Almost forty years after the Turkish military invasion of the island, Cyprus still lives with geographical division, a blocked political situation, and deep-felt hatred between Greek Cypriots and Turkish Cypriots. A violent coup by Greek nationalists against Greek Cypriot President Makarios in July 1974 instigated a Turkish invasion of the island a few days later. In two military offensives, which Greek Cypriots were not able to counter, Turkish forces took over 37% of Cyprus. The country was separated along the Green Line between what became the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus (TRNC) and the Republic of Cyprus, as two separate states. The TRNC was not recognised by the international community, while the Republic of Cyprus became a member of the European Union (EU) in 2004. UN-led Peace Talks concluded in a referendum in 2004 over the Annan Plan that outlined a solution for the reunification of Cyprus. Turkish Cypriots approved it with 65%, but 76% of Greek Cypriot voters rejected it. The Cyprus issue has been stalled since.
The historical division between Greek Cypriots and Turkish Cypriots was reinforced during the British colonial rule over the island. When, between 1955 and 1959, EOKA – the National Organisation of Cypriot Fighters – fought an insurgency against the British presence with the intention of uniting Cyprus with Greece, the British recruited Turkish Cypriots for their counterinsurgency, in particular for the ‘dirty work’ it involved. This lead EOKA, and Greek Cypriots in general, to identify their enemy as the ‘Anglo-Turkish front’. It was during this period that the Turkish Cypriot armed organisation TMT emerged, with partition of the island as its goal. The last years of British colonial rule saw intense violence between the two communities, which was instigated by the work of provocateurs on both sides. The British granted independence to Cyprus in 1960, along with a consocioational constitution following complex power-sharing deals between the two communities, which were considered equal despite the demographics: there were 77% of Greek Cypriots and 18% of Turkish Cypriots on the island in 1960. This constitutional arrangement failed, and from 1963 onwards violence determined the relationship between the two communities as Turkish Cypriots retreated into isolated ‘Turkish enclaves’.
The 1974 coup in Cyprus was carried out by EOKA-B, a paramilitary organisation lead by far-right veterans from EOKA who worked with the Greek military contingents posted on the island, and considered President Makarios to be too moderate. The EOKA-B coup took place on 15 July 1974 with the support of the Greek government – led by a military junta since the coup in 1967 – and overthrew President Makarios’ government. On 20 July 1974, Turkey invaded Cyprus. Two days after, the military regime in Greece collapsed. EOKA-B’s take of power was short lived, and Clerides – Makarios’ lieutenant – took over less than a week after the coup. When a ceasefire was reached on 30 July 1974, Turkish units were still confined to a small area around the Northern port city of Kyrenia. However, on 14 August 1974, Turkey carried out a second military offensive, which Greek Cypriots were not able to counter due to their lack of aircraft and the relative weakness of their army compared to that of the Turks. In three days, Turkish forces took over 37% of the island’s territory. This lead to about 160,000 – 200,000 Greek Cypriot refugees in the Southern part of the island, as they fled from Northern areas that went under Turkish control. Cyprus has been divided along the ceasefire line since then, which is known as the Green Line.
In 2003, the borders between the TRNC and the Republic of Cyprus were opened, and people were able to cross the Green Line for the first time to see their abandoned villages and homes. A mere ten days after the opening of the Green Line, 170,000 Cypriots had crossed to their ‘other side’. One year later, on 24 April 2004, the Annan Plan was put to referendum. It proposed a new United Cyprus Republic, composed of two highly autonomous constituent states, federated by a limited government operating according to consociational norms - power-sharing and equality between the two communities. Since the rejection of the Annan Plan by Greek Cypriots, Peace Talks have been stalled, and the status-quo situation remains unchanged, with possibilities of reunification withering away.
Refugees and lost property
The question of refugees and lost property from 1974 is a contentious issue that complicates any settlement on the Cyprus question. At the time of the Turkish invasion, 82% of the population of Northern Cyprus was Greek Cypriot, almost all of whom fled to the South. Entire villages were deserted and property abandoned. The Annan Plan provided for the reappropriation - or compensation - of properties lost during the Turkish invasion of 1974.
Greek Cypriots are concerned by Turkey’s apparent intentions to gain demographic weight in Cyprus by sending Turkish people to populate the Northern part of the island. Such a demographic shift would have significant consequences in the levy weight of each of the two communities, and on the overall cultural climate of the island. The Annan Plan also provided for a limitation of Turkish (or Greek) nationals residing in Cyprus.
The TRNC has been politically and economically isolated since its creation. It was never recognised by any other country but Turkey, which maintains it as a satellite state. The Republic of Cyprus is the only ‘official’ state in Cyprus, it is internationally recognised and is an EU-member state since 2004. In the past 40 years, The Republic of Cyprus has been growing at a dynamic pace, and it has all the attributes of any other developed country. However, the TRNC is far behind it in terms of economic development. There is very little investment by Turkey in TRNC, and the embargo from the Republic of Cyprus keeps it isolated with regards to trade. Its diplomatic isolation also hinders its capacity to develop linkages with other countries and expand its tourism, as one can only fly there from Turkey. The unofficial nature of this state makes it a terrain for criminality and clandestine activities, and its main attraction for foreigners are its casinos. Greek Cypriots are worries about economic and security-related downsides when considering the possibility of reuniting the two parts of the island, as it would indeed require considerable efforts and investments for the North to catch up with the South.
Although a very localised conflict when understood as an insular intercommunal fight, the Cypriot situation is highly influenced by its international context. First, it must be understood as forming part of a wider eastern-Mediterranean competition between Greece and Turkey, with long-dating historical roots.
Also, the question of EU-membership has become an issue of contention, as the Republic of Cyprus blocks Turkey’s accession to the regional union. In rejecting the Annan Plan, Greek Cypriots reinforced the TRNC’s diplomatic isolation as this enabled only the Southern part of Cyprus to join the Union. As the Annan Plan supported Turkey’s accession to the EU, the Greek Cypriot rejection can also be understood as a strategic mood to keep Turkey and Turkish Cypriots out of the reach of EU-membership advantages.
Greece is an important actor in the Cyprus conflict because it is the object of disagreement between Turkish Cypriots and Greek nationalistic Greek Cypriots who believe in ‘enosis’, meaning reunification with Greece. Enosis was the ultimate goal of EOKA’s insurgency against the British in the 1950s, and it remains the idea of what Cyprus’ situation should be in certain conservative circles nowadays.
Greece also was part of the coup which toppled Makarios’ government and led to the Turkish invasion. The Greek military on the ground in Cyprus conducted the attack on the Presidential palace together with EOKA-B, with the support of the junta in power in Greece at that time.
Nevertheless, Greece was absent during the Turkish invasion of Cyprus, in particular the second and most impactful one. Greek Cypriot forces could not stand against the Turkish army and expected support from the Greek army. Greek military support, however, never reached Cyprus, which is the reason why the debacle came so quick in 1974.
Turkey and Greece played counterpart roles. Turkey’s invasion was justified as a response to the coup led by Greek Cypriot nationalists and the Greek military on the Cypriot government, in order to protect Turkish Cypriot people from enosis. Since the invasion, Turkey is very much implanted in the territory of Northern Cyprus, as the TRNC is fully financed by Turkey and fully dependent on it.
Turkish army contingents are stationed in TRNC, which Greek Cypriots see as a permanent threat to their national security. The Annan Plan foresaw the full withdrawal of the Turkish military presence in a progressive way during a period of time of up to 14 years. This was one of the aspects of the Plan that worried Greek Cypriots the most. Indeed, the demilitarisation of Cyprus would imply the abolition of Greek Cypriot forces, and reduced numbers of Turkish and Greek forces would be allowed on the island in a progressive way to full demilitarisation. Greek Cypriots felt they would be vulnerable without their national army in a territory where Turkish troops could remain. Today, at least 35 000 Turkish troops are stationed in the TRNC.
The Greek Cypriot president at the time the Annan Plan was presented was Tassos Papadopoulos, from the centrist party DIKO. His government was a coalition with left-wing party AKEL. The Turkish Cypriot counterpart in the last phase of the Annan Plan negotiation was a trio formed by Rauf Denktash, a hard-line Turkish Cypriot leader, his son Serdar Denktash and Mehmet Ali Talat, a more moderate politician. The Greek Cypriot government did not support the Annan Plan, while the Turkish Cypriot government’s stance was ambiguous: Rauf Denktash opposed it, Serdar Denktash was ambivalent, and Mehmet Ali Talat endorsed it.
Currently, the Republic of Cyprus is presided by Dimitris Christofias from the AKEL party. His Turkish Cypriot counterpart is Dervis Eroglu from the National Unity Party. There were high expectation for the renewal of peace negotiations with the election of Christofias, but talks have been stalled again in early 2012.
The United Nations (UN)
The UN established a peacekeeping force, UNFICYP in 1964, when the situation in Cyprus reached civil war conditions. After the invasion of 1974, UNFICYP established a Buffer Zone – a demilitarised zone patrolled by its forces - between the two separate Cypriot territories, along the Green Line. The total strength of UNFICYP today is 926 individuals, of which 858 are military personnel.
The UN played an important role in the peace negotiations and the formulation of the Annan Plan up to its rejection. It is still endeavouring to bring the leaders of the two divided parts of Cyprus to a compromise, but talks are stalled.
Violence in Cyprus has been contained since the island was separated by the Green Line after the Turkish invasion of 1974. However, the fact that the situation remains unsolved, that the Turkish army is still present in the TRNC and that Greek Cypriots keep on training all their men during a two-years-long compulsory military service in response to the risk of a Turkish attack, not to mention the remaining trauma and hatred on both communities, leaves the possibility for violence to erupt if the status quo is broken.
The peak of inter-communal violence in the Cyprus conflict took place before and during the Turkish invasion. The late 1950s witnessed intense violence between Greek Cypriots and Turkish Cypriots and from the early 1960s until 1974 there was continuous violence and increasing tension due to the Turkish enclaves situation. Violent conflict ended in an apogee form with the military confrontation of 1974 when Turkey invaded Cyprus. In 1996 tensions renewed at the Derineia point of the UN buffer zone where two Greek Cypriots demonstrating against the division of Cyprus were killed.
The current situation in Cyprus is not violent as such, but has potential for violent escalation. Indeed, the status quo is keeping quiet the vivid frustration, strong hostility, feelings of revenge and distrust on both sides. It is this underlying anti-other sentiment that hinders attempts to settle the issue politically and non-violently.
A movement for change, driven by the two communities, saw the light in the 1990s. It was strongly supported by Western countries, which provided generous funds. Nevertheless, the movement did not reach a wide scope of the population and remained limited to a relatively small proportion of Cypriots.
There are several initiatives for the coming together of the two communities, but their impact remains quite limited. Prospects for a non-violent resolution of the conflictive situation in Cyprus surely relies greatly on civil society. As long as phrases like “a good Turk is a dead Turk” will be proclaimed with vivid conviction by young Cypriots, it is unlikely to expect the young generation to be more inclined to soften its position on the intercommunal dispute.
The harshness with which each community views the other is often due to the lack of contact between the two communities, which enables the demonising of the unknown ‘enemy’. State institutions reinforce this inter-communal hatred with historical propaganda in national museums and schools, intense and influential training in the army and the promotion of a sense of communal and familial loyalty that translates into feelings of revenge.
The opening of the Green Line in 2003 certainly changed the situation, as people were able to go to the other community’s territory for the first time since the traumatic events of 1974. Many Greek Cypriots were surprised by the kind greetings they received from Turkish Cypriots, who were returning pictures and personal belongings that Greek Cypriot inhabitants of these Northern villages had abandoned in the rush of their flight.
The prospects for non-violent transformation of the situation lie in reinforcing the meaning of such inter-communal encounters, and promoting more of them. Official positions on the situation must be softened so that children and youths from both communities can grow up in a neutral environment that does not teach them to hate each other, and can enable them to rebuild inter-communal trust, tolerance and peace for the island they share.