Parallel worlds in Cyprus

Parallel worlds in Cyprus

When he triggered the current Cyprus problem in February 1962 by demanding the so-called 13-point amendment to the Cyprus Constitution, Archbishop Makarios was stressing something fundamental. He was stressing that those changes must be undertaken to ensure functional governance on the island.

What he was suggesting was to bring an end to the “effective federation” character of the Cyprus Republic by terminating the articles and applications giving Turkish Cypriots almost as much equal sovereign power as those enjoyed by the Greek Cypriots. The veto power of the Turkish Cypriot vice president; the separate Turkish Cypriot quorum requirement in the House of Representatives regarding certain aspects of legislation, including finance, foreign policy and defense matters; separate Turkish Cypriot mayors in mixed cities and towns and such, all had to be terminated in order to establish functional governance, according to Makarios.

What was the reason? Was Turkish Cypriot Vice President Dr. Fazıl Küçük vetoing everything and locking the wheels of the state? No… Küçük used his veto power only once in the 1960-63 period. Were Turkish Cypriots staying away from House of Representatives and locking the functioning of the legislature because of the separate quorum requirement? Not at all.

What was Makarios demanding then? He was against the “equality” obtained by Turkish Cypriots in the 1959 founding agreements and in the constitution as he tried to establish a full-fledged, unitary, Greek Cypriot-administered state, with Turkish Cypriots enjoying some degree of autonomy in education and municipal affairs. That was all. Indeed in 1973, Greek Cypriot negotiator Glafkos Clerides and Turkish Cypriot negotiator Rauf Denktaş reached such an accord that gave Turkish Cypriots limited local autonomy. That deal was vetoed by Makarios on the grounds that it did not terminate the Turkish military presence deployed as part of the trilateral guarantee system together with Greek forces. No separate British forces needed to be deployed, as Britain had two sovereign bases on the island.

All the 1963-1974 pogroms and genocidal attacks by Greek Cypriots on the Turkish Cypriot population aimed at annihilating the Turkish Cypriot people. Since then of course, many things have changed on and around Cyprus. The two peoples of the island, Turkey, Greece and the international community are not the same as they were in the 1960s and 1970s or even 1980s and 1990s.

Since the April 2015 election of Mustafa Akıncı as the Turkish Cypriot president and the May resumption of the latest round of Cyprus talks that have been proceeding at an accelerated pace, eminent European politicians, organizations, think tanks and academics have been noting the great economic benefits a resolution on the island would offer not only the two peoples but Turkey, Greece and other regional economies. There is of course nothing wrong in boosting motivation and helping the two leaders walk whatever extra mile is needed for a difficult, expensive and painful compromise deal.

According to those optimistic assessments, a deal on the island Cyprus would triple or quadruple the growth rate as revenues would soon outstrip whatever the cost of a resolution might be. Anything wrong in this? Definitely not.

One important possibility for a resolution was missed in 2004 when some officious British and German personalities came up with the bright idea of “with or without a settlement, Cyprus will be an EU member” obsession. If EU membership had been part of the deal, perhaps Greek Cypriots would have agreed to share power and sovereignty with Turkish Cypriots – that is the real and important aspect of the Cyprus problem – and the island would have become an EU member days after burying the age-old problem between its two people. That opportunity was missed.

What can be offered now to Greek Cypriots so that they can feel a Cyprus deal – which in effect must mean a formal burial of the age-old aspiration to make Cyprus a solely Greek land, if not part of Greece – is in their interest? Left out in the cold for so long, Turkish Cypriots might buy a deal with some bitter compromises for the sake of reintegrating with the world, but there is a bottom line for them as well. Akıncı might not want to see it, but the red lines of Turkish Cypriot people are very clear: Bi-zonality and bi-communality should not be diluted, Turkey’s effective guarantee should continue and the political equality of the two peoples of the island must be clearly demonstrated. The rotation of the presidency, for example, is a must.

These red lines of Turkish Cypriots and the key demands of Greek Cypriots contradict sharply. If Greek Cypriots who were living in northern areas are allowed to return and their former properties are reinstituted, how could anyone talk about bi-zonality or bi-communality? Scrapping the 1960 guarantee system is a key demand of Greek Cypriots because of the 1974 trauma, but maintaining it has been a key demand of Turkish Cypriots because of the 1963-1974 trauma they lived through.

Archbishop Chrisostomos pointed at these key differences last week at a commemoration for Akis Kleanthus, a former education minister. “I never ever believed there will be a settlement,” the archbishop declared.

Why? Because, he explained, the two sides demand two different settlement models.

Walking in opposite directions might result in coming together at one point, but parallel lines never, ever intersect.