Part 1 – A Beginners Guide
Greetings to the Saker community and readers.
In the past few months there has been a flurry of international activity in an effort to resolve the Cyprus problem. While to most people the problem is either unknown or a passing note, it does pose a bit of a headache for the southern flank of NATO as it is a constant point of friction between Greece and Turkey.
With this article I will try to present the problem in brief and establish historical context; a second article will follow analyzing the latest developments in the area.
First, let us consider early Cyprus history in a brief. Throughout the ages, Cyprus was conquered / administered one way or another by every single major power of the time.
Greeks came to Cyprus around the 13th century BC, followed by the Phoenicians around the 9th century BC. Then Cyprus became part of the Roman Empire (30 BC), followed by the Byzantines (330 AD). After a relatively long period King Richard the Lionheart of England ruled for a year (1191 – 1192) followed by the Lusignans (Franks) until 1489 and the Venetians until 1571.
The Ottomans came in 1571 and until 1878 ruled over the island. The Ottoman Empire, having been weakened by that time agreed as part of the Treaty of Berlin in 1878 to hand over the administration of Cyprus to the British Empire in exchange for protection against Russia. The British annexed Cyprus in 1914 after the Ottomans joined WW I on the side of Germany, formally acquired Cyprus as part of the Treaty of Lausanne in 1923 and declared the island a Crown Colony in 1925.
After an unsuccessful uprising in 1931 with the aim of unification with Greece, the British promised Cypriots that they will consent to unification with Greece should the Cypriots volunteer to fight for them during WW II; that promise was duly broken once the war ended. To give an idea of the hatred for the British, at the early stages of WW II Cypriots working for the British were engaging in active sabotage as the Germans looked to their eyes as fighting the oppressors (the British). All that changed once the Axis powers invaded Greece.
After WW II the British seeing the tendency of Crown colonies to break from the Empire begun to take measures to hold on to Cyprus as it was deemed too strategic; an example being the relocation of the Middle East Land Forces HQ to the island. The pivoting point came in 1955 when, despite the fact that colonialism was collapsing all around the world in Cyprus Georgios Grivas (a Cypriot born Colonel of the Greek Army) formed a guerrilla organisation (EOKA) with the aim to unify Cyprus with Greece. According to a character profile by MI5’s head in Cyprus, Grivas was a “ferocious anticommunist” (Original archives here and here). Indeed, in a manifesto of EMAK (the organisation preceding EOKA) discovered on a boat loaded with weapons by the British which prohibited Cypriot communists from joining the struggle against the British (http://euacademic.org/UploadArticle/872.pdf page 17)
“EMAK demands from them and their party not only to be opposed to EMAK but also not to get involved in the armed conflict, just like the population will. We will not accept communists at EMAK, mainly for purposes of feasibility and if the communists are really interested in the Enosis, they will not desire to get involved in the battle for liberation… The best patriotic action they can do is not to participate and one day this action will be recognized as wise and patriotic.”
According to records, EOKA in its 4 years of action is accountable for the deaths of 371 British servicemen, 14 Greek-Cypriot policemen, 198 Greek-Cypriot citizens (full list of Greek-Cypriot names, dates and conditions of death here – in Greek). Note to readers – I am unable to find accurate numbers for Turkish-Cypriot victims – if one has such sources I would be very grateful if a link is provided.
Up until then Cypriots lived in mixed villages; they were predominantly either Greek or Turkish but mixed none the less. In 1958, the first major inter-communal riots erupted. The starting point was the predominantly Turkish-Cypriot town of Lefka and the cause appeared to be rumours that EOKA murdered two Turkish- Cypriots. It took some time for the British to restore order; however these events lead to the first round of physical segregation between Greek-Cypriots and Turkish-Cypriots and to the creation of TMT, the Turkish-Cypriot equivalent of EOKA.
EOKA also made another strategic error by effectively giving an ultimatum to Greek-Cypriot policemen to either resign from their posts or be treated as traitors and summarily executed. The British took advantage of this to replace Greek-Cypriot policemen with Turkish-Cypriots, thus further seeding discord among the populace along racial lines.
At the end of the conflict, the Republic of Cyprus was established; a total of four documents were signed that are valid to this day and constitute the foundation of Cyprus as an independent state. The signatories for all documents are The United Kingdom, Greece, Turkey and The Republic of Cyprus. This is an important detail as to this date any agreement to change the current status of Cyprus must have the approval of all original signatories. These documents are:
Treaty of Establishment: This is the foundation of the Republic of Cyprus. From the very first Article the sovereignty of the British military bases still present in Cyprus is established.
Treaty of Guarantee: While a two page document, this treaty is the basis which Turkey used in 1964 skirmishes and 1974 during its invasion of Cyprus. Effectively, this treaty states that The UK, Greece and Turkey guarantee the independence and territorial integrity of Cyprus, that Cyprus cannot be partitioned nor be part of any political or economic union with any other State. Finally, this treaty allows for any of the guarantors to unilaterally take action when this Treaty is breached.
Treaty of Alliance: The least known of the four documents, it states that Cyprus, Greece and Turkey are to be allied for the defence of Cyprus and that a Tripartite HQ will be established in Cyprus commanded by a Cypriot, Greek and Turkish general on a one year rotation basis. Most importantly, it grants the right for Greece and Turkey to staff the Tripartite HQ with a contingent numbering 950 personnel for Greece and 650 personnel for Turkey.
Constitution of The Republic of Cyprus: The basis of Cyprus laws, it sets the foundation for the separation of power between Greek-Cypriots and Turkish-Cypriots. It grants the right of veto on government decisions to both the Greek-Cypriot president and the Turkish-Cypriot vice-president. Importantly Article 130 states:
“The security forces of the Republic shall be composed as to seventy per centum of Greeks and as to thirty per centum of Turks:
Provided that for an initial period and in order not to discharge those Turks serving in the police on the 11th February, 1959, except those serving in the auxiliary police, the percentage of Turks may be kept up to a maximum of forty per centum and consequently that of the Greeks may be reduced to sixty per centum.”
Note that at the time the population of Cyprus was about 80% Greek-Cypriots, 18% Turkish-Cypriots and 2% other nationalities.
In 1963 the first president of Cyprus, Archbishop Makarios III citing “constitutional deadlocks” put forward a document with 13 points suggesting constitutional amendments:
- The right of veto of the President and the Vice-President of the Republic to be abolished.
- The Vice-President of the Republic to deputise for or replace the President of the Republic in case of his temporary absence or incapacity to perform his duties. In consequence, therefore, all the constitutional provisions in respect of joint action by the President and the Vice-President of the Republic to be modified accordingly.
- The Greek President of the House of Representatives and its Turkish Vice-President to be elected by the House as a whole and not as at present the President by the Greek Members of the House and the Vice-President by the Turkish Members of the House.
- The Vice-President of the House of Representatives to deputise for or replace the President of the House in case of his temporary absence or incapacity to perform his duties.
- The constitutional provisions regarding separate majority for enactment of Laws by the House of Representatives to be abolished.
- The constitutional provision regarding the establishment of separate Municipalities in the five main towns to be abolished. Provision should be made so that: (a) The Municipal Council in each of the aforesaid five towns shall consist of Greek and Turkish Councillors in proportion to the number of the Greek and Turkish inhabitants of such town by whom they shall be elected respectively. (b) In the Budget of each of such aforesaid towns, after deducting any expenditure required for common services, a percentage of the balance proportionate to the number of the Turkish inhabitants of such town shall be earmarked and disposed of in accordance with the wishes of the Turkish Councillors.
- The constitutional provision regarding Courts consisting of Greek Judges to try Greeks and of Turkish Judges to try Turks and of mixed Courts consisting of Greek and Turkish Judges to try cases where the litigants are Greeks and Turks to be abolished.
- The division of the Security Forces into Police and Gendarmerie to be abolished, (Provision to be made in case the Head of the Police is a Greek the Deputy Head to be a Turk and vice versa).
- The numerical strength of the Security Forces and of the Army to be determined by Law and not by agreement between the President and the Vice-President of the Republic.
- The proportion of the participation of Greek and Turkish Cypriots in the composition of the Public Service and of the Forces of the Republic, i.e. the Police and the Army, to be modified in proportion to the ratio of the population of Greek and Turkish Cypriots.
- The number of the members of the Public Service Commission to be reduced from ten to either five or seven.
- All the decisions of the Public Service Commission to be taken by simple majority. If there is an allegation of discrimination on the unanimous request either of the Greek or of the Turkish members of the Commission, its Chairman to be bound to refer the matter to the Supreme Constitutional Court.
- The Greek Communal Chamber to be abolished.
These amendments were duly rejected by the Turkish-Cypriots. Further inter-communal violence erupted just before Christmas in 1963 forcing an even deeper physical segregation between Greek-Cypriots and Turkish-Cypriots. In 1964 and as clashes continued between militias from both sides and the newly founded Cyprus National Guard the UN passed resolution 186 (1964) which established the UN peace keeping force in Cyprus (UNFICYP) which remains active to this date. Community segregation was so bad that many roads had roadblocks and the only way to travel between the capital Nicosia and the northern sea city of Kyrenia was by being part of regular UNFICYP-organised and escorted convoys.
In 1967 and as clashes once against climaxed, Turkey made its first use of the Treaty of Guarantees to launch an air campaign against Cyprus. This forced Greece to recall Georgios Grivas (then acting commander of Cyprus NG) in an attempt to defuse tension. Grivas returned in 1971 forming EOKA B in an attempt to unite Cyprus with Greece by force. The coup of 1974 against Makarios provided the final pretext for Turkey which invaded Cyprus and to this date occupies the north of the island.
This is the end of Part 1. In Part 2, I will provide more information on what is the basis being discussed for a solution and what are the key points of contention between the two sides.
Part 2 – Trying for a solution
Since 1974 the UN has been trying in vain to solve the Cyprus problem.
In 1977, the basis for the talks between the two communities was set: the new Cyprus will be a bi-zonal, bi-communal federation consisting of two states – Turkish-controlled north and Greek-controlled South – with a single international representation. Let’s call this United States of Cyprus. Since then, the discussions focus on the following key points:
Property: After the war in 1974, tens of thousands on both sides were displaced from their homes and land. Should all of them be allowed to return? If not, how and who will compensate those who will be left behind? What happens to the properties which were used for public infrastructure? Unfortunately the Cyprus government in 1974 in its efforts to recover from the war made some crucial mistakes which add to the complexity of the problem:
- It recognised as refugees only those people whose father had a house in the occupied part of Cyprus (the people whose mother had a house were recognised as refugees a few years ago). As an example of the paradox this created, consider this scenario: There was one 20 year old builder born in Kyrenia working at Paphos. You also have another 20 year old builder born at Paphos and working in Kyrenia. The second builder liked Kyrenia much so he bought land to settle there, but did not build a house yet. The war comes, Kyrenia is occupied. The first builder is considered a refugee and gets government help, the second is an unlucky person who gets nothing.
- The status of refugee is hereditary to this day and government funds are still allocated to the “relief of refugees”. Since the war happened 43 years ago, we are now in the fourth generation of refugees, the majority of which were born after the war. A colleague of mine offered me her experience on the subject: Her grandparents owned a plot with a house which they lost in the war. They also had 5 children. After the war, the government provided them with a hastily build house to live in. Once their children became adults, they each received about 75,000 euros as government help because they could not mortgage their occupied property (for every one the whole of the property was used in the calculation, not the 20% they would inherit from their parents). Then each had 2-3 children which they also got government help when they were building their houses, using the same calculation method. While the government of Cyprus did limit the amount of help and has introduced financial criteria, until today the grants for refugees are considerable if one takes into account the financial state of the country (details here, in Greek).
- Gross misuse of Turkish Cypriot properties. After the war the Cyprus Government formed a body to manage all the property left behind by Turkish Cypriots. At first, the land was used to either build infrastructure (schools, hospitals etc.) and government settlements to house the Greek Cypriot refugees. As the years passed though, the people living in the government settlements got title deeds for their apartments. Worse, the managing body started renting out the land for commercial purposes (especially high-valued land in tourist areas). Coupled with the hereditary nature of the refugee status, there are cases today where the children of the children of the refugees rent plots for a couple of hundred euros per month which in turn they sublet for over 5,000 euros per month.
A characteristic case highlighting the complexity of the property issue is the case of Dr. Mike Tymvios. Dr Tymvios filed a lawsuit against Turkey in the ECHR on the grounds of inability to use his property due to the occupation. His property in question is an area of 8,640,000 square feet in which part of the Tymbou airport has been build and the value was estimated at 60 million euros. He won the case in 2003. In the meantime, Turkey established a committee in the occupied Cyprus to facilitate property exchanges as a way to resolve the property issue. In its decision, ECHR requested the use of this committee on a trial basis. Turkey was quick to act and offered Dr Tymvios an exchange of property; his property in the North with the property of a state organisation in the South, valued at the time at 30 million euros, which Dr Tymvios accepted. A key point is that both parties in this deal were the legal owners of their respective properties; the title deeds issued by the land registry of the Republic of Cyprus. However when Dr Tymvios approached the Cyprus government asking how to proceed with the land transfer (parts of the land were used for building schools), he was practically accused as a traitor and told he should have waited for a solution to the Cyprus problem. Dr Tymvios in one of his interviews in 2009 (here – in Greek) claimed that he did not want to evict anyone nor demolish the schools, however the government refused to answer his letters on the issue. In the end, after threatening the Cyprus government with a lawsuit in ECHR, in 2012 the council of ministers agreed to buy the land from Dr. Tymvios for 13 million euros, a decision which raised a small political storm.
Security: While Greece and the UK have no objection in abolishing the Treaty of Guarantees and the Treaty of Alliance, Turkey insists on keeping its right to militarily intervene when they deem it necessary (Responsibility to Protect, 1960s style). This is a red line for the Greek side; Russia and France also made clear statements that having third parties guaranteeing the security of an independent state is ridiculous in the 21st century. Still, the fear exists in both communities. There are voices saying that perhaps EU can guarantee the safety of the new Cyprus; how this can be accomplished though since EU does not have an army is a mystery. What is being proposed is upon agreement for a solution a big percentage of Turkish troops (50%+) be repatriated to Turkey and the rest to gradually leave within 5 years. Recent visits by Victoria Nuland probably have something to do with this issue. While guarantees by NATO will not be easily accepted, both for ideological reasons plus the oxymoron of removing Turkey as a guarantor and bringing it back as a NATO member, a formula can be found for “neutral” NATO members like Germany to help with the security. Basically, the US is trying to avoid Russia establishing yet another base in the Mediterranean.
Power Sharing: The provisions inside the Constitution of 1960 made it unworkable. To this effect the Greek side wants to remove the veto powers from the constitution; however the Turkish side wants to have rotational presidency in return. The Greek side has for the most part accepted the rotational presidency and discussions are under way to build a framework for this.
Settlers: Since 1974 Turkey has encouraged a great number of people to immigrate from its eastern provinces to Cyprus altering the demographics to such extend that it is estimated that settlers and their descendants make up 45% of the population of the north part of Cyprus. These people were given homes and land that belonged to displaced Greek Cypriots. What will happen to those people should a solution to the problem becomes a reality? Should a person born from settler parents in 2000 be forced to move to another country? While a possible peace plan will allow for a number of settlers to remain (number are estimated between 40,000 and 50,000), it will still require massive population movement to Turkey (over 100,000 people). This is hard to stomach for the Turkish government, as it will portray Erdogan to be weak.
Territory: What percentage of Cyprus should each state control? At the moment, Turkey controls roughly 36% of Cyprus territory; how much shall be returned to the Greek state to make the deal work? Currently on the table is the transfer of about 7% under Greek state control. The issue here is that the Turkish side is reluctant to return a major town.
Finally, one has to consider the geopolitics involving the three signatories to the original agreements (Greece, UK and Turkey).
Greece is the weakest party of the three. Under the IMF boot and facing an endless influx of migrants, Greece would like nothing more than to settle this issue and remove a permanent problem. This being said, Greece is not set to selling out Cyprus; it is assisting diplomatically the best they can although the options are limited.
For the UK, as long as its military bases are left alone it will agree to any plan. This also presents an opportunity for British diplomacy to show that is still relevant and can play in the big league after Brexit. It will be a big plus for the current British government to be able to claim they helped solve this issue. The UK though in its efforts to build business relationships after Brexit is not very choosing with whom it makes deals; recently Theresa May travelled to Turkey and signed a 100 million pounds deal for BAE to assist Turkey in developing an indigenous stealth fighter jet, while the EU is blocking companies from providing engines for the Atlay tank. It is reasonable to conclude that the UK will not be applying much pressure to Turkey for concessions in the upcoming negotiations.
Turkey is the most complicated and unpredictable of the three. It has always seen North Cyprus as some sort of province and has a habit of issuing orders to the local “government”. For example this year they were forced to keep their time zone the same as Turkey’s resulting in Nicosia being perhaps the only city globally having two time zones on the same street. Erdogan does not want to appear weak for any reason; the recent bleeding Turkish army received in Al Bab in Syria resulting in joint operations with the Russian air force to help the Turkish army needs to be eclipsed by a success somewhere else. This also poses a dilemma for Russia; while traditionally were very supportive of Cyprus, joint military operations and shedding of blood with a country tend to realign diplomatic priorities. Erdogan also tries to use a united Cyprus as a backdoor for Turkish citizens to be allowed free movement in the EU (taking into advantage the confirmation by the EU that Cyprus will still be a member after any form of resolution), something the EU is vehemently against. It is telling that in the latest round of negotiations at Mont Pelerin the EU was represented as an observer by its ambassador to Geneva plus the special envoy of Commission President Pete van Nuffel; their instructions were to assist the Turkish Cypriot side with preparing for EU regulations, plus intervene if deemed necessary.
While not as close to a solution as in 2004 with the plan proposed by Kofi Annan (full text here – interesting read if one is interested in seeing a UN peace plan), there are good prospects for a solutions this time. What I see on the Greek side though does not leave me with much optimism. Apart from the main two political parties, I would dare say that everyone else knows they will become politically extinct once the Cyprus issue is resolved. The Church also wants to revive its role as the nation’s leader above the government (role bestowed to it by the Ottoman Empire along with the role of the tax collector). It is telling that in a recent public appearance, the current Archbishop told the Cyprus President that “the next President of Cyprus will be the one chosen by me”. Unfortunately the Church in Cyprus is in favour of an ethnically and religiously clean Cyprus, meaning only Greek Orthodox Christians to stay.
I still recall the events preceding the 2004 referendum for the proposed solution. The fact that the published plan was 192 pages long and written in advanced legal language enabled various parties to interpret it at will and push that interpretation to the people. There were politicians going on public record with the words “whoever voted yes is a traitor and should be hanged in the main square” – after 24% of the Greek side population voted yes (something similar to the “deplorables” speech by Hillary). There were students in the streets protesting against the plan, before it was even published. Meetings were organised for the members of the armed forces and the police telling them that if the plan passes, they will be out of a job – my military commander actually celebrated the night the result came out once it was clear the plan was rejected, and made sure the whole unit knew of his sentiment. All of these took place due to the continuous indoctrination of people at schools; for the past 40 years students in Greek side only hear that we are victims, Turkey is not to be trusted ever and always to be feared, that we did nothing wrong etc. And no one dares question why our history books jump from 1960 to 1974.
Still, if both sides decide to become adults and realise that hard decisions have to be made, followed by harder work then there is hope. Oh, and focusing on the single national identity of Cypriot instead of prefixing with Greek or Turkish (of course one should be able to speak their language and follow whichever religion they one sees fit) will be a good place to start. Otherwise, identity politics will do what they do best; permanently destroy the country.