The recent economic crisis that is affecting the EU and many of its members brought to the news the case of Cyprus. The Island, forced to request a financial bailout, is not only a troubled EU member struggling for its economic survival, but also home to one of the longest unsettled territorial disputes since 1974.
Cyprus is currently divided between the official Republic of Cyprus in the south and mainly inhabited by Greek-Cypriots and the internationally unrecognized Northern Cyprus Turkish Republic, supported by the Ankara’s Government.
The dispute on the partition following Turkish invasion in 1974, has not found any solutions and recent events seem to increase rather than favor a reunification of the Island.
Cyprus nationalism and independence
In 1571 the mostly Greek-populated island of Cyprus was conquered by the Ottoman Empire, and held until 1914 when Cyprus was formally annexed by Britain following the Ottoman Empire’s decision to join the First World War on the side of the Central Powers; subsequently the island became a British Crown colony.
The two communities of Greeks and Turks, soon developed a strong national sentiment toward the respective mother countries, although they lived peacefully for many years. Nevertheless, this nationalist sentiment grew stronger after the First World War due to several reasons. One can be linked to the colonial policy of “divide and rule” which was applied in other areas such Nigeria for example. The major counter effect of this policy was to strengthen division among the population on ethnic lines, but serving British interest in keeping both groups weak and unable to challenge colonial rule.
Whilst Greek-Cypriots grew a strong sentiment of reunification with Greece, enosis, the Turkish nationalism was reinvigorated by events in the Anatolia peninsula where Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, President of the Republic of Turkey from 1923 to 1938, attempted to build a new nation on the ruins of the Ottoman Empire and elaborated the program of “six principles” (the “Six Arrows”). These principles of secularism and nationalism reduced Islam’s role in the everyday life of individuals and emphasized Turkish identity as the main source of nationalism.
In the early fifties a Greek nationalist group was formed called the Ethniki Organosis Kyprion Agoniston (EOKA, or “National Organisation of Cypriot Fighters”). EOKA wished to remove all obstacles, British, Greek Cypriot or Turkish Cypriot from their path to independence, or union with Greece. EOKA initiated its activities by planting the first bombs on 1 April 1951 with the directive by Greek Foreign Minister Stefanopoulos. A “Council of Revolution” was established on 7 March 1953 and EOKA’s campaign against the British forces began to grow. On the other side, the Turkish Resistance Organization (TMT, Türk Mukavemet Teşkilatı) declared war on the Greek Cypriot rebels as well.
Following the above surge in attacks and decolonization policy in the post WWII, British rule lasted until 1960 when the island was declared an independent state under the London-Zurich agreements. The agreement created a foundation for the Republic of Cyprus, which joined the Turkish Cypriot and Greek Cypriot communities in a single state, seen as a necessary compromise to avoid intervention from Greece or Turkey.
Independence and Partition
The 1960 Constitution of the Cyprus Republic proved unworkable however, lasting only three years. Greek Cypriots wanted to end the separate Turkish Cypriot municipal councils permitted by the British in 1958, as this would have exacerbated Turkish nationalism and increase risks of partition. The Greek Cypriots, at this stage where strongly supporting the enosis, a union with Greece, whilst Turkish Cypriots were in favor of taksim, partition between Greece and Turkey. Along with different vision on Cyprus future, the two communities accused each other of altering constitutional equilibrium and persecution. The Greek Cypriots complained about Turkish Cypriots larger share of governmental posts compared to the size of their population. Additionally, the position of vice president was reserved for the Turkish population and both the president and vice president were given veto power over crucial issues. In this condition, the 1960 constitution fell apart and communal violence ensued. Between 21 and 26 December 1963, the conflict centered in the Omorphita suburb of Nicosia, which had been an area of tension in 1958. The participants were Greek Cypriot irregulars, Turkish Cypriot civilians and former TMT members. The Turkish fighters were less powerful, outnumbered from the superior Greek Cypriot side that were supplied with stored EOKA guns and eventually weapons from foreign powers. Both President Makarios and Dr. Küçük issued calls for peace, but these were ignored. These clashes, as in 1967, were only settled after Turkey threatened to invade on the basis that they would be protecting the Turkish population from possible ethnic cleansing by Greek Cypriot forces.
In 1967, a military junta overthrows Greek government, establishing an obscurantist far right government widely condemned by the whole of Europe but had the support of the United States. In the autumn of 1973 there had been a further coup in Athens in which the original Greek junta had been replaced by one still more obscurantist headed by the Chief of Military Police, Brigadier Ioannides, with head of state General Phaedon Gizikis. Ioannides believed that Cypriot president Makarios was no longer a true supporter of enosis, and suspected him of being a communist sympathizer. This led Ioannides to support the EOKA-B and the National Guard as they tried to undermine Makarios. On 15 July 1974 sections of the Cypriot National Guard, led by its Greek officers, overthrew the government. Makarios narrowly escaped death in the attack; he fled the presidential palace, whilst the British managed to assist his escape to London the next morning. In the coup itself, 91 people were killed, all Greek-Cypriots. The Turkish-Cypriots were not affected by the coup against Makarios; one of the reasons was that Ioannides did not want to provoke a Turkish reaction. Nikos Sampson was declared provisional president of the new Cypriot government; Sampson was a Greek ultra nationalist who was known to be fanatically anti-Turkish and had taken part in violence against Turkish civilians in earlier conflicts.
In response to the coup, US Secretary of State Henry Kissinger sent Joseph Sisco to try to mediate the conflict. Turkey issued a list of demands to Greece via a US negotiator. These demands included the immediate removal of Nikos Sampson, the withdrawal of 650 Greek officers from the Cypriot National Guard, the admission of Turkish troops to protect their population, equal rights for both populations, and access to the sea from the northern coast for Turkish Cypriots. These demands were rejected as they would have given Turkey an unacceptable amount of power on the island. Turkey, led by Prime Minister Bülent Ecevit, then applied to Britain as a signatory of the Treaty of Guarantee to take action to return Cyprus to its neutral status. Britain declined this offer, and refused to let Turkey use its bases on Cyprus as part of the operation.
The inevitable happened: Turkey invaded Cyprus on Saturday, 20 July 1974. Heavily armed troops landed shortly before dawn at Kyrenia (Girne) on the northern coast meeting resistance from Greek and Greek Cypriot forces. Ankara said that it was invoking its right under the Treaty of Guarantee to protect the Turkish Cypriots and guarantee the independence of Cyprus. The operation, codenamed ‘Operation Atilla’, is known in the North as ‘the 1974 Peace Operation’. By the time a ceasefire was agreed three days later, Turkish troops held 3% of the territory of Cyprus. Five thousand Greek Cypriots had fled their homes.
Along territorial changes, the Turkish invasion had also the effect to facilitate on 23 July 1974 the collapse of the Greek military junta with Greek political leaders in exile started returning to the country. On 24 July 1974 Constantine Karamanlis returned from Paris and was sworn in as Prime Minister.
Talks to solve the issue started in Geneva, Switzerland, with all the guarantor powers present: Greece, Turkey and Great Britain. These talks, divided in two rounds between 25 July and 14 August 1974, were intended to find a solution for a permanent settlement of the Cypriot crisis. If during the Greek military power international sympathy was mainly on Turkish side, after the return of democracy Greek Cypriots were gaining more support. The Turkish invasion if justified at first to prevent a pogrom was now starting to be seen as a possible act to consolidate partition. Turkey demanded that the Cypriot government accept its plan for a federal state, and population transfer. When the Cypriot acting president Clerides asked for 36 to 48 hours in order to consult with Athens and with Greek Cypriot leaders, the Turkish Foreign Minister denied Clerides that opportunity on the grounds that Makarios and others would use it to play for more time.
On 14 August Turkey launched its “Second Peace Operation” with troops rapidly occupying even more than was asked for at Geneva. 40% of the land came under Turkish occupation reaching as far south as the Louroujina Salient. In the process, many Greek Cypriots became refugees. The Cypriot government estimates their numbers at about 200,000, with other sources stating 140,000 to 160,000. The ceasefire line from 1974 today separates the two communities on the island, and is commonly referred to as the Green Line.
As a result, the de facto partition of the Republic and the creation of a separate political entity in the north was established. On 13 February 1975, Turkey declared the occupied areas of the Republic of Cyprus to be a “Federated Turkish State”, to the universal condemnation of the international community. The United Nations condemned the move with the UN Security Council Resolution 367-1975 and reiterating that they recognize the sovereignty of the Republic of Cyprus according to the terms of its independence in 1960.
In 1983 the Turkish Cypriot assembly declared independence of the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus. United Nations Security Council Resolution 541 (1983) considered the “attempt to create the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus is invalid, and will contribute to a worsening of the situation in Cyprus”. It went on to state that it “Considers the declaration referred to above as legally invalid and calls for its withdrawal”. The conflict continues to affect Turkey’s relations with Cyprus, Greece, and the European Union.
Negotiations to find a solution to the Cyprus problem have been taking place on and off since 1964. Between 1974 and 2002, the Turkish Cypriot side (effectively controlled by the Turkish government) was seen by the international community as the side refusing a balanced solution. Since 2002, the situation has been reversed according to US and UK officials, and the Greek Cypriot side rejected a plan which would have called for the dissolution of the Republic of Cyprus without guarantees that the Turkish occupation forces would be removed.
Greek Cypriots rejected the UN settlement plan in an April 2004 referendum. On 24 April 2004, the Greek Cypriots rejected the plan proposed by UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan for the settlement of the Cyprus dispute. The plan, which was approved by the Turkish Cypriots in a separate but simultaneous referendum, would have created a United Cyprus Republic and ensured that the entire island would reap the benefits of Cyprus’ entry into the European Union on 1 May. The United Cyprus Republic consisted of a Greek Cypriot constituent state and a Turkish Cypriot constituent state linked by a federal government. More than half of the Greek Cypriots who were displaced in 1974 and their descendants would have had their properties returned to them and would have lived in them under Greek Cypriot administration within a period of 31/2 to 42 months after the entry into force of the settlement. For those whose property could not be returned, they would have received monetary compensation.
Following Greek Cypriots rejection, the entire island entered the EU on 1 May 2004 still divided; the EU acquis communautaire – the body of common rights and obligations – applies only to the areas under direct government control, and is suspended in the areas occupied by the Turkish military and administered by Turkish Cypriots.
The Greek Cypriots started their struggle for independence against the British, and the Turkish community at first to establish enosis, the union with Greece. Today, this initial goal has been completely sidelined, especially after Cyprus joined the EU in 2004; Cyprus is seen as an independent country that, although maintains strong ties with Greece, has its own path. The conquered economic progress until 2013 and the achievement of EU membership shifted Greek Cypriots towards a conservative position in maintaining the status quo. The reasons are:
- The collapse of the Greek economy, united with the achieved own development, contributed to the abandon of enosis in recent decades.
- Cyprus joining the EU has also strengthened the community and the nationalist sentiment, bringing economic development and international stability.
- Greek Cypriots fear a strong Turkish influence in a possibly reunited island, mainly due to the presence of a strong military force in Northern Cyprus, thus maintaining an unbalanced and disproportionate section of the Island.
- Alteration of equilibrium: a reunification for many Cypriots is a threat to stability. For them could unite a strong-developed south and a militarized but poorer north, with consequent afflux of population to the Greek Cypriot inhabited areas.
The Turkish Cypriots have fought along British forces against Greek and Cypriot nationalists to avoid independence or enosis. After independence they maintained a strong and defensive approach, due to being a minority in a 3% of land. This increased their idea of being discriminated and under constant attack. The actions of the Greek military junta and EOKA-B in Cyprus in the 70’s demonstrated to many the existence of an anti-Turkish agenda. This led to the first Turkish invasion, still seen by many as justified. The second invasion, however, altered existing equilibriums and historical balance, with Turkey occupying 36% of territory and in the following years favoring settlement to increase its population. The Turkish community, at first rejected any plan of reunification, fearing reprisal and abandon by Turkey, represented at best by its leader Ruf Denktash. This sentiment today changed to a contrary position, switching side with Greek Cypriots. Turkish community voted for integration, dreaming of an EU membership in 2004.
- They see the reunification as the best chances of a bright future and abandon of isolation, as the Northern Cyprus Turkish Republic is not recognized.
- They also know that Turkey will appease this desire of a settlement due to Ankara’s EU membership claims.
- The fear of inter communal clashes and Greek pogrom is considered unlikely in a country today part of EU with strict international monitoring.
- Turkey’s NATO membership is another guarantee that Turkey will commit herself to international obligations.
The guarantors: Greece and Turkey
Although Greece maintains strong relations and ties with Greek-Cypriots, its role and influence is clearly undermined by the recent crisis that shattered the economy. Greece sympathy for enosis finds the same indifference as in Cyprus; Greeks would clearly prefer a peaceful settlement of the question rather than having their country embroiled in an expensive Cyprus conflict or even the resurface of political tensions with Turkey.
Turkey’s position today is more complicated and rather different from the past. If their first invasion of the Island received some sort of support and understanding as a genuine intervention to defend its population against an attack supported by a fascist regime in Athens, the second invasion is widely seen as a clear attempt by Turkey to a partition on permanent basis. The years that followed saw Turkey’s hostility to any negotiations on reunification, although something is changing today:
- Turkey has a fast growing economy with enormous potentials. This is in contrast with EU countries struggling to cope with debt.
- Turkey is widely accused of maintain strong military presence, but Turkey is also a member of NATO and has strong relations with the USA, that strongly support a solution on Cyprus for reunification.
- Turkey is seeking EU membership and any obstacle to a permanent settlement of Cyprus dispute will undermine her chances.
Turkey therefore is seen today as more cooperative towards a solution for Cyprus and a possible reunification. However, there are some points that could undermine this view:
- Turkey’s recent interference in the Syrian conflict can drag the country in a proxy war, leading to tensions with regional powers and, in case of joining the EU, would pose risk of stability by bordering a troubled region.
- Turkey is still unstable internally with Kurds insurgence, and the renaissance of Islamism that, if not controlled, could threaten the established laicism that marked Turkey’s modern history.
- EU recent crisis could make less desirable an entrance into the union to ordinary Turkish people, especially after having seen the effects in Greece and Cyprus.
The Mediators: EU and UN
The EU is in a difficult position. Favor Cyprus reunification will be a statement of progress in a continent that saw fragmentation and rising nationalism rather than the idyllic European dream of bringing countries together. The economic crisis is shattering hopes and the support to the EU both on political and economic basis. Cyprus therefore could be at the same time the savior or the destroyer. A reunification will boost political chances and will increase the possibility of Turkey joining in the future, bringing an emerging economy inside the European market. On the other, Cyprus recent financial crisis has shown once again the limits and the opposition of the population to an EU guided from the top, imposing unjust policies to their governments. This trend, noticeable in Greece, Portugal, Spain, Italy and UK, could alienate both Greek and Turkish Cypriots as well as Turkey’s population itself.
A reunification of the Island could also speed up Turkey’s chances of joining the EU; however, this will open the risk in sharing a border with a troubled region: Kurds insurgencies, Lebanon unstable governments and Hezbollah, Iraq fratricidal bombings, and a future Syria that, with or without Assad, would be far from being a stable country for decades.
The UN has always been a stronger supporter of Cyprus reunification and, compared with the above players, the only one who maintained a coherent position. Nevertheless, UN attempts to solve Cyprus dispute have been undermined during the years by:
- Greek nationalists during the military dictatorship, and their interference in Cypriots affairs that ultimately led to Turkish reaction
- Turkish strong military presence and refusal to withdraw
- Influence of superpowers: the USA in an anti-communist stance appeased the Greek dictatorship first and then switched to Turkey when non aligned Cyprus leaned towards pro-soviet links.
- Swinging position of Cypriots sides moving out, alternatively, from a vision of reunification. Refusing the Annan plan, Greek Cypriots joined the EU as a separated country, whilst pro-European Turkish Cypriots were left outside.
Based on the above, to many the Cyprus dispute appears as leaning towards a permanent partition, and even to consider this the best solution. A two-Cyprus States will ease tensions in the short term, and only a Turkey’s admission to EU will ease all the remaining tensions related to military attacks or reprisals, therefore paving the way for a reunification under EU policy of integration in the longer term. The above solution is plausible only if the central pillar will resist to the recent storms: the EU.
Seen the recent developments, appears that the EU is the key to the future settlement for the Island; a survival of a reformed EU could bring solutions and stability, but a collapse and the constant rising of anti-EU sentiment and nationalism could effectively make way for the permanent partition of Cyprus.