Martin Kettle's claim that Turkey is "held hostage by the atavistic parochialism of a Greek Cypriot statelet of fewer than one million people and with a declining GDP of $23bn" is far from the truth.
Kettle concerns himself with "the big issues" facing Europe such as its shrinking population and integration as well as energy and security. But it is frequently stated that Europe is a community of values, and on this basis the Cyprus question must be seen as a principle issue.
Kettle mentions that Europe and Turkey have common interests, agreements worth making and promises to keep. However, it is precisely because Turkey has reneged on its commitment in July 2005 to extend the customs union to the Republic of Cyprus that the European Council in December 2006 decided to block the opening of eight negotiating chapters.
In 1965 Turkey ratified the Hague convention of 1954 for the protection of cultural property in the event of armed conflict, but nevertheless after its intervention and subsequent occupation of Cyprus in 1974 it has been responsible for the devastation, vandalism and looting of the island's cultural heritage on a scale unworthy of any civilised nation, let alone a prospective member of the EU.
Despite UN security council resolutions calling on Turkey to withdraw its forces from northern Cyprus – and that of the European parliament in February this year – Turkey has stubbornly refused to do so. In fact, Turkey has declared on more than one occasion that if it has to make a choice between its accession to the EU and Cyprus, it will choose Cyprus. So far, this intransigence has been rewarded, for example, with a seat on the UN security council as a non-permanent member and both the US and Europe are prepared to turn a blind eye to Turkey's depredations. The security issue looms large for many European politicians, and the fear is that Europe will do to Cyprus what it did to the Sudetenland in 1938.
Turkey's justification for retaining control is legally indefensible, as it constantly refers to the treaty of guarantee from 1960, which gave it the right to take unilateral action after the Greek junta's coup against Archbishop Makarios in 1974. However, the exercise of this right is limited by the aim of re-establishing the state of affairs created by the treaty – that is, to recognise and guarantee the independence, territorial integrity and security of the Republic of Cyprus. This Turkey has manifestly failed to do but has instead created a Turkish state in northern Cyprus not only to the detriment of the Greek Cypriots, whose property was confiscated by the self-styled "Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus", but also the Turkish Cypriots, who have suffered under Turkish rule.
In violation of Article 49.6 of the Geneva convention of 1949, which stipulates that the occupying power shall not transfer parts of its own civilian population into the territory it occupies, Turkey has transferred several hundred thousand settlers from Anatolia to northern Cyprus. The 90,000 or so Turkish Cypriots who remain are, according to Mehmet Cakici, chairman of the Turkish Cypriot Social Democracy party (TDP), "facing the danger of being annihilated, both with their demographic structure and their culture and social structure".
For example, the Turkish Cypriot primary school and secondary school teachers' unions (KTOS and KTOES) have protested against the imposition of Sunni Islam and Qur'an classes, which reflect the ideology of the current Turkish government. There is also the fact that over the past years more mosques than schools have been constructed in northern Cyprus (there are 162 schools and 181 mosques). The crime rate has soared because of the uncontrolled immigration from Turkey and education and health services are overburdened.
Northern Cyprus is de facto Turkey's 82nd province, and the TRNC is regarded by the European court of human rights as "a subordinate local administration" under Turkish jurisdiction. The TRNC's economy is also underpinned by Turkey and in a once fertile area 80% of the need for fruits and vegetables is met by Turkey. As a Turkish commentator put it last year: "[Northern] Cyprus is like a water mill that cannot run without hand-carried water."
This is why Turkey is desperate to open direct trade with northern Cyprus, both to relieve its financial burden and as one step towards international recognition of the separatist state. Turkey perennial self-justification for maintaining its presence on the island is to consolidate the security of the Muslim Turkish community but this excuse is wearing thin.
The most convincing reason has been advanced by the architect of Turkey's multi-dimensional foreign policy, the present foreign minister, Professor Ahmet Davutoglu, in his book Strategic Depth from 2001. Here Davutoglu states clearly: "Even if there was not one single Muslim Turk over there, Turkey would have to maintain a Cyprus question. No country could possibly be indifferent to an island like this, placed in the heart of its vital space."
This is why reunification talks are getting nowhere, however hard Dimitris Christofias, the Greek Cypriot president, tries. The new Turkish Cypriot leader, Dervis Eroglu, unlike the former leader, Mehmet Ali Talat, is simply not interested that they should go anywhere, and takes his orders directly from Ankara. As Martin Kettle writes about the prospect of Turkey's EU membership: "the failure is predictable, disgraceful and incredibly shortsighted". And it's Turkey's fault.
'Turkey has declared on more than one occasion that if it has to make a choice between its accession to the EU and Cyprus, it will choose Cyprus'. Photograph: Murad Sezer/APRead more at www.guardian.co.uk