Cyprus should be united under EU leadership

Posted in Europe | 14-May-04 | Author: Rado Petkov

The failure of the latest UN plan to unite the divided island of Cyprus prior to the admission of the Greek-dominated Republic of Cyprus in the European Union on May 1 should not have come as a surprise and should not be dramatized. Earlier this year, the UN put aside its past role in this conflict as a facilitator of negotiations, imposed a solution, and submitted it to a referendum in the two communities on the island. Regardless of how rational and sensible and "best possible" such a solution might have been in the eyes of those who observed the situation from the sidelines, it wasn´t internalized by the people living there and was rejected by the Greek Cypriots.

The road ahead clearly lies in European Union territory. The UN did its best and cannot do more at the moment. The future of both the Greek and Turkish Cypriots is inextricably linked with that of the EU. The European Commission needs to take this matter firmly into its own hands and offer the right combination of "carrots and sticks" to incentivize the two sides to compromise and thus reach an effective solution. It should start by transforming the legacy of misinformation and educational policies that have bred mistrust on both sides.

In this issue of the World Security Network Newsletter, two members of its International Advisory Board - Dr. Mensur Akgun of the Turkish Economic and Social Studies Foundation in Istanbul, together with Dr. Sylvia Tiryaki, Professor at the Istanbul Kultur University; and Dr. John Nomikos of the Greek Research Institute for European and American Studies in Athens - offer their views on the lessons from the recent referendum process and the options ahead, exclusively for WSN readers.

To give some background, here is a brief chronology of the conflict (1).

In 1960, Cyprus was granted independence from British rule. At that time, the Greek-Cypriot majority made up roughly 80% of the population, and the Turkish Cypriots about 18%. (Britain retained two military sovereign bases on the island, covering 99 square miles.) The island had been often contested by both Greece and Turkey since its independence. Greece favored uniting Cyprus with the mainland, which increased tensions between the two communities. Turkey viewed the island as one of strategic importance and advocated partition. Nevertheless, the two Cypriot communities managed to agree on a new constitutional arrangement, which attempted co-existence in a unitary state. The arrangement provided for a Greek-Cypriot president and a Turkish-Cypriot vice-president. Members of parliament and the administration were chosen on a 70:30 basis in favor of the Greek side. Greece, Turkey, and the UK were designated guarantors under the Treaty of Guarantee.

The new state proved unworkable. At the end, the constitution was not able to strike the right balance between guaranteeing the political rights of the minority whilst at the same time ensuring a functioning state. Relations between the two sides worsened as the Turkish Cypriots accused the Greeks of trampling their rights and the Greek Cypriots accused the Turks of abusing their veto power to sabotage legislation. Inter-communal violence broke out and continued throughout the 1960s, with human rights abuses on both sides.

A British United Nations peacekeeper stands on his sentry post monitoring a checkpoint with a Turkish sentry post in the background at the Ayios Dhometios suburb of Cyprus´ divided capital Nicosia.
Turkey threatened invasion twice during the 1963-1974 period. In 1974, the Greek military government staged a coup, overthrew Archbishop Makarios, President of the Cyprus Republic, and tried to force Cyprus to unite with Greece. In the ensuing confusion and fighting between Greek Cypriots loyal to Makarios and those loyal to the Greek government, Turkey invaded the island and occupied 38% of its territory. The Greek- Cypriot civilian population fled south (the Turks north) and a large number of civilians on both sides were killed in the fighting.

Much of the ensuing mistrust stems from how the two sides view the events of 1974. For Turkey, the army´s "intervention" was a "peace mission" to protect the lives of Turkish Cypriots on the island. On the Greek side, Turkey illegally "invaded" the island, confiscating property and displacing a large proportion of the population in the process. The international community agreed and declared the Turkish invasion of Cyprus illegal under international law.

The contrast in the fortunes of the two sides since the invasion has been stark. The southern half of Cyprus was recognized as the only legal entity representing the island, allowing it to develop economic relations with the outside world. The self-declared "Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus", recognized only by Turkey, was subject to economic sanctions and, to all intents and purposes, treated as a pariah state. As a result, the Turkish area fell economically behind and its GNP per head currently stands at about one third of that in the Republic of Cyprus. The separation should not be allowed to continue inflicting economic hardship on the Turkish Cypriots in the North and insecurity on the Greek Cypriots in the South. The EU can tolerate neither - it needs to step in and engage both sides in a process that will ultimately bring all of Cyprus within the European Union. Towards that goal:
  • The EU should form a Cyprus task-force and engage the political leadership of the two communities in a technocratic assessment of the options for a settlement.
  • A joint commission of representatives of the Greek and Turkish Cypriots, NGOs and opinion-leaders should critically examine the information and education policies treating the history of the island and the relationship between the two communities.
  • The EU should set up a fund for compensating the Greek and Turkish Cypriots who lost and can not recover their property under a final solution and provide economic assistance for the under-developed areas of the island.

(1) The summary is largely taken from Tolga Ediz´s article "Cyprus: Defying History," December 10, 2002, Lehman Brothers.