Cyprus’s Long-Awaited Reunification: Negotiations are Coming to an Halt

43 years after the coup led by the Greek Regime of Colonels, Cyprus remains separated in two parts: the Southern part of the island is controlled by a Greek Cypriot majority, whereas the Northern part is handled by Turkish Cypriots. Since January 2017, leaders of each camp are meeting in Geneva under United Nations’ authority: disagreements are numerous, deeply-rooted, and any point of dissent can threaten the negotiations – this is exactly what has been happening since mid-February. Voicing Realities sums up the dispute, what needs to be settled between both parties and what is currently obstructing the talks.

When and why did Cyprus’s division happen?

Cyprus becomes independent in 1960, after having been a British protectorate between 1878 and 1912, and a colony between 1914 and 1960. Two different people are living on the island: a majority of Cyprus’ inhabitants are of Greek origin, whereas 15% of the overall population are of Turkish origin. Even though both populations are living all around the island, cohabitation can sometimes be difficult.

The turning point in Cyprus’s history occurs on July, 15th 1974: the Greek Regime of Colonels comes close to an end, and seeks to accomplish an unexpected, enormous act in order to make the regime glorious again. EOKA B, a paramilitary organization supported by junta leading figure Dimitrios Ioannidis, overthrows Cypriot president Makarios III: the regime’s aim is to create Cyprus’s union with Greece – a phenomenon called “Enosis”. However, things don’t go as planned: Turkey reacts militarily in order to protect the Turkish citizens, and quickly occupies a third of the island; the Regime of Colonels collapses a month later, thus leading to a democratic transition in Greece. Tensions over Cyprus reach a climax: Turkey and Greece are nearly at war.

What are the consequences of 1974 coup?

In order to prevent an armed conflict, a ceasefire zone is defined, and is materialized by a line, the Green line, that crosses the Cypriot capital Nicosia and therefore divides both the city and the country in two parts. This demilitarized zone is controlled by United Nations’ Blue Helmets, and seeks to maintain a steady relationship between both parties, whilst hoping for a peaceful resolution.


The Green Line divides the island in two parts and crosses the capital Nicosia.
© Wikipedia.

Despite the involvement of the international community through the United Nations’ presence, Turkey declares in 1983 that the northeastern part of the island occupied by its army would become the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus (TRNC); however the international community doesn’t recognize the existence of this self-declared State, unlike the Cyprus Republic – the southern part of the island –, which is monitored by a Greek Cypriot administration. This international consideration is increased when the Republic becomes member of the European Union in 2004, and joins the Eurozone in 2008. Ankara doesn’t recognize this Republic and considers it as a Southern Cypriot administration.

Even though the situation remains strained, the border was reopened in 2003, and enables thousands of Cypriots from both sides to go and work “on the other side” everyday.

In May 2015, the United Nations declare that negotiations would take place quickly, in order to clarify the island’s situation; several meetings occurred during Autumn 2016, but without any significant progress. Since January 2017, the United Nations organize a more formal meeting in Geneva, in order to reach an agreement and eventually lead to Cyprus’s reunification. Turkish Cypriot leader, Mustafa Akinci, and President of the Cyprus Republic, Nicos Anastasiades, are taking part to this meeting.

What points are debated by both parties?

According to the Peace Institute Research Oslo (PRIO), 162,000 Greek Cypriots were displaced back in 1974, as well as 48,000 Turkish Cypriots. Nicos Anastasiades asks for the return of at least 100,000 Greek Cypriots back to their original location in the island, whereas Mustafa Akinci wishes that Turkish Cypriots remain in their current households. Negotiations are also dealing with indemnifying displaced Cypriots who had to leave their houses or lands because of the coup.

The territory question is also a central issue in the negotiations: indeed, Turkish Cypriots represent 22% out of the 1.2 million Cyprus population, and control 37% of the territory; therefore, Greek Cypriots ask for retrocession of lands which are currently under Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus’s control. However, both parties disagree on figures: Mr. Anastasiades wishes that the Turkish entity to gather 28.2% of the island, whereas Mr. Akinci asks for 29.2% of the territory.

The security element is also at stake: 30,000 Turkish soldiers are currently deployed in Northern Cyprus; both parties also have to consider how the power will be shared in the future. Negotiations seem to head for the creation of a federal State – that is to say with a central government for the entire island, but with two distinct regions that would be controlled by a Turkish Cypriot administration and a Greek Cypriot administration. If a compromise was to be found, a referendum would be organized in each part of the island to validate or not the negotiations’ outcome.

A Halt in the Negotiations: Temporary Blockage or Deepest Crisis?

However, since mid-February, a controversy rose and put the talks under pressure. In 1950, when Cyprus was still under British authority, a referendum stated that the people wanted their island to be united to Greece. Recently, the Cypriot parliament voted the commemoration of this referendum in schools, despite its absence of legal impact; this decision led Turkish Cypriot leader Akinci to suspend the negotiations as long as the text wasn’t revoked. Greek Cypriot Anastasiades declared that the Turkish Cypriot administration was suspending the negotiations because of a minor issue.

According to various sources, the negotiations may be suspended until mid-April, right after the referendum organized by Turkish President Reycep Tayyip Erdogan, which seek to obtain full power in its country: these new conditions would enable him to remain in power until 2029. Even though Turkey struggles into financially supporting TRNC, many observers fear that this authoritarian turn in the country may durably prevent Cyprus from reaching a proper agreement.

Featured image: From left to right: Turkish Cypriot leader Mustafa Akinci, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres and Greek Cypriot leader Nicos Anastasiades brief the press after the first session of the Conference on Cyprus. Palais des Nations, Geneva – January, 12th 2017. © UN Photo / Violaine Martin via Flickr.

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