Peace in Cyprus?

Last chance – or just another missed opportunity?

Originally drafted in April 2021

According to the UN there are still two long standing unfinished wars, both halted only temporarily by a ceasefire or armistice. One is Korea; the other is Cyprus.

The Greek–Turkish war on Cyprus of July and August 1974 still remains a legally unresolved international conflict. In Cyprus it was only a UN-sponsored ceasefire that officially ended the fighting. This has been the situation for the past 48 years. A well-armed corps of around 30,000 Turks still garrisons the North, where its deterrent presence ensures peace on the island.

The best hope yet of reuniting war-partitioned Cyprus was dashed in 2017 after reconciliation attempts were brought to an abrupt halt following two years of intense negotiations. On Friday, 29 April 2021 the various parties had yet another round of inconclusive talks in Geneva, Switzerland to end this long running conflict.

The previous round of talks to unite the Mediterranean island ended in 2017 when the United Nations special envoy, Espen Barth Eide, announced that he was terminating negotiation efforts.

“Without a prospect for common ground, there is no basis for continuing this shuttle diplomacy,” the Norwegian former foreign minister said in a short statement. 

For nearly five decades, tenacious and skilful propaganda has managed to airbrush the Greeks’ responsibility for the tragedy of the hot bloody summer of 1974, and the war that followed, out of the history books. The story of Cyprus has been seen only through the distorting prism of the Greeks’ tragic chorus. Turkey has been denounced as the aggressor and the sole cause of all Cyprus’s woes. This is not only untrue, but it makes a lasting solution harder.

At the time, Archbishop Makarios III – the last head of a united Cyprus – himself quite openly blamed his fellow Greeks for the disaster of 1974. After a narrow escape with his life from an assassination attempt by the Coupists, the Archbishop publicly admitted to the UN Security Council that his fellow Greeks were to blame, and he was unequivocal that it was the terrorist leaders of the Greek-Cypriots who destroyed the Republic of Cyprus in the name of Enosis, saying:

 “It was a [Greek] invasion, which violated the independence and the sovereignty of the Republic … The Security Council should call upon the military regime of Greece … to put an end to its invasion of Cyprus.”

Although the wily Archbishop later conveniently forgot his tearful outburst to the UN, not only had he for once admitted the truth about the coup of 1974, but his interpretation of events was – astonishingly – backed by Greece itself. 

On 21 March 1979 none other than the Greek national Court of Appeal in Athens ruled that the Turkish intervention of 20 July 1974 was not only legal but, significantly, was in direct response to the Greek coup:

“The Turkish military intervention in Cyprus, which was carried out in accordance with the Zurich and London Agreements, was legal. Turkey, as one of the Guarantor powers, had the right to fulfil her obligations. The real culprits … are those Greek Officers who engineered and staged a coup and prepared the conditions for this intervention.” 

This Greek judgement supported the Standing Committee of the Consultative Assembly of the Council of Europe, which confirmed the legality of the Turkish Intervention in Cyprus at the time, confirming that Turkey’s actions were a response to the Greeks’ coup: “Turkey exercised its right of intervention in accordance with Article IV of the Treaty of Guarantee.”

Today, peace around Cyprus can only be secured by recognising the fact that there are now two separate communities. Cyprus is now split into a Greek Republic of South Cyprus and a Turkish Republic of North Cyprus.  

Agreement needs to be centred round the delimitation of the territories of the two States; numerous property claims – by both sides – and compensations; the re-deployment of military forces; and the management of residual issues covered by the London–Zurich treaties of 1960. Such agreements can only be expected once the factual existence of the Turkish Republic of North Cyprus has been recognized without any doubt. Therefore, ending the Conflict lies not in the hands of the Greek and Turkish conflicting parties but in the hands of relevant governments, the UN and even the EU.

The core of the Cyprus Conflict however remains in the insistence by the Greek-Cypriots to reign over the whole island and the Turkish-Cypriot community’s equal determination to govern themselves. The problem is compounded by the backing of the respective “motherlands,” Greece and Turkey, supporting the conflicting parties. The UN has assumed the role of additional partner to the conflict and most governments have muddied the waters over the years by embargoing the Turkish Cypriots, instead demanding that they must agree to a common Cypriot State with the Greek–Cypriots: to which Ankara or Turkish–Cypriots can never agree. The EU has exacerbated the problem further by claiming that the whole island is really EU territory and admitting Greek Cyprus into the EU.

The result has been that in nearly 50 years of negotiations, no agreement on conditions for the formation of a joint Greek-and-Turkish State of Cyprus has been reached. Instead, ever since the EOKA terrorist campaign of 1955, (“first the British and then the Turks)  the Greek–Cypriots have employed every means to evict the Turkish Cypriot community or to enforce their submission to Greek rule.

The result is that in order to end the Conflict, only four real alternatives exist: 

  1. Subjugation of the Turkish Cypriots by force majeure to the Greek-Cypriot claims. 
  2. Greek agreement for Turkish self-government in part of the island’s territory. 
  3. Voluntary submission of the Turkish Cypriots to Greek-Cypriot claims. 
  4. The UN, the EU and international governments recognition of a separate Turkish Cypriot State existing in part of the island’s territory without consent of the Greek conflicting party.

Alternative one can be ignored. Experience shows that no power is willing to challenge any armed Turkish resistance. Moreover, the UN, the EU and relevant governments have confirmed they will not violate the de facto-border delineating the separate territories inhabited by the Greek and Turkish Cypriot communities. 

Alternative two has no little chance of realisation as long as the UN, the EU and relevant governments refuse to recognise the reality of a separate Turkish-Cypriot community.  The Greek-Cypriots are well aware of this loading of the dice and use it to uphold its claim of ownership of the whole island. The status quo suits them economically and politically.

Alternative three is, given the Turkish-Cypriot experience of Greek rule since 1960, a non-starter. Turkish mistrust based on past misdeeds and murders runs too deep to expect surrender by the Turkish-Cypriots to be a realistic option. Moreover, Ankara recognises the geo-strategic realities if the island and can be relied on to block the existence of a Greek-ruled state only 40 miles off Turkey’s southern coast in the middle of a new hydrocarbon field. Another obstacle would be the massive national debt of the Greek Republic of South Cyprus to EU banks and the European Central Bank; this is a major deterrent to any new pooling of economic resources with the Turks.

Alternative 4, recognition of a Turkish-Cypriot separate state, would undoubtedly end the Conflict. However it would also end any claim by Greek-Cypriots to reign supreme over the whole island. Such a solution overlooks two serious problems, however: the deep-seated festering sense of Greek-Cypriot grievance after their defeat by the Turks in the 1974 Cyprus war, (“I want my Grandad’s house in Kyrenia back…”) and second, it would require Athens, Nicosia and Brussels to accept such an outcome. On the evidence that is unlikely as the status quo suits those three parties nicely and has for 48 years.  They have little incentive to agree.

On balance, the only hope for future talks in appears to be:

  1. An acknowledgment by the UN and international community that that there are two sovereign equal states with equal status on the island of Cyprus.
  2. With a level playing field established through the above principle, the two peoples of Cyprus – the Turkish–Cypriots and the Greek–Cypriots – should negotiate freely a mutually acceptable settlement that will create a new co-operative relationship between them.
  3. This will facilitate security, stability and cooperation on the island and the region. There is no way either side will subordinate itself to the will of the other. Future peace and stability lies in recognition of this fact. The parties are equal. 

Despite unrealised EU and international community promises to lift restrictions on the Turkish–Cypriot side in 2004, continuation of the economic embargoes has worsened trust and made a political settlement on the island less likely. Economic, cultural and social restrictions on North Cyprus have significantly worsened trust between the Greek–Cypriot, the EU and international parties. There is a sense of resignation. More talks? Again? After 50 years of fruitless negotiation?   

Don’t hold your breath; a unilateral declaration and decision now seems the only solution. Over to Ankara and President Erdogan to break the logjam … 


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