexation of northern Cyprus (some of them, perhaps, of the whole of Cyprus) as part of that dream.

  Cyprus has always been the victim of external realpolitik and still remains so today. Britain took the island from the Ottoman empire to protect its own military and strategic interests over 130 years ago and the Turkish military now want part of it back for similar purposes. It will take great political courage from Erdogan and his government together with a determination by the EU and NATO to stand by their democratic principles over the entry of Turkey into the EU, if a viable political settlement in Cyprus is ever to be found.

Christopher Price is a former Labour MP

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