Efforts to reunite the deeply divided state of Cyprus have once again stalled in the international sphere as international actors fail to gain consensus regarding a range of issues. A British colony until 1960, Cyprus has been deeply divided following the invasion by Turkish forces in response to a Greek-inspired coup in 1974. With 800,000 Greek-Cypriots and 220,000 Turkish-Cypriots currently inhabiting the island, both countries remain fiercely loyal over their communities, with the small Mediterranean island remaining a source of tension for decades. Further complicating matters is the heavy military presence on the island. The Times of Israel identifies Cyprus as the most militarized place on earth, with UN Peacekeepers, Turkish, and Greek troops, as well as two sovereign UK bases located on the island, thereby magnifying the risk to civilians if a peaceful resolution is unattainable.
Progressing peace talks is complicated given the numerous international actors involved in the process. Turkey, Greece, and Great Britain all have internationally recognized influence, which is enforceable by the Treaty of Guarantee signed in 1960. Both Greece and Great Britain indicated their willingness to abandon the treaty in the interest of progressing peace. However, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has indicated his unwillingness to abandon the treaty and the enforceable power it enables Turkey to wield over Cyprus’ affairs. This lack of international consensus severely restricts any progress towards peace. While Greece and Great Britain support the two-zone federation structure proposed as a practical solution, Erdoğan fiercely opposes it by claiming the rotating presidency system is “unacceptable.” As long as numerous international actors can enforce their agenda, successful reunification remains a hallucination of the locals who are at most risk.
Another barrier preventing progress towards reunification is the failure to gain a consensus amongst international actors regarding deployed troops on the island. Nicos Anastasiades (Greek-Cyprus President) has insisted upon the finalization of a timeline regarding the removal of Turkish troops from Cyprus before talks of reunification can commence with any legitimacy. Turkey opposes this demand, claiming Turkish troops must remain to ensure the protection of the 220,000 Turkish-Cypriots inhabiting the island. Erdoğan has proceeded to soften his stance, stating that while Greek forces remain on Cyprus so will Turkish forces. Inferring the possibility of Turkish demilitarization in reciprocation of Greek demilitarization. While hopeful, any inference regarding Turkish de-escalation should be taken with a pinch of salt. Erdoğan is currently seeking the Executive Prime Minister position in Turkey in an effort to solidify his domestic power. Erdoğan is currently acquiring successful votes, but at a slim margin. Therefore, any international action that could be perceived as weak to his domestic populace may swing votes, consequentially motivating the pursuit of a strong Turkish stance regarding troop deployment on Cyprus. Such a pursuit would be at the determent of Cyprus achieving a peaceful resolution.
Overcoming decades of domestic division and international tension was never going to be achieved overnight. However, this round of talks is believed to be the most productive to date. The Guardian reported last week that significant progress had been achieved regarding many thorny domestic issues, like the composition of the domestic government under the proposed two-zone federation and issues pertaining to land swaps. Local Turkey-Cypriots had even agreed to return some of the land claimed in the 1974 invasion. Despite this tremendous progress, finalizing a peace deal is far from done. Any peace proposal would need to gain approval from the international guarantors and a domestic referendum. However, for that to eventuate, demilitarization of Cyprus needs to occur in an effort to legitimize peace discussions. Thus, removing Turkish troops will not directly create peace, but it will give it a fighting chance!
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