This series of articles focuses on a territorial quirk I find very interesting because cases are more numerous than I first thought and because it is the source of disparities; I will write about those islands that are split into several countries (mostly two, sometimes more). Of course, some cases are more famous than others. You might have thought of Cyprus and Ireland. I will attempt to write about as many as possible, so come back every week to read about a new place.
Upon starting this series, I thought studying divided islands would be easy as the division lines would be well defined. Of course, in Cyprus, this is not at all the case, and what is happening there depends on who you ask. But all in all, it is internationally recognized (by everyone but Turkey) that the island is one country with a de facto division. The resolution of the division of Cyprus has been on the table since its independence in 1960. Recent events may finally bring a solution.
Independence and Division
Internal struggles started immediately after Cyprus’s independence from the British empire in 1960. Three years later, violent outbreaks burst in Nicosia as the Greeks and the Turks could not find a suitable political arrangement, following which the Turkish Cypriots were confined into enclaves (or ghettos), which forced UN peacekeepers to deploy as part of the United Nations Force in Cyprus (UNFICYP) with the mandate “to prevent further fighting between the Greek Cypriot and Turkish Cypriot communities”.
In 1974, the Greek junta toppled the Turkish Cypriot-led government. As a reaction, the Turkish government invaded the island and effectively seize control of the northern third of the island. In 1983, the Turkish Cypriots unilaterally declared the independence of the territories they controlled under the name of “Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus” (TRNC) which is only recognized by Turkey as an independent state.
In reaction, the UN peacekeepers’ role extended to “include supervising a de facto ceasefire, which came into effect on 16 August 1974, and maintaining a buffer zone between the lines of the Cyprus National Guard and of the Turkish and Turkish Cypriot forces.”
The EU as a potential game changer
In 1990, Cyprus applied for EU membership, which was finally granted in 2004. Cyprus joined although de facto divided. The “EU acquis – the body of common rights and obligations – applies only to the areas under the internationally recognized government, and is suspended in the area administered by Turkish Cypriots.” The strategy of the European Union was to allow Cyprus to join, hoping that it would unite the two communities around a common project, which would lead to the resolution of the situation. It was also expected that it would incentivise Turkey to withdraw from the island to secure its own membership in the EU. The results were, however, not as positive as anticipated.
Role of the UN
Peace talks between the two sides of the island were rare and unfruitful until 2014 when they officially resumed under the auspices of the UN. Many agreements have been put on the table, such as “the High-Level Agreements, an Interim Agreement, the Gobbi Initiative, the Proximity Talks, the Draft Framework Agreement, the First and Second Sets of Ideas, and finally the Annan Plan” but have always failed to lead to a solution as when one party was ready, the other was not. Resentment and the inability to acknowledge one another’s wounds and guilt are part of why the two sides have not been successful in finding a common accord.
Finding a solution
The division of the island did not happen in a nutshell. The Brits considered this option on the eve of decolonization but rejected it due to the risks associated with that solution. In order to secure the stability of the island, Cyprus’s constitution included the necessity for both ethnic groups to be represented at the political level, a clause which actually triggered the violent outbreaks in the 60s and 70s.
The inherent problem to finding a solution to the division of Cyprus is, however, not solely in the hands of the island. The 1960 Constitution actually designated Greece, Turkey and the UK as protecting powers of the newly-independent nation, a role which has given some legitimacy to Athens and Ankara’s interventions into the island’s affairs. In addition, the UN’s involvement in maintain the peace in Cyprus as well as the latter’s EU membership add the two international institutions as players to reckon with.
Although not the primary goal of the annual World Economic Forum in Davos, diplomatic talks often happen in margin of the gathering, as demonstrated by the ‘Reuniting Cyprus’ roundtable which took place there on January 21st. It was announced that the leaders of the two Cypriotes communities had been involved in negotiations since May 2015 in the hope of reuniting the island which is viewed by all parties as their common future. He also declared that:
These are decisive times, for Cyprus, for the wider region, for the EU and the international community. I can assure you that living in the midst of a region of turmoil, we are committed to continue working with resolve to heal what is an open wound at the heart of Europe, so as for Cyprus to be established as a reference point and symbol for co-existence of the whole region.
Many issues, however, remain on the table. Cooperation and reconstruction will take a long time to implement, and “a settlement would require billions of euros in international aid to help resolve property issues”. But above all, trust will be the hardest to rebuilt.
The next step is to agree on the details of the agreement and gain the support of their respective political leaders as well as that of the international community.
(Read the full address by Greek President Anastasiades here).