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Peace in the post-Ottoman World

December 17, 2002

Artikel i Financial Times

 

The Copenhagen summit was a great success in every respect - but one. A critical opportunity to create peace on the divided island of Cyprus was allowed to pass. Now, hope is expressed that an agreement can be concluded before February 28, allowing a united Cyprus to sign the accession treaty in Athens April 16.

This is of crucial importance. It concerns not only a divided island in the Eastern Mediterranean, or the relationship between two important countries straddling the divide between Europe and the Middle East. It is of key importance for the quest for peace and stability in the entire post-Ottoman area that stretches from Bihac in Bosnia in the northwest to Basra at the Persian Gulf in the southeast.

In all of this area, we are faced with essentially the same problem. Centuries and millennia of some sort of multi-ethnic rule – often centred on Constantinople/Istanbul – has left a mosaic of peoples and cultures that sometimes have led to impressive burst of creativity, but sometimes to equally forceful outbreaks of conflicts and destruction.

As the Ottoman Empire declined and eventually collapsed, the task was to set up new states that could offer stability to this wide area. In some areas – between Greece and Turkey on both sides of the Aegean Sea – this was done also through agreed ethnic cleansing and separation. In other areas, the attempt was made to create states within which different traditions and nationalities could coexist. Yugoslavia and Iraq were two examples. 

As the conflict in Cyprus exploded in 1974 – with a coup inspired in Athens and an invasion decided in Ankara – the world was dragged into its first post-Cold War conflict – well ahead of the end of the Cold War. In the concluding volume of his memoirs, Henry Kissinger describes it as “a seminal event” that was “the forerunner of conflict between ethnic groups, which has become increasingly common or threatening since.”

In Bosnia, we have been struggling with issues not dissimilar from those on Cyprus. In Kosovo, we are not even near the beginning of talks concerning some sort of peace deal. In Iraq, we might soon be forced to deal with the challenge of setting up a multi-entity federation.

The UN peace plan for Cyprus is an impressive document. If the Dayton agreement for Bosnia was the first real attempt to deal with these post-Cold War conflicts in the post-Ottoman area, the UN Cyprus plan is the by far most elaborate and advanced.

The task is also a more difficult one. In Bosnia, weariness with a war that had gone on for too long helped the effort. In Cyprus, the relative comfort of status quo must be overcome in favours of the uncertainties of a difficult process of coming back together again.

But it must happen. Although it’s years off, it is inconceivable that the European Union will accept as member a Turkey that recognizes and supports the illegal statelet of KKTC on northern Cyprus. We can’t preach ethnic integration and coexistence elsewhere and tolerate ethnic division within our own ranks. 

This message must be crystal clear to both Ankara and Athens. Although Greece will be in the EU presidency during the coming critical months, the other 14 countries must make clear that there will be zero tolerance against any attempts from their side to encourage or support intransigence towards renewed UN attempts to strike a deal. 

It is far easier to start a war than to conclude a peace. And while dividing a society is a fairly straight-forward and fast business, bringing it back together again is often exceedingly complicated and time consuming. What can be destroyed in days can sometimes take generations to bring back together.

But this is the task we face in large parts of the post-Ottoman area from Bihac to Basra. We have still not settled the immensely controversial issue of Kosovo, and might soon be confronted with the not less complicated issue of Kurdistan.

Thus, failure or success in the search for peace in Cyprus is part of a wider search for peace. Copenhagen didn’t have the energy to do this in addition to everything else. But we must not tolerate the fundamental failure a divided Cyprus as member of the EU would be. No effort must be spared in the weeks ahead.

 

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