Cyprus at the Crossroads

By Richmond, Oliver | Contemporary Review, January 1998 | Go to article overview

Cyprus at the Crossroads


Richmond, Oliver, Contemporary Review


The Cyprus problem, and the situation in the Eastern Mediterranean, is today at a watershed. The status quo that has existed since 1974 has been broken in part by the tactics of the Greek Cypriot side which has recently pursued what might be described as a policy of brinkmanship, although others might see it as a calculated policy of escalation in order to bring the international community into more active involvement. The result has been that the Greek Cypriot acquisition of high-tech weaponry from Russia, Cyprus' prospective European Union accession, and the reactions of the Turkish Cypriot side and Turkey have fundamentally altered the status quo. Given the high levels of frustration on both sides with the current political situation, it is now likely that there will be a move towards closer integration between the opposing sides in Cyprus because of the international pressure for a solution, or, less likely, further violent conflict.

For the first time since the fighting of 1974, international interest in the wider environment of the Eastern Mediterranean may force an uncomfortable decision to accept a compromise upon the Greek Cypriot, Turkish Cypriot, Turkish and Greek sides. Indeed, given the internal instability that Turkey is currently suffering from, and the return of the hawk, Ecevit, to political prominence (Ecevit was Prime Minister in 1974 and ordered Turkish troops into Cyprus), it is significant that Greece and Turkey have recently signed a non-aggression pact much to the approval of the international community, although tensions between the two countries continue to rise.

The change in the environment that has occurred recently can be mainly attributed to the tactics of the Greek Cypriot side, at and away from, the negotiating table. Having been forced to accept a bicommunal, bizonal and federal scenario in the mid-1970s, after it had become a de facto reality in 1974, the Greek Cypriot side provided the Turkish Cypriot community with most of its international credibility and provided the Turkish Cypriot leader, Denktash, with much of his internal credibility by agreeing to negotiate under the auspices of the UN on these new terms. However, many Greek Cypriots feel that the UN framework does not reflect a just solution but believe that it is indicative of Turkish pressure on the international community rather than international principles, law, and norms. Thus, Greek Cypriot negotiating tactics have been balanced between the need to pander to international opinion, which supports the bicommunal, bizonal framework, and local opinion which tends to support a return to the pre-1974 positions on the part of the nationalists, or simply a continuation of the status quo. Furthermore, the Greek Cypriot side argues that federation should presage future reunification while the Turkish Cypriot leadership see it as legitimising the partition of Cyprus into two more or less separate states. Those who support the UN framework to the letter in both communities are few and far between.

The Turkish Cypriot community has exploited this division by arguing it needs more guarantees under the UN framework rather than less, because of the lack of Greek Cypriot commitment. Turkish Cypriot policy since 1974 has been balanced between a reluctance to return what was gained by the use of force in 1974, and to relinquish their dream of a confederation or separate state, (or on the part of the extreme nationalists, partition and assimilation into Turkey), and direction from Turkey to relieve her of untoward international pressure by negotiating with the Greek Cypriot side. The Turkish Cypriot leadership has also been of the opinion that the longer the post-1974 status quo can be sustained, the more chance they have of recognition as a state in their own right, and it was this that their 1983 unilateral declaration of independence was aimed at. Thus, until 1996, it can be seen that the protracted stalemate was viewed as advantageous to both sides in the absence of the satisfaction of their nationalist objectives. …

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