How should the topic of isolation be dealt with as serious talks begin between Dimitris Christofias and Mehmet Ali Talat, the leaders of the two communities?
The issue of isolation is expected to come to the table, though the Turkish Cypriot side believes it may not be helpful at all for the eventual success of the talks. But, it seems, it is not only an "issue of belief." The Turkish Cypriot side this time has some very strong arguments -- based on law -- for the lifting of the isolation.
Those interested may want go to liberal Turkish think tank the Turkish Economic and Social Studies Foundation's (TESEV) Web site (www.tesev.org.tr) and on the home page will easily find a new publication called "A Promise to Keep: Time to End the International Isolation of the Turkish Cypriots." It is a study written by six (all but one experts in law) researchers which argues that there is no legal justification for the discrimination against and isolation of the Turkish Cypriots. The lengthy report also puts forth the argument that lifting of the isolation will serve as a tool for confidence building and may facilitate the impending negotiations by building trust. Furthermore, it suggests that it can also break the deadlock in Turkey's EU accession negotiations (because the Turkish government, which in January 2006 established a linkage between the isolations and the sanctions on the Greek Cypriots, can move to open its ports and airports to Greek Cypriot vessels and aircraft).
It is a study mainly focused on legal-technical analysis and some recapitulation of pre- and post-2004 referendum conditions. Its premise is the following: There is absolutely no relationship between isolation and recognition of the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus (KKTC).
The experts, two of whom are co-founders of the new independent Global Political Trends Center (GPoT), director Mensur Akgün and deputy director Sylvia Tiryaki, met with representatives of European Parliament recently, and a decision was made to send the study to the Legal Service of the European Commission -- which may, in turn, recommend it to the assembly for consideration.
As the talks begin this week, it may be useful to have a look at what the study recommends, in eight points:
There are no legal obstacles to lifting the ban on trade, so the ban should be lifted.
Since lifting the isolation would not go against UN Security Council resolutions No. 541 and No. 550 (as Kofi Annan also reported to the UN Security Council), the isolation must be immediately lifted.
It is legally possible for the international community and for the individual states to give up the isolationist practices without jeopardizing their position toward binding legal documents such as the reports of the Security Council.
There is no prohibition under general international law to enter and leave seaports in the northern part of Cyprus.
International law does not create obstacles per se against direct flights, so -- as in the case of Taiwan -- regulations can be expanded to start direct flights to northern Cyprus.
It must be understood that de facto policy of isolation that has been developed is mainly a political choice -- and nothing else.
Lifting the isolation should be seen as a measure that would build mutual confidence toward any settlement attempt between the two communities.
"A Promise to Keep" is a serious study, with very strong arguments for the Turkish Cypriots, and following the example of the Legal Service of the European Commission, it should be taken seriously and studied carefully.
There are questions, naturally. Would the Greek Cypriot side go as far as lifting the isolation, even partially, as the talks begin? For Christofias it would be seen as a big challenge to face the emotionally loaded "domestic crowd." Although a lot of resistance will have to be voiced by that camp, it is reasonably clear that Greek Cypriots will face the crucial test of using or abusing their upper hand either to open the gates to a solution, albeit slowly, on the island, or go on tramping on the same old ground of fundamentalist legalism. The second choice, as understood clearly by a considerable number of EU members, is a dangerous tool for keeping Turkey from EU membership, with a deep impact on regional security and political stability in a volatile world.
We shall, therefore, see whether the "old thinking" will prevail or the "new thinking," judging by the progress of talks.