Settlement requires a paradigm shift in Cyprus: Op-ed

Settlement requires a paradigm shift in Cyprus: Op-ed

Çağatay Erciyes
Settlement requires a paradigm shift in Cyprus: Op-ed


The Cyprus issue is a unique international conflict in many aspects. It is a frozen conflict which has not been resolved for more than half a century and as such, it is one of the most long-lasting one on the agenda of the United Nations Security Council since 1964.
I attempt, not in an academic fashion but as a practitioner, to analyze the root causes of the Cyprus issue and to draw conclusions as to its settlement, in the light of the recent developments, especially the failed Cyprus Conference in 2017.

Brief History

Throughout history, Cyprus came under the rule of different civilizations such as Assyrians, Egyptians, Persians, Venetians, Romans, and Arabs. In 1571, the Ottoman Empire started to rule the island until the Russo-Turkish War in 1878. Cyprus then came under the control of the British Empire while the sovereignty of the island remained with the Ottoman Empire until the Brits annexed it unilaterally in 1914. Following World War I, the British rule was confirmed under the provisions of 1923 Lausanne Treaty as Turkey relinquished all claims and rights on the island. The British rule ended in 1960 when the ‘Republic of Cyprus’ was established based on three international treaties, namely the Treaties of Establishment, Guarantee and Alliance, concluded among five signatories: Great Britain, Turkey, Greece and the two co-founder peoples of the Island, Turkish and Greek Cypriots.

The new Republic, as reflected in its constitution was based on the political equality of the two peoples as co-founder partners. Sovereignty devolved through a joint exercise of self-determination by the Turkish and Greek Cypriots. Power and governance were shared between them.

Yet this power-sharing based on the principle of political equality did not survive long. Despite the clear provisions of the Constitution of the new Republic, the Greek Cypriot Side did not wait long to oppose the political equality of the Turkish Cypriots. They opposed to set up the army with the participation of the Turkish Cypriots and objected to the establishment of separate municipalities while the Turkish Cypriots insisted on the implementation of those constitutional provisions relating to job apportionment according to the ratio of 70:30 (70 % for Greek Cypriots and 30 % for Turkish Cypriots) and the establishment of separate Greek and Turkish municipalities and town councils. On 30 November 1963, President Makarios officially proposed amending the Constitution at the expense of the political equality of the Turkish Cypriots. When Turkey and the Turkish Cypriots rejected these amendments, the Turkish Cypriots were ousted by force from all organs of the new Republic by their Greek Cypriot partners in clear breach of the founding treaties and the Constitution. On 21 December 1963, the Greek Cypriots launched their plan, called Akritas, aimed at exterminating the Turkish Cypriots from the island and uniting with Greece. The UN Security Council, with Resolution No. 186, sent peacekeepers and the United Nations Forces in Cyprus (UNFICYP) was deployed on the Island in 1964.

Root Causes of the Cyprus Issue

Given this historical background and the repeated failures of settlement talks over the last 50 years, it may be clearly argued that the Greek Cypriots, having the numeric majority in terms of population on the Island have never genuinely accepted and embraced the idea that the Turkish Cypriots do have equal political rights in ruling the island. Thus, the most important root cause of the Cyprus issue can be identified as the Greek Cypriot Side’s persistent denial and non-recognition of the political equality of the Turkish Cypriots since the inception of the Republic of Cyprus.

The immediate Greek Cypriot attempts to amend the 1960 Constitution, their rejection of the 2004 Annan Peace Plan and the consistent Greek Cypriot position to deny political equality attest to this conclusion.

The Greek Cypriot Side tried from the first day of the new partnership Republic to tilt political balance and equality provided to Turkish Cypriots by the 1960 Constitution and the founding Treaties. In fact, the Greek Cypriot Side would have preferred a unitary state of their own or to unite with Greece, in which the Turkish Cypriots were given a minority status with no or limited power-sharing. This aspiration was not accomplished during the process, leading up to the independence of the Island due to the presence of Turkey and the UK but remained alive until today. It took only three years for the Greek Cypriot Side to oust the Turkish Cypriots from state organs by use of force and to hijack the title of the Republic of Cyprus.

As such, the partnership State was destroyed once and all. At the time, Turkish Cypriots were illegally removed from the state organs, forced to live in enclaves and the 1960 Constitution and Treaties were gravely violated, the international community and the United Nations Security Council turned a blind eye to this situation and acted as if the partnership state had fully functioned despite the absence of one of the co-founders. This anomaly constitutes yet another root cause of the Cyprus issue.

Although the 1960 partnership state was nullified in 1963 as one of the co-founders was ousted from governance, the Greek Cypriots usurped the title and all statehood benefits of “the Republic of Cyprus’’ in the absence of the Turkish Cypriots.

As such, one of the two long-sought-after aspirations of the Greek Cypriots, which was to create a unitary state on the Island came true in 1963 whereas the other one “enosis’’ namely unification with Greece was shelved at that moment. Since then, there has not been a Cypriot government, which legitimately represents the whole Island.

All settlement efforts and negotiations since 1968 have been conducted under this anomaly and inequality as one side enjoys the title and benefits of the “Republic of Cyprus” while the other side is isolated and deprived of its equal rights. The only limited equal treatment enjoyed so far by the Turkish Cypriots has been one of a ceremonial nature during the negotiations as the UN practice is to address the two sides as Turkish and Greek Cypriot communities and their presidents as Greek Cypriot and Turkish Cypriot leaders.

Need for a Paradigm Shift or Change of Mindset

Since the very beginning of the Cyprus talks in 1968, the settlement of the Cyprus issue has been a matter of the renewal of the partnership between Greek and Turkish Cypriots.

The Cyprus talks, conducted under the auspices of the UN Secretary-General, aim at establishing a bi-communal, bi-zonal federal partnership based on the political equality of the Turkish Cypriot and Greek Cypriot communities where there will be two equal Constituent States each administered by one community. United Cyprus is supposed to have a single international - legal personality, therefore, the participation of the Constituent States in international relations will be limited in a way excluding harm to the said personality. While the competences of the federal government will be specified, residual powers shall rest with the Constituent states. The above has been designated as the “UN basis” or the “basis of the Cyprus talks” for many years.

How realistic and feasible to expect a new, bi-zonal and bi-communal partnership federal state based on the political equality of both sides while one side has already achieved its unitary state goal and has been implementing it since 1963 under the usurped title of “Republic of Cyprus’’.

It is not logical and realistic to expect from the Greek Cypriots to share power and wealth with the Turkish Cypriots in the form of a new partnership state again. That is the real reason why all comprehensive settlement efforts have failed since 1968. During the course of every negotiation since 1968, the Greek Cypriots have indeed tried to patch the Turkish Cypriots as a minority to the current Republic of Cyprus while insistently turning a blind eye to the political equality.

The only exception was made at a time when the Greek Cypriots needed to join the European Union in 2004. The Greek Cypriots leadership had no choice but to accept the UN Secretary General’s (Kofi Annan) Plan in 2004 whose final draft was concluded through UN arbitration, which relatively envisaged a new partnership state, based on the political equality of the two sides. Yet the Greek Cypriot leadership was hoping behind the close doors that they would secure a negative vote at separate, simultaneous referenda held after the adoption of the Kofi Annan Plan in 2004. Consequently, the Greek Cypriots rejected the Annan Plan with an overwhelming majority while the Turkish Cypriots voted in favor . Yet the Greek Cypriots were admitted to the European Union the same year. The EU leadership formulated the equation not in a way to admit a unified island to the EU but a hijacked state in contravention of the 1960 Constitution and Treaties. The EU Commissioner for Enlargement stated after the referenda that “he feels deceived by the Greek Cypriot Government.’’ To second this sentiment, the Greek Cypriot Archbishop Chrisostomos said on 1 May 2011 ‘’the Greek Cypriots had “duped the Europeans” by promising that they would solve the Cyprus problem after their accession to the EU.

Regrettably, the last UN comprehensive settlement process conducted between 2008 and 2017 did not witness a change of mindset on part of the Greek Cypriots. After nine years of negotiations, the final session of the Conference on Cyprus, which was convened in Crans-Montana in 2017, ended without an outcome. This conclusion was inevitable given the fact that the two sides on the Island have very different expectations from a settlement. They were not actually negotiating the same thing. The Greek Cypriots wanted to evolve their state through a new constitution and to accommodate the Turkish Cypriots as a patch along the way. The Turkish Cypriots, on the other hand, wanted to establish a new partnership based on the political equality of the two sides.

This most recent failure to reach a settlement clearly showed once again that the Greek Cypriots are not willing to share power with the Turkish Cypriots. This mentality was also the reason indeed, why the 1960 Republic collapsed in only three years, and the Greek Cypriots overwhelmingly rejected the Annan Plan in 2004.

After all these decades, the Greek Cypriots still refuse to acknowledge the realities on the ground. The latest statements of the Greek Cypriot leader show that he is still far away from shifting this mentality. He continues to see himself as a head of a unitary state, who can grant rights to a minority. Mr. Anastasiades put forward his ideas around what he called a “loose federation”, and then he rephrased it as a “de-centralization”. However, he still fails to put flesh on his ideas. For instance, during his latest meeting with President Akıncı on 26 February 2019 and 9 August 2019, he could not elaborate on which federal rights would be transferred to the constituent states. He even seems to step back from the past agreements such as “rotating presidency” and “Turkish Cypriot side’s one positive vote” which are the key elements to secure the political equality and effective participation of the Turkish Cypriots in a new partnership.

Without a change in this mindset, negotiations will always be doomed to fail. That is why, immediately after the closing of the Conference on Cyprus, Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu emphasized that it no longer seemed possible to reach a settlement based on the established parameters. President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan also emphasized this point.

Federal solution has been negotiated since more than a half century without any result. Under the current circumstances, federal solution is only possible if the Greek Cypriot side genuinely changes its mindset in order to heed the calls and expectations of the Turkish Cypriots, namely acknowledgement and incorporation of their political equality. Yet this is not a realistic expectation as already explained above.

The real solution requires a paradigm shift and other settlement options beyond a federal one. UN Secretary-General Guterres has also acknowledged in his recent reports that new ideas are needed for the settlement of the Cyprus issue. In this respect, Turkey expressed its readiness to take up any new idea as long as the political equality of the Turkish Cypriots is secured and their security needs are met so that 1960-1974 period would not be repeated again. Turkey therefore advocates, together with the Turkish Cypriot side the need to find a solid common ground before launching another talks to move forward. This solid ground can only be found if the two sides agree on the parameters of the political equality in advance before launching a new round of negotiations. Political equality is the sine qua non of any partnership, either in the form of a federation or confederation. If this is not achievable, then the two sides should work on a cooperation model based on sovereign equality, namely a negotiated two state model.

Çağatay Erciyes is an Ambassador, Director General for Bilateral Political & Maritime-Aviation-Border Affairs at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Turkey.This article is taken from a forthcoming book entitled “Alternative Solution Models,” as the outcome of a conference held on 1-3 April 2019 in TRNC by the Near East University.


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