No. 17: January-June 2017

Angelos Evangelou


Academic Foresights

How do you analyze the present situation in Cyprus?

Reflecting on Cyprus in historical-political terms is synonymous with reflecting on what has been referred to as the “Cyprus problem”. Doing this at this specific moment (January 2017) could not be any more timely. With the ongoing negotiation processes happening pretty much as I write, this endeavour becomes all the more compelling, necessary as well as challenging.

Despite the fact that the “Cyprus problem” is generally understood to have been triggered by the Turkish military invasion of 1974, it is, in reality, an older phenomenon beginning in 1963. A brief trajectory of the most important events that led to that year, however, is of the essence.

Cyprus concluded its extremely long history of being conquered and colonized in 1960, the year when the last colonial rule – the British Crown – comes to an end and when the Republic of Cyprus is established after the London-Zürich Agreements. Representatives from the two communities (Greek-Cypriot and Turkish-Cypriot) and the three guarantor powers (Greece, Turkey and the United Kingdom) participated in these Agreements. The constitution of the newly formed state of the Republic of Cyprus provided for a bicommunal federate state with a Greek-Cypriot President and a Turkish-Cypriot Vice-President, and in which the 30% of the political and administrative posts would be allocated to the Turkish-Cypriots who would also have the power of veto. The provisions of the London-Zürich Agreements caused tension and resentment within the circles of the Greek-Cypriot community which considered that the final outcome of the Agreements did not respond to their aspiration for union with Greece (“Enosis”).

The first President of Cyprus, Archbishop Makarios, sought to respond to this resentment by proposing a series of changes to the provisions of the London-Zürich Agreements to secure more control for the Greek-Cypriots. These constitutional changes proposed by President Makarios in 1963 were immediately received with distrust and resentment by the Turkish-Cypriots. Ethnically-motivated tension and hostility gave way to isolated yet intense episodes of violence toward the end of the same year and despite the fact that both sides were actively involved in this confrontation, the Turkish-Cypriot community suffered more losses.

After this socio-political and constitutional crisis of 1963, the Turkish-Cypriots abandoned the political and administrative positions which they held in the federal state and isolated themselves in small pockets throughout the island. This arrangement remained until 1974 when the fascist Greek coup against President Makarios (who, in their view, had given up the vision for “Enosis”) triggered the Turkish invasion which kept the island divided until then.

“The Conference on Cyprus” which has been taking place this month in Mont Pèlerin (Switzerland) is the last of a series of several attempts since 1974 to reverse these outcomes and to agree on a comprehensive settlement. In order to reflect on the prospect of the current negotiations and the future, it is important to provide a brief sketch of the key moments of these past attempts to solve the problem in the last 43 years.

  1. 1978 – The “ABC” framework for a Cyprus settlement proposed by America and supported by Britain and Canada. The Greek-Cypriot side refused to enter into the negotiations insisting, instead, that the provisions of the 1960 are reinstated.

  2. 1983 – The “Cuellar indicators” (proposed by then UN Secretary-General Javier Pérez de Cuéllar). The Greek-Cypriot side’s unwillingness to discuss this plan exhaustively, was used politically by the Turkish Cypriot President Rauf Denktash who then succeeded to – unilaterally – declare the occupied northern part of the island an “independent and sovereign state”: the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus.

  3. 1986 – The “Draft Framework Agreement” also proposed by the UN Secretary-General Pérez de Cuéllar was, this time, rejected by the Turkish-Cypriot side. 

  4. 1989 – “The Set of Ideas” also proposed by de Cuéllar were also rejected by the Turkish-Cypriot leader Rauf Denktash. 

  5. 1992 – The “Ghali Plan” (proposed by the then UN Secretary-General Boutros Boutros-Ghali). The plan was again rejected by Rauf Denktash.

  6. 2004 – The “Annan Plan” (proposed by the then  UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan). The acceptance of the plan this time depended upon acceptance in referendums by the people of the two communities. The plan was never to come to force as it was rejected by the Greek-Cypriot community (by 76%) after an intense anti-Annan Plan campaign led by the Greek-Cypriot President Tassos Papadopoulos and followed by most of the Greek-Cypriot parties and the Orthodox Church.

In your opinion, how will the situation likely evolve over the next five years?

Negotiations between the two communities regarding the – so far – unresolved “Cyprus problem” have now intensified. A number of national as well as international parameters seem to have a positive impact on the new solution attempts currently in progress and have raised hopes for a positive outcome. These parameters are:

  1. a) The presence of leaders in the two communities who supported the 2004 plan and generally express moderate positions on the “Cyprus problem”.

  2. b) The discovery of hydrocarbons (gas) in the south-west shores of Cyprus has attracted Turkey’s attention and interest in being part of the joined effort towards their extraction and subsequent financial exploitation. Turkey is aware of its key role and potential contribution to this financial venture. Gas pipelines which would carry the gas to Europe would need to pass through its territory.

  3. c) The current politically turbulent situation in the area (the problems in Syria; developments in Turkey; the threat of ISIS) makes a possible reunification of Cyprus more desirable than ever.

  4. d) The currently bruised ego of the European Union would benefit enormously from a reunified Cyprus which would then stand as a symbol of “success” to re-establish its (EU) role as a peace and conflict resolution mechanism.

At the same time, there are parameters which would deter excessive optimism and claims that this time the current circumstances mark an opportunity for a solution of a historical momentum, as was, perhaps, lost in the opportunity of 2004. The continuously increasing complexity of international relations makes the prospect of a solution seem weaker.

In 2004, Turkey’s prospective path toward admission to the European Union was much clearer and more promising than it is now with the majority of the EU leadership shifting from being sympathetic to Turkey’s potential entry to being more suspicious of such a prospect. The immigration crisis can be said to have brought a wave of anti-Turkey sentiments, enhanced and encouraged by the emergence of the nationalist and far-right voices. Already, countries such as Austria and the Netherlands have openly positioned themselves for the termination of Turkey’s accession to the European Union. The same position is expected by France irrespective of the outcome of the next elections.

Objections to a future solution of the “Cyprus problem” increase. These seem to be based on the belief that if – from the space of a potential post-solution federation – the Turkish-Cypriots acquire a voice in the Council of the European Union, there exists the danger that Turkey would coerce its way to impede the Council’s function. The carriers of these objections posit as an example one of Belgium’s federal states, Wallonia, which almost compromised the EU-Canada trade deal.

Another important factor is Turkey’s financial state. Since successfully completing the International Monetary Fund’s relief plan, the Turkish economy had been consistently rising allowing the country’s participation in the club of the powerful G20. Foreign investments were higher than ever, the Turkish lira stable and the loan interest rates low. Today, however, Turkey’s financial situation is rather dramatic.

The conclusion to a solution and most importantly its approval seems to remain difficult. The rejection of the Annan Plan in 2004 by the 76% of the Greek-Cypriots shows that the provisions of the London-Zürich Agreements as well as the provisions which are being discussed today are viewed as carrying a considerable amount of risk. There are a significant number of people from the Greek-Cypriot community (as there have been from the Turkish and the Turkish-Cypriot communities of course), who openly propose the status quo as a better arrangement than a solution based on the “Bizonal Bicommunal Federation” model that is currently under discussion. There are a large number of parties which officially reject this model for a solution which, until recently, was accepted by all.

The current negotiations also deal with conflicting issues which trigger, in the two communities, inflexible and uncompromising attitudes. One such issue is the guarantors (Turkey, Greece and the UK). The Turkish-Cypriots insist that the guarantees remain in place as part of any future agreement in order to feel safe, while the Greek-Cypriots – exactly for the same reasons regarding safety – ask that these be abolished.

Other significant issues which seem to cause the unwillingness of both sides to compromise is the question regarding the presence of the Turkish troops in the island after the solution and the “rotating presidency”.

This solidification of uncompromising attitudes is reflected through several studies which identify a trend showing that whichever the proposed plan, the two sides’ positions are too unbending for a pragmatic compromise on these and a number of other issues. This makes the chances of positive referendum outcomes slim.

Something that should be kept in mind is that the direction towards a resolution of the “Cyprus Problem” seems to be moving against a more general international tendency which points not to unifications but splits and ruptures (see the visions of independence in the cases of Catalonia and Scotland). It is in the context of this same tendency that we can understand Brexit, and calls for similar referendums in Austria and the Netherlands, or even Donald Trump’s intention to remove the USA from a number of international organizations. In this climate, it seems, perhaps, rather improbable for a country, which has constantly kept a conservative stance in relation to its national problem, to do something different.

At the same time, one cannot ignore how Turkey has been and remains an imponderable factor in any agreement. Turkey’s recent political behaviour may be viewed as inconsistent with its continuously explicit objective regarding its accession to the European Union. Two explicit examples are Erdogan’s compromise of the democratic procedures which has led to feelings of distrust within the circles of the European Union as well as an unreliability in conforming to previous agreements with the European Union regarding the immigration crisis.

Importantly, for his constitutional reform, Erdogan needed and relied on the support of the far-right segments of the country’s political body which have consistently held a hard line towards the “Cyprus problem”. It is, for this reason, difficult for someone to estimate the degree of influence these segments will have on Erdogan and for how long.

What are the structural long-term perspectives?

It is extremely difficult to estimate how the “Cyprus problem” may develop on a long-term basis. In the case that a solution is not found now, we may, gradually, be led toward some sort of recognition of the currently unrecognized Turkish-Cypriot part of the island. This development could create a political entity similar to the Taiwan model, but even this would, of course, depend on Turkey’s role and stance. The only certain thing is that as time passes the conditions of the solution of the “Cyprus problem” become more challenging and are further complicated by the constant socio-political shifts and changes that take place both on a national (within the two communities) as well as international level. Historically, it has become clear that despite the fact that a solution to the “Cyprus problem” is not an easy mission, at the same time the possibility of such a solution remains, for several reasons (e.g. geographical and geopolitical) open.


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Angelos Evangelou is Associate Lecturer in Comparative Literature at the University of Kent (UK). He has an interdisciplinary background in Continental Philosophy and English and Comparative Literature (BA, University of Cyprus; MA, University of Essex; PhD, University of Kent). His research interests include Continental Philosophy, philosophy in literature, madness studies in philosophy and literature, border studies and postcolonial literature (especially of the Middle East).

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