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  • Aryaman Srivastava

The Cyprus Problem - An Endless Abyss of Contention

Aryaman Srivastava is a first-year undergraduate student reading (BSc) Politics and
International Relations in the Department of Political Science at University College London

The Cyprus Problem has seen a perennial standoff between Turkish and Greek Cypriots inhabiting the island. The longstanding dispute has led to the division of the two communities and the subsequent creation of Northern Cyprus (Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus), which is primarily inhabited by Turkish Cypriots. The Southern region of the state, known as the Republic of Cyprus (RoC), is constituted of Greek Cypriots, who make up a majority of the state population. However, Northern Cyprus is not internationally recognized as legitimate by any state apart from Turkey.

These developments not only raise questions about the status quo in Cyprus but also necessitate the conceptualization of solutions to the dispute. Could the way out lie in the formulation of a shared, multi-communal party? The crisis also suggests that neither Turkish nor Greek Cypriots may be held accountable in isolation. Both entities have significantly contributed to the creation of conditions that have prevented the possibility of reaching a common ground. The role of their guarantor states — Turkey and Greece — respectively must not be overlooked. While a potential two-state solution has been proposed, there remains a lack of consensus over it. A compromise cannot be reached until the intersecting interests of both communities are effectively met.

‘Realizing they will never be a world power, the Cypriots have decided to settle for being a world nuisance’. As Hungarian satirist George Mikes has aptly if rather cynically outlined, one must wonder, do the Cypriots even desire a resolution? The negotiations between the two communities, their respective guarantor states, and international bodies such as the United Nations (UN) have been futile. It is unsurprising, then, that the crisis is viewed as “the graveyard of diplomats.”

The underlying cause of the crisis and existing modern-day divisions can be traced back to the role played by Greek Cypriots alongside their guarantor state in Greece. While Greek Cypriots have been held accountable for not treating their Turkish counterparts as equals (instead as a

minority) and attempting to unify with Greece, we must also consider the role of Turkey and Turkish Cypriots, for it would be inequitable to hold only one side accountable.

One may argue that the presence and interest of Turkey, as one of the guarantor states, continues to prevent the onset of a resolution. As Anna Koukkides-Procopiou, Minister of Justice and Public Order of the Republic of Cyprus, has noted, “Greece and Britain do not want to be guarantors anymore. It's a non-question for them that the system can and should be scrapped.” Accordingly, she has argued that Turkey’s persistence in maintaining a presence in Cyprus has threatened Greek Cypriots and pushed them away from reaching a compromise. This threat stems from the risk of Turkey invading the island as it did in 1974. The invasion in 1974 took place on the premise of protecting Turkish Cypriots and violated the ‘Treaty of Guarantee’ by bringing settlers from Turkey into the island. Subsequently, Turkey took up a large territory which it deemed a separate state altogether.

A map of Cyprus and its divided regions. Image courtesy of The Washington Post

The polarising nature of the solutions proposed is clearly an underlying cause preventing either community from reaching a consensus. In 1978, the United States, Canada, and the United Kingdom proposed what came to be known as the “ABC Plan,” which called for establishing a federal state within which each community could administer its territories. This plan was rejected by both groups yet has formed the fundamental basis of the multiple peace propositions that have followed thereafter. As recently as 2017, talks between Turkish and Greek Cypriots, their guarantor states, and the United Nations (UN) had been viewed as the best chance of ending the Cyprus Problem. Yet, once again, the talks were plagued by Turkey’s desire to retain troops on the island to maintain the security of Turkish Cypriots.

Furthermore, while the idea of a two-state solution, posited by Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, has been rejected by the international community and Greek Cypriots, the vision of a federal state has similarly been considered unacceptable by Turkey and Turkish Cypriots. Overall, the polarising nature of these solutions has only exacerbated the underlying qualms of all parties involved and restricted them from looking beyond their interests, at a broader picture of peace and unity.

The path forward for the Cyprus problem seems bleak given that negotiations remain at a standstill. Even so, one may inquire, is it time to consider the formulation of a party that represents the interests of all actors involved in the dispute? Perhaps, the formulation of a shared, multi-communal body representing both Turkish and Greek Cypriots?

While such a proposition may seem difficult to envision given the tension between Turkish and Greek Cypriot communities and the unwillingness to reach a compromise, it may offer a desirable path to unification. The basis of a multi-communal party would derive from contesting in elections as a representative of both sides. To ensure equality and resolve criticism of Turkish Cypriots being viewed as a minority, an alternating system of presidency may be installed with a set term time. Through this method, both Cypriot communities will have leaders representing their ethnic interests and that of the Cypriot community as one.

Furthermore, the purpose of a shared party must not only be to achieve co-existence and unification. It must emphasise and advocate the development of Cyprus without letting ethnicity interfere in the process. As such, the principle of secularism is crucial to imbibe, enabling the concept of shared power to come to fruition by furthering development, merging the two economies, improving security, responding to the needs of all citizens, and presenting a united front internationally.

It goes without saying that the attainment of such a compromise is inherently difficult given the status quo. However, if Cypriots and their respective governments choose to take matters into their own hands, free from the shackles of Turkish and Greek influence, they would be one step closer to arriving at a settlement of integration. A settlement that would be revolutionary not only for the future of Cyprus but also for the upcoming generation of Turkish and Greek Cypriots.


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