Cyprus, an island nation in the Mediterranean Sea, saw their newest wrinkle in their decades old power struggle between Greek and Turkish communities both vying for political power.
Turkey, a superpower relative to their region of the world, has a history of flexing their military power to influence conflict in neighbouring states such as Israel and Syria, but also uses their power to secure valuable resources, in this case oil. Turkey has been executing moves to explore and drill for oil in the Mediterranean with their most recent efforts leading them to just off the coast of Cyprus, in an area where both Turkey and Cyprus claim to have ownership of the waters, Reuters reports. To go a step further, Turkey has also expanded their oil exploration into waters that are dangerously close to Greece who historically they have not seen eye-to-eye with.
With Cyprus lacking any real agency to bend Turkey into shifting their policy into something less threatening to the island nation, Reuters continues on to say, they deferred to the European Union but has yielded no results other than empty rhetoric and rebuke. While most, if not all, countries would take issue with offshore drilling by a foreign entity, the history of the Greco-Turkish conflict in relation to Cyprus makes this development even more worrisome and does not paint a picture of a united Cyprus.
Dating back to the 1970s Greece had aspirations of uniting as many Mediterranean islands under one flag as possible, one such island was Cyprus. However, with a Makarios III holding the power and preferring an independent Cyprus, Greece decided to invade and sponsor a coup that aimed to oust Makarios and insert a pro-Greece president that would advocate on behalf of Greece to join their broader country. Seeing what was unfolding just a few hundred miles from their coast, Turkey decided to launch a counter-coup just ten days after Greece’s invasion with the goal of keeping Makarios in power and thereby preventing Greece from acquiring anymore land. This counter-coup was executed by deploying tens of thousands of paratroopers into Cyprus and effectively pushing back the Greek forces and subsequently leading to a standoff between the two state’s militaries.
This standoff between Greece and Turkey was fueled by both states looking to acquire Cyprus for their own gain, but instead resulted in a divided Cyprus and two factions that have not been able to reach any common ground in the decades that followed this coup; those two factions are known as the Greek Cypriots and the Turkish Cypriots, with one the former naturally favoring Greece and their policies and the latter favoring Turkey. Each faction has their own recognized capital; however, only the Greek Cypriot capital of Nicosia is internationally recognized, whereas the Turkish Cypriot capital of Northern Nicosia is only recognized by mainland Turkey.
While the initial coup was fueled by radical Greeks, Turkey’s response and the subsequent fighting had concluded by 1975, less than a year from its conception. Despite the violent nature of conflicts beginning, Cyprus has been rather peaceful living under the pretense of divided regions with minimal conflict between the Greek Cypriots and Turkish Cypriots. However, Turkey has been on the receiving end of many criticisms, particularly human rights related criticisms linked to how Turkey has been able to maintain a population in the non-internationally recognized Northern Cyprus.
One such criticism is that Turkey forcibly displaced over 150,000 mainland Turkish nationals and placed them in Northern Cyprus. Not only is this ethically wrong to forcefully move that many people to a foreign land simply for the government’s political gain, it is also against the Geneva Convention – likely to prevent a sequel to what had happened to the Jewish population in Germany being forcefully moved. However, these Turkish citizens were not disenfranchised themselves, instead the Turkish Cypriot government of Northern Nicosia stripped Greek Cypriots, who were trapped in the North, of their land and redistributed it to the new Turkish population; this is very similar to what happened to Catholics living in Northern Ireland in the early 1900s. With all of the disdain and hatred between these two communities it is no wonder that an agreement to reunify Cyprus has yet to be reached, the most recent attempt coming in 2004 but yielding no results.
The plan that came to a head in 2004 is known as the Annan plan, named after the United Nations representative who penned it, Kofi Annan. The Annan plan had several strands that mirrored much of what was passed in the Good Friday Agreement in Northern Ireland, with the main parallel in the proposal being power sharing between the Greek Cypriots and Turkish Cypriots. The power sharing was based around a presidential council split between the two communities to ensure control could not be consolidated by the Turks or the Greeks. The Annan Plan had also planned to implement a bicameral legislature, similar to the United States, but in this case power sharing would be used to ensure that both bodies would consist of equal membership. Despite the framework appearing to have been very neutral, simply looking to recreate a united Cyprus, the referendum vote did not share those same sentiments. When put to vote, 65% of Turkish Cypriots voted in favor of the plan; however, the Greek population only had 25% support for the Annan plan. Despite clear majority support on the Turkish side for a united Cyprus the Greek side cited that this proposal clearly favored the Turks and as such they did not vote to pass the Annan Plan.
While I do think it is incorrect to say this plan favors one side over the other, I can understand where the Greek Cypriots are basing their frustration. Back in 1974 when Greece first sponsored the coup the idea was a united Cyprus under the Greek flag, but instead the outcome was a split Cyprus with vehemently opposed communities. In the Greeks mind they should not have to share power with anyone, let alone a Turkish population. However, a world with consolidated Greek power is no longer feasible given the current circumstances and as such the Greeks must heavily consider power sharing as the best path forward even though it may seem like a concession as opposed to a resolution. Despite the promising Annan Plan, the failure of the vote has not elicited a revised version or any entirely separate proposals since 2004. It is also important to note that in 2004 the internationally recognized portion of Cyprus was admitted into the European Union with the specific clause that all European law is suspended in Northern Cyprus which includes all free trade legislation and all of the other benefits that come with European membership.
Speaking to the current actions of Turkey drilling offshore of Cyprus and Greece, I find it truly confusing given Turkey’s stated aspirations of joining the European Union. By aggravating and flexing their superior military power over current European Union members, it seems like a poor recipe to sway the voters of which can determine Turkey’s admittance or denial. While Cyprus is relatively insignificant on the greater European landscape – and Greece lately has been more of burden than a benefit due to their economic struggles – the actions of Turkey would be absolutely unacceptable if they were to be members of the Union and as such, this surely does not help them reach the end of their decades long wait to join the Union.
The Cyprus problem, as it has been coined, does not seem to be trending towards any groundbreaking peace, but in terms of divided territory and opposed ethnic groups Cyprus has been rather peaceful in terms of attacks and deaths facilitated by the other. This relative peace should not detract from the goal of a united nation, to which it would appear that the Greek Cypriots need to be more open to compromise in order to reach some form of common ground. To return to the Northern Ireland example, it seemed impossible there, in a conflict where violence was so much more common, but peace has been upheld for twenty-two years at this point. A united Cyprus is not impossible if the incentive is there for both sides, but creating that incentive for the Greek Cypriots seems to be the challenge.