A Divided Island: Cyprus A Step Closer To Reunification

Peace talks between Greek and Turkish Cypriot sides indicate that the 40-year conflict is drawing closer to an end.

Geneva is the backdrop for the negotiations, reports The Guardian. The Swiss diplomatic hub is “psychologically less charged” than Cyprus, ideal for navigating land swaps and the dilemmas of an ethnic divide that has, for a long time, obstructed the path to peace. Negotiations are set to continue within an open-ended time frame.

This is a major step in the reunification of the island and stabilization of shaky Greece-Turkey ties, although UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres has told reporters that the process will not be a ‘quick fix.’

“We are looking for a solid sustainable solution,” Guterres said.

According to BBC, important topics of discussion include whether Turkish troops will remain in place after negotiations and whether the land will be returned to the Greek Cypriots, who were forced to flee their Northern Cyprus homes during the 1974 conflict and the 40-year stalemate thereafter. There are also concerns that Turkey may receive a voice from time-to-time in EU discussions if a Turkish leader is to have power in a member state. Turkey has been known to have an interest in EU accession but additional accession protocol has been demanded due to continuing conflicts, including that within Cyprus.

The island of Cyprus, despite being viewed on an international level as a complete entity, is split into two political divisions. Statistical data indicates that the largest and most politically influential is the southern division, home to a Greek Cypriot ethnic majority (77% of the island’s total population). Cyprus has historically been connected with Greece, like other islands in the East Mediterranean, such as Crete.

For centuries there has been Turkish occupation on Cyprus. A Turkish Cypriot minority (18%) currently occupies the northern third of the island. The island’s capital, Nicosia, lies upon the UN Buffer Zone of Cyprus and Northern Cyprus, a barrier which splits the city into two capitals: the south governs Greek Cyprus and the north of the city for Northern Cyprus.

Turkey’s growing presence on the island is widely regarded as the result of invasion. In 1973, a coup d’état staged by the Cypriot National Guard and backed by mainland Greece saw the installment of President Nikos Sampson, who led with the philosophy of enosis, the conjoining of Cyprus with mainland Greece. When troops were sent to provide back up for the smaller-than-realized Turkish minority, who were fighting for their own claim to the island, widespread conflict broke out and Turkish Cypriots were able to claim 36.2% of the island. This portion was declared the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus, which is only recognized internationally by Turkey. Today, an estimated 40,000 Turkish troops are stationed on the island.

Another division is the small British Overseas Territory of Akrotiri and Dhekelia, which marks the ever-present British military operation in Cyprus (which was granted independence from Britain in 1960). Cypriots are divided about this presence: it is held that Britain should not hold territory in other EU member states. However, it is asserted that this is only a military presence that provides Britain with strategic Mediterranean and Middle Eastern presence; not on grounds to colonize a new location. Despite this, Britain supported Greek Cypriots during the Turkish invasion.

If territorial plans are negotiated during the Geneva talks, a deal may be reached by the end of 2017, which could be put to a referendum.

“I really think, without over-dramatising what is happening in Geneva, that this is the very last chance to see the island being recomposed in a normal way,” said European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker.