A Long Journey to Peace: The Dispute in the Republic of Cyprus

By Stavrinides, Zenon | Harvard International Review, Summer 2005 | Go to article overview

A Long Journey to Peace: The Dispute in the Republic of Cyprus


Stavrinides, Zenon, Harvard International Review


The Republic of Cyprus joined the European Union as a full member on May 1, 2004 in the midst of jubilation among the Greek Cypriot population. The event confirmed the place of the Republic in the European family of states and created great prospects for the political influence of Cyprus's Greek government. Many Greek Cypriots hoped that, at long last, the Republic could secure a permanent solution to the deep political division on the island.

This division largely stems from the traumatic conflict of 1974, when Turkey exploited the military coup in Cyprus and invaded in the name of reestablishing constitutional order. On November 15, 1983 the Turkish Cypriot leader Rauf Denktash declared with the connivance of the Ankara government the de facto Turkish Cypriot state in occupied north Cyprus to be the independent and sovereign "Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus." Greek Cypriots, seeking international support to expel the Turkish army, found only hollow declarations of solidarity and pious hope for resolution.

Platonic calls for negotiation of the Cyprus problem frustrate most Cypriots. In the Greek view, the essence of the problem stems from the Turkish invasion and persisting occupation. Despite the clear violation of international law, Greek Cypriots realized that no foreign power had the will to force mainland Turks from Cyprus. The Turkish invasion brought 35,000 Turkish troops to the island and over 120,000 mainland Turks have migrated to Cyprus as of 2004. The invasion bore witness to several human rights transgressions from both sides. The Greek Cypriots view these people as illegal aliens and call for their removal. And still, the Greeks look for a just solution from their standpoint.

Ultimately, the Greek Cypriot government believes division of the island should be abolished in favor of a unified state embracing both communities. Successive UN Secretaries--General offered their endorsement of good faith negotiations for unification. Denktash, however, had different aims: he argued that mutual recognition of two autonomous and sovereign states in Cyprus was necessary as a preliminary to the creation of a two-state confederation.

Greek Cypriot politicians and citizens are at times divided in their view of how far to deviate from the principles of a just settlement to the Cyprus problem. Even if every demand could not be met, many Greek Cypriot politicians, with the support of the majority of their fellow citizens, have decided not to back down, but to hold fast to their claims, if only to preserve the independent status and rights of the Cyprus Republic under international law.

These hardliner politicians were regarded by other Greek Cypriots, and indeed by foreign statesmen and UN diplomats, as unrealistic in the aspirations. A second group of politicians evolved that recognized that soon the de facto division of the island would be accepted by the world. In light of this, the Greek Cypriot side should make minimal sacrifices for the sake of settlement. Reconciliation has yet to occur.

In November 2002, a new government came to power in Turkey, formed by the Justice and Development Party. Its leadership, hoping to secure EU membership, stood ready to make concessions on the two-state confederal solution, which Denktash had championed for years. Days after installing the new government, UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan presented the first of five versions of a detailed settlement. The Annan Plan, prepared by a team of UN specialists, formed a basis for negotiations. The maximalist Greek Cypriot political parties claimed the Plan could not be accepted; they objected to the system of checks and balances that would empower the small Turkish Cypriot community. Turkish Cypriot groups in northern Cyprus organized demonstrations favoring a UN-sponsored solution. Denktash, who opposed the Plan, lost his majority on the matter.

The Cyprus-EU negotiations started in May 1998 and concluded successfully in 2002. …

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