By Aggelos Skordas
Expectations for a viable, just and final solution of the long lasting Cyprus Issue are high in both Athens and Nicosia while multilateral (with the participation of the UK as the third guarantor power along with Greece and Turkey) talks are being held in Geneva since Monday. At the same time, scepticism and uncertainty regarding Ankara’s stance are also high and expressed at a top level in Athens. On Tuesday, a meeting between the President of the Republic Prokopis Pavlopoulos and Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras held at the Presidential Mansion confirmed the Greek side’s disbelief regarding the turn the much anticipated negotiations might take in case the Turkish omnipotent President Recep Tayyip Erdogan decides to gamble (for reasons obliging his own policies within Turkey, where he is currently facing a number of issues) with the future of Cyprus.
When asked if he will attend the UN-led Geneva meeting the Greek Prime Minister preferred not to give a straight answer bearing, probably, at the back of his mind Erdogan’s unclear intentions. Instead, Tsipras joked that the previous days’ heavy snowfall even in downtown Athens had brought Geneva to the Greek capital; “so we shall see”, he characteristically said.
“Once again we state our determination to find a just and viable solution to the Cyprus problem in the framework of UN resolutions but also of Cyprus’ status as an EU member state’’ Tsipras underlined while exiting the Presidential Mansion after briefing Pavlopoulos, adding that the Greek side is determined to exhaust all options to reach such a solution but also that the final result “does not depend on one side only”.
“It is clear to all of us and, of course, to our European partners and the European Commission that discounts -when it comes to the sovereignty of the Cyprus Republic- cannot be accepted”, Pavlopoulos commented after the meeting.
Tsipras also held successive telephone discussions with the German Chancellor Angela Merkel and the French President Francois Hollande on developments in the negotiations on the Cyprus Issue. Both European leaders underlined the significance of reaching a solution for both Europe itself and the Union’s lately troubled relations with Turkey.
Only a few hours earlier, Tsipras and Erdogan had a lengthy telephone discussion over the negotiations in Geneva and the possibility of attending the talks. “In this context, they agreed to maintain regular contact ahead of the multilateral meeting in Geneva,” said an announcement from the Greek Prime Minister’s office, leaving the possibility of both leaders travelling to Geneva open, but only if a solution regarding the devided island’s future appeared to be emerging. Otherwise both countries will be represented at the level of foreign ministers, they agreed (Greece will be represented by Foreign Minister Nikos Kotzias and Turkey by his counterpart Mevlut Cavusoglu). An alternate scenario wants Turkey to be dispatching Prime Minister Binali Yildirim to Geneva on Thursday. In this case Greece will most likely be represented by Deputy Prime Minister Yiannis Dragasakis.
Yesterday, Greek Foreign Minister Nikos Kotzias left Athens for Geneva, while from Valetta, where he attended the ceremony for the opening of the Maltese EU presidency, the European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker underlined that this might be the last opportunity for the reunification of Cyprus and explained why he is going to travel to the Swiss city today: “I took a personal interest in the reunification issue of Cyprus.I really think, without overdramatizing what is happening in Geneva, that it is the very last chance to see the island.”
Eariler this week, UN Special Adviser on Cyprus, Espen Barth Eide underlined that both sides demonstrated “a lot of courage and a lot of will” in reaching an agreement, a goal which he characterized “hard but not impossible” and urged Cypriots on both sides of the so called “Green Line”, dividing the island for more than 40 years, to “seize the moment”. Only a few hours before the crucial conference to be held today on securities and guarantees Eide said that “what is happening is historic, and whatever the outcome it will be historic”, adding that it is the first time the guarantor powers of Cyprus’ security (Greece, Turkey, and the UK) will be meeting with the Cypriots on this issue. In a similar manner, the new UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres described the multilateral negotiations as an “historic opportunity”.
On their behalf, the President of the Republic of Cyprus Nicos Anastasiades and the Turkish Cypriot leader Mustafa Akinci have already travelled to Geneva since Sunday and appeared optimistic for ending the talks. Anastasiades and Akinci are holding negotiations “in a good climate” at the Palais des Nations focusing on the following six chapters: Property, Governance and Security, Economy and EU, Financing and Implementation, Territory, Property and Pending Issues. Yesterday they presented their respective maps on the territorial chapter, while tomorrow, the two leaders will be joined by Foreign Ministers from Greece, Turkey and the UK.
If an agreement can be reached, it will be presented to Cypriots and voted on in two separate referendums, one for each side of the borders. The referendums could be held no earlier than June or July 2017.
According to Cypriot media, the main difference between the Republic and the Turkish Cypriot side, so far, is related to the re-unified nation’s governance and in particular the proposed rotating presidency as well as the territory of each community. The Republic of Cyprus’ official position is against a rotating presidency system, while the Turkish Cypriot community is insisting that a rotating presidency is crucial in order to reach a solution.
Moreover, the two sides remain distanced regarding the territory to be held under Turkish Cypriot control. The Republic insists this should not exceed 28.2% of the islands total territory. As Cyprus News Agency aired yesterday referring to unnamed government sources, if the map that the Turkish Cypriot side will present (and which has already been submitted but not published) at the UN-led talks between the leaders of the two communities for a Cyprus settlement provides for over 29.2% Turkish Cypriot territory, then the conference scheduled for today with the participation of the guarantor powers will not take place.
In addition to the above, property appears also to be as a major obstacle towards a final solution, due to the vast number of both Greek Cypriots and Turkish Cypriots who might need to be displaced from their homes, while others are to return to their old homes. The town of Morphou in the Turkish occupied northwest coast is the most prominent example of this complicated situation. Today the coastal town is home to some 18,000 Turkish Cypriots, although before the 1974 Turkish invasion its population was almost entirely Greek and many of its old uprooted inhabitants want to return to their homes, while those who replaced them are not prepared to give in. For the time, a combination of financial compensations along with extensive land swaps appears as the prevailing solution.
Another major obstacle towards the Cyprus Issue permanent settlement is the removal of the 30,000 Turkish troops stationed in the occupied north, as Ankara does not appear ready to withdraw its troops. Greek side says a deal is not possible without them departing from the island.
Britain first occupied Cyprus in 1878, when it was part of the Ottoman Empire, although the island was not annexed on behalf of the British throne until 1914. At the time the Turkish inhabitants consisted less than 20 per cent of the island’s total population. Less than four decades later, in the early ‘50s the Greek Cypriots, inspired by the need of independence and self governance as well as the anticolonial movements, took up the guns against the British Empire. It was then that the Turkish Cypriots first expressed their ambition for the creation of a separate state within Cyprus. At the same time the voices calling for unification with Greece (“Enosis”) increased within the island’s ethnic Greek majority. Intercommunal nationalist violence also increased in the late ‘50s and in this context Cyprus was finally granted its independence on August 16th 1960, in accordance to the London and Zurich Agreements signed between Greece, Turkey, the United Kingdom and Cypriot community leaders.
The following years were stigmatized by armed clashes between the Greek and Turkish communities. Intercommunal violence reached its peak on December 21st 1963, when two Turkish Cypriots were killed at an incident involving police forces. The wave of violence, which brought Greece and Turkey -once again- on the brink of a large scale war, resulted in the death of more than 300 Turkish and 174 Greek Cypriots as well as the expulsion of the Turkish Cypriots’ from the administration. Instead they created enclaves and operated outside the state’s law. A permanent UN force was deployed in Nicosia and other areas. The following year Turkey threatened with an invasion, although the plans were soon dropped after a strict US ultimatum. At the same time, the Greek Cypriots’ dream for unification with Greece was gaining ground and the Republic’s first President, Archbishop Makarios, along with Greece’s Prime Minister, Georgios Papandreou, listed “Enosis” as a top priority. Additionally, in order to prevent a possible Turkish invasion Greece dispatched some 10,000 troops to Cyprus.
The Greek military junta that seized power on April 21st 1967 followed a different agenda and a hostile policy towards Archibishop Makarios. Seven years later, on July 15th 1974 the Greek military junta (now under Dimitris Ioannides, who in late 1973 overthrew dictator Goergios Papadopoulos) carried out a coup d’état in Cyprus, unsuccessfully attempted to assassinate Makarios and replaced him with Nikos Sampson. This gave the Turkish side the much anticipated pretext to carry out a military operation against Cyprus. Only five days later, on July 20th, the Turkish army invaded the island (Operation “Atilla”) with more than 30,000 troops, supported by the well armed Turkish enclaves. Turkish forces seized the city of Kyrenia on the island’s northern coast and created a corridor linking it with the capital Nicosia.
Both the Greek junta and its puppets in Cyprus fall and constitutional order was restored in Athens and Nicosia, removing Ankara’s justification for the necessity of the invasion. Although, only a few days later, on August 14th, Turkey launched a second military invasion which resulted in the seizure of the island’s north consisting of 37 per cent of its total territory. More than 180,000 Greek Cypriots had been evicted from their homes, while at the same time some 40,000 Turkish Cypriots moved to the occupied areas and settled in the properties of the displaced Greek Cypriots. By the ceasefire, 28 days after the first invasion, up to 6,000 Greeks and Greek Cypriots were killed or wounded while some 3,000 were proclaimed missing. Turkish casualties totaled 1,500 dead and 2,000 wounded.
In 1983 a separate Turkish Cypriot state was established in the north although Turkey alone recognized it, while the declaration of the so called “Republic of Northern Cyprus” was widely condemned by the international community. Today, there are about 800,000 Greek Cypriots and 220,000 Turkish Cypriots sharing the Eastern Mediterranean island.