The presence of Turkish settlers in the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus (TRNC) has long been a divisive issue. The dust had barely settled on the Greek coup of 1974 – a militaristic intervention carried out in the name of enosis, a political ideology demanding the unification of Cyprus with Greece – before the Turkish military descended on the northern part of the island. Thousands of Greek Cypriots were evicted from their homes. The island was partitioned along a ceasefire line which, to this day, comprises a dead zone patrolled only by United Nations (UN) troops. In one fell swoop, the Turkish military had seized 37% of Cyprus in the name of what was at that time 18% of its population.
For Greece, the invasion was a catastrophe. Between 1974 and 2005, over 100,000 settlers (Türkiyelier, or “those from Turkey” in Cypriot Turkish) were shipped from mainland Turkey to populate properties previously occupied by evicted Greek Cypriots. Granted citizenship of the TRNC (Cyprus’s northern, Turkish-run and internationally unrecognised portion), the settlers vote as part of the Turkish Cypriot electorate. Today, as Turkish Cypriots increasingly emigrate away from the island, the number of Turkish settlers in Cyprus has exceeded the number of indigenous Turkish Cypriots.
At issue is the legality of the settlement program. Under the 4th Geneva convention, the wilful transfer of citizens by the occupying power to the occupied area constitutes a war crime. Yet many Türkiyelier families now call Cyprus home. Here, they have built their lives, raised their children. Many families have severed ties with the mainland. Upon returning to Turkey, they have experienced ostracization from their former communities. This is no longer just a legal issue: it is a question of human rights.
Turkish settlers cannot simply be evicted from Cyprus. Yet how does one find peaceful solutions to so vitriolic a conflict, one rooted so deeply in the collective machinery of a people? In Cyprus, we see in microcosm two nations at loggerheads. The Turkey-Greece divide is fuelled by centuries of rivalry and suspicion, and decades of bitter conflict. In Cyprus, Turkish Cypriots cry for partition, whilst Greek Cypriots, who comprise the island’s majority, call for the unification of Cyprus with Greece. The foundation in 1960 – and subsequent disintegration – of what Stephen Xydis once called the “reluctant Republic” of Cyprus is testament to the difficulties of diffusing such deep-set psychological prejudices through top-down, interventionist initiatives.
Perhaps this explains why governmental programmes to promote meaningful engagement between Cyprus’ communities have been so limited and so ineffective. In the most recent attempt, the UN proposed the “Annan Plan”, which called for a restructuring of the Republic into a two-state federation. This was doomed to fail. For former UN Secretary-General Boutros-Ghali, successful negotiation efforts will remain futile so long as the “deep crisis of confidence” between the two communities prevails.
Perhaps attempts to forge immediate solutions to the island’s conflict are “neither feasible nor desirable,” as Muzaffer Yılmaz suggests in the International Journal for World Peace. Perhaps mending this rift is only possible from the ground up. Breaking distorted enemy images embedded in group identities requires patience and time. Yılmaz proposes “two-track diplomacy” as a possible strategy for reducing tensions in Cyprus in the long term. Two-track diplomacy promotes the building of relations through unofficial interactions between members of adversary groups in informal settings –techniques employed by Herbert Kelman in his problem-solving workshops between Jews and Palestinians. It is unlikely that centuries of suspicion, fear and antagonism will resolve themselves without long-term strategies to foster inter-communal understanding – strategies which have, thus far, been few and far between. Future peace efforts should seek to fill these gaps.