I. A Brief History of Cyprus
Despite its ideal geographic position as a crossroads between east and west and its continued economic growth, conflict between Turks and Greeks living in Cyprus dominates political and economic life in Cyprus today. In 1974 Turkey invaded northern Cyprus after a military coup on the island was backed by Greece. Presently, Turkish Cypriots live in the northern third of Cyprus, while Greek Cypriots live in the southern two-thirds of the country. Cyprus will join the European Union in the spring of 2004. The United Nations has unsuccessfully attempted on numerous occasions to broker a settlement between the Greeks and the Turks in Cyprus; at this point only the Greek Cypriot part of Cyprus will be joining the EU next year.
By 3750 BC Cyprus was thickly settled, making it one of the oldest civilizations in the Mediterranean region. Because of its central location in the Mediterranean many more powerful empires desired to control Cyprus, and it was ruled for periods of time by the Assyrians, the Egyptians, the Persians, the Greeks and the Romans. Cyprus was part of the Byzantine Empire for over 800 years (the control of Cyprus by Constantinople officially began in 364 AD). The English controlled the island for a brief period of time during the Crusades; the Franks and Venetia also controlled Cyprus before it was finally seized by the Ottoman Turks in 1571.
During the period of Ottoman control the power of the Orthodox Church in Cyprus remained strong; in addition some Muslims resided on the island. The Greek population dominated political affairs on Cyprus, although a sizable Turkish population lived on the island. Great Britain took over political control of Cyprus from the Ottoman Turks in 1878, and in 1925 it officially became a crown colony of Great Britain. During this period many of the Turks who had been living in Cyprus returned to Turkey.
The Move to Independence
In the period after World War II many of the former colonies of Great Britain achieved independence; in the late 1950s both official political leaders and several small revolutionary groups in Cyprus began calling for independence from Great Britain. A popular underground organization of Greek Cypriots called the National Organization of Cypriot Fighters called for both independence from Great Britain and close political ties with Greece. In 1960 Cyprus was finally granted independence by Great Britain; Archbishop Makarios, a popular figure to almost all Greek Cypriots, was elected as the first president of the newly-instituted republic.
During the first years of the republic the severe differences that still exist between Greek Cypriots and Turkish Cypriots became obvious. During the writing of the first Cypriot constitution in 1963 a number of passages were inserted to guarantee the rights and interests of Turkish Cypriots. Many Greek politicians noisily noted that passages were harmful to Greek Cypriot interests, and President Makarios attempted to eliminate a number of these "special protections"; these attempted revisions of the constitution by Makarios were firmly rejected by the Turkish Cypriots. As a result of the debate over the constitution and other perceived injustices Turkish Cypriots that were part of the government refused to continue to participate in governmental affairs.
Violence between Greek Cypriots and Turkish Cypriots began in late 1963 (many had previously lived in the same towns and villages). Turks began to move to exclusively Turkish villages, violence continued, and by mid-1964 United Nations peacekeepers began arriving in Cyprus.
Coup and Invasion by Turkey
In July, 1974 President Makarios was removed from office by a coup that was supported by the military in Greece. Makarios was perceived to be influenced by communism and unwilling to commit to continued close ties with Athens. As a result of this coup, Turkey invaded the northern part of Cyprus; their justification for this was that Turkish Cypriots were in "desperate need" of protection. In the next several months almost all Greek Cypriots moved to the southern part of the island, while virtually all Turkish Cypriots moved north to the Turkish-controlled territory. Since 1974 United Nations troops have patrolled the "Green Line" dividing the Turkish and Greek regions; tensions in this region are generally mild, although in 1996 rock-throwing and other violence led to the several deaths there. Until very recently, there generally has been no trade between the Greek and Turkish regions; a very small number of cultural and educational exchanges have taken place.
The Government of Cyprus
The constitution of 1960 established three branches of government and attempted to guarantee that both Turkish and Greek interests would be protected (the constitution stated that the president would be a Greek Cypriot, but that the vice-president would be a Turkish Cypriot). As stated above, after 1974 the divisions between the Turkish and Greek regions of Cyprus insured that there would be cooperation whatsoever in governing the island. The official and internationally recognized government of Cyprus is the government that controls that Greek part of the island; as would be expected, however, the control of this government does not extend into the territory controlled by Turkish Cypriots. In 1974 the Turks established their own governing bodies, and in 1983 Turkish Cypriots officially declared themselves as the "Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus". Predictably, the only country that officially recognizes the Turkish Cypriots as an independent state is Turkey.
Glafcos Clerides had been president of Cyprus since 1993, and had taken part in many United Nations-sponsored negotiations on the unification of the island. In the spring of 2003 (as the deadline for a UN-sponsored peace plan was approaching) Clerides was defeated by Tassos Papadopoulos. Papadopoulos was supported by a wide range of political opinion in Cyprus; many felt that Clerides had been willing to make too many concessions to Turkish Cypriots in order to achieve political union. Papadopoulos promised to protect the interests of Greek Cypriots in any negotiations with the Turks; a popular position taken by Papadopoulos was that he would work to see that Greeks who formerly lived in the Turkish parts of the island would be able to return there.
The president of the "Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus" is 79-year old Rauf Denktash. Denktash has taken part in virtually of the UN-sponsored negotiations for the unification of Cyprus. In the last several years public opinion polls have shown that Turkish Cypriots favor the islands reunification; demonstrations in support of unification have brought out tens of thousands of Turkish Cypriots. However, Denktash continues to oppose this effort, stating that the he is worried about the Turks losing territory and not having their rights guaranteed. Denktash has repeatedly attempted to get others in the international community to view his government as legitimate, an effort that has met with little success. Many Turkish Cypriots see economic disaster if the Greek Cypriots join the European Union and they do not.
Efforts Toward Reunification
The first United Nations-sponsored talks aimed at reunification began in 1968. Disagreements have dogged the negotiations on both small and larger issues from the beginning. Many Greek Cypriots desire a nation where Greek Cypriots and Turkish Cypriots are truly integrated; most Turkish political leaders favoring reunification perceive Greeks and Turks living side by side with limited contact between them.
President Clerides and Mr. Denktash took part in talks in early 2002 that were directly supervised by United Nations Secretary General Kofi Annan; on May 14, 2002 he went to Cyprus and held extensive meetings with each individually, followed by a joint dinner with both of them. A June deadline for settlement was agreed upon; this deadline passed without settlement. Further negotiations took place in October, 2002, again without result. In November, Annan presented a comprehensive plan for the reunification of Cyprus; the United Nations hoped that a settlement between the sides could take place before Cyprus formally accepted membership in the European Union. Ultimately, neither side agreed to Annans proposal, and on December 16 of last year Cyprus formally accepted an invitation to join the EU.
The Secretary General again visited Cyprus in early 2003, attempting to negotiate a settlement before Cyprus formally signed an agreement to join the EU in April. On March 10 Raul Denktash told Annan that he would not allow Turkish Cypriots to vote on the reunification plan proposed by the United Nations (the Greek Cypriots had tentatively agreed to a referendum). On April 16, 2003 Cyprus formally accepted membership in the European Union, leaving the Turkish Cypriots out in the cold.
Is there hope for the reunification of Cyprus in the future? Despite the failure of negotiations noted above, in late April of 2003 the Turkish Cypriots eased restrictions on crossing the "Green Line", with Turks crossing into Greek territory (and visa versa) for the first time in thirty years. Within one month nearly 40% of the islands population has crossed over for a visit to the "other side". As a result, calls for unification increased in both Greek Cypriot and Turkish Cypriot circles. Strong economic rationales exist for reunification: Greek Cypriots desire Turkish Cypriot laborers to help with the increasing labor shortage in the Greek territory, while Turkish Cypriots would love to sell fruits, vegetables, and other products to the Greek southern part of the island. As one Turkish Cypriot stated: "Turkey, Denktash, the UN: we wont listen to them any more. We shall reunite our island ourselves."
In September of 2003 other influences from the international community are pushing for the reunification of Cyprus. Kofi Annan again announced his support for continued negotiation in Cyprus, and expressed a willingness to again become personally involved. It was announced in Washington that Thomas Weston, the United States State Department Special Coordinator for Cyprus, will be visiting the island in October; US Secretary of State Colin Powell expressed hope that Weston could become involved in negotiations between the two sides. For the first time this year Turkish officials have stated their support for a settlement of the situation in Cyprus; government officials there feel efforts to help negotiate a settlement there might help their own efforts to join the European Union.
A major obstacle to reunification is still Rauf Denktash. Denktash states that Turkish Cypriots who have demonstrated for unification are "on the pay list of foreign powers", and that the vast majority of Turkish Cypriots support his policies. A real challenge to Denktashs power may come in December, when elections for the parliament of the Turkish Cypriot "republic" take place. Some observers feel that opposition parties have a good chance of dominating these elections. As a result, Denktash might be forced to resign; undoubtedly, he would be replaced by someone friendlier to plans for the reunification of Cyprus.