Two weeks ago I visited Trabzon, a northern coastal city along the Black Sea shore, with Turkey's European Union (EU) Minister Egemen Bağış, Justice Minister Sadullah Ergin and British Ambassador to Ankara David Reddaway for a joint regional EU project. During the dinner time, the streets were deserted and downtown was extraordinarily quiet. Only a football match could be able to lock people indoor in such a beautiful autumn evening in Trabzon. There's nothing more important than a Trabzonspor match here. Yes, it was a football match and not an ordinary one though. The professional Turkish football club, Trabzonspor, dubbed The Black Sea Storm, was playing against Greek Cypriot team Apollon Limassol for the Europa League.
What makes this match extraordinary was not the game itself. It was the way the Trabzonspor squad went to Greek Cypriot city Larnaca. They materialized the first ever direct flight from Turkey to Greek Cyprus since 1974, the year the island was divided after Turkish intervention and also the year I was born.
I asked Egemen Bağış, Turkey's EU Minister, about this first direct flight. He told me a personal anecdote:
"I was planning to turn back to Istanbul from Stockholm with Turkish Airlines' scheduled flight. Swedish Foreign Minister, a close friend of mine, Carl Bildt was going to Greek Cyprus then and he invited me to his private jet. He was planning to stop in Istanbul on the way to Nicosia. It was my birthday and he was so kind to organize a mini party on the plane with a birthday cake. Anyway, we landed Istanbul. Everything was alright. But minutes later the pilot came and notified that they can't get the permission to Nicosia. They had to fly first to Athens and then to Nicosia."
Carl Bildt Couldn't Make It but Trabzon Did
Bildt's private jet couldn't make it but Trabzonspor squad realized the first direct flight from Turkey to Greek Cyprus. The flight actually was carried out by the Greek charter airline company Astra and the permission was taken so as the plane to stopover on the island of Rhodes before it lands in Larnaca. This obligatory stop at Rhodes is due to diplomatic problems as old as me between the two countries. There are currently no direct flights from Turkey to Greek Cyprus, which is not officially recognized by Turkey.
However, according to Greek Reporter, after the plane had taken off from Trabzon, the pilot announced that the route had been changed and they will fly directly to Larnaca. The pilot, while the plane was in the air, contacted the Cypriot authorities and after the positive response, he proceeded to landing in Larnaca.
So what? A plane which took off from Turkey has landed to Greek Cypriot soil and what happened? For 39 years, throughout all my life, the Cyprus problem was there and no country was keen to take required steps to unite the island, except for the 2004 Annan Plan which was approved by 65 percent of Turkish Cypriots and rejected by 76 percent of Greek Cypriots. Anyway, it doesn't matter how the plan was botched; today the island is still divided and segregated and isolated and poor and dependent and fragile.
Turkish Foreign Ministry quickly stated that "the direct flight to Larnaca from Trabzon was not at all a sign of any change in Turkey's policy regarding its position concerning Greek Cyprus. The incident would not lead to a new de facto situation either." I can see this remark was released automatically with a serious state reflex. But it doesn't change the fact that the island is divided. And the statement ignores the chance that Turkey and Greece and Cyprus are all missing to overcome their nonsense problems.
For instance, Turkey's flag carrying official Turkish Airlines flies to more than 200 countries and recently realized a nonstop 16 hours flight from St. Petersburg to Buenos Aires, a distance more than 8 thousand miles but it can't make a direct fly to Greek Cyprus from Turkey, which is just 70 miles away from the closest point and takes only 15 minutes.
Opportunity Cost a Divided Cyprus
I again asked Bağış what if Apollon wants to come to Turkey with a direct fly just like Trabzonspor did. He told me that there's no problem if Apollon wants to. "They are more than welcomed," he said. "As soon as Greek Cyprus lifts its ban for the international airline companies to fly Ercan in Northern Cyprus, we are ready to open all our ports and airports to Greek Cyprus. Direct fly doesn't mean an official recognition."
Correctly, today many countries don't recognize Taiwan but they all trade with it. Planes and ships come and go to Taiwan. It became one of the world's most important trade hubs and among the most prosperous countries. Cyprus also has a strategic location in the Mediterranean both as trade and tourist destination but it suffers poverty. The northern part of Cyprus is fully dependent to Turkey like a chronic patient bound to dialysis machine and southern part is bankrupt. The opportunity cost of a divided Cyprus is best understood when it is compared with Taiwan.
Turkey and Greece and Cypriots have to make a decision and either continue their nonsense political dissidence or immediately start the negotiations to give way to a united Cyprus. Divided Cyprus, sharing only the sewage system, needs to be reconstructed on the basis of rational policies. As it was said in Lonely Planet, "Cypriots, whether Greek or Turkish, are proud of their nation and feel a strong sense of national identity. The division of their island in 1974 is viewed by many as a temporary setback, and Cypriots look to the day when Cyprus will be a united island once again."