By Rafaela Piyoti
The island of Cyprus has been divided since the 1974 Turkish Invasion. On one side, there is the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus (TRNC) which stands unrecognised by any nation-state but Turkey, and on the other, there is the Republic of Cyprus (RoC) which, by contrast, is internationally recognised and occupies a seat in the United Nations General Assembly. Since 1974, the UN has facilitated talks to attempt to reconcile the island’s bifurcation, but the two sides have resisted reconciliation, leading to the current status quo, or what is called, the Cyprus Problem.
Since the partition of the island the Greek and Turkish Cypriot communities have grown further apart. The UN Peacekeeping force has established a Buffer Zone between the two communities and has been the mediator of all peace negotiations and political developments on the island since. The TRNC declared its independence in 1983 under the presidency of Rauf Denktas, although the UN deemed the declaration illegal. Crossing from the TRNC into the RoC and vice versa was not allowed until 2003, when the first borders opened marking a historic moment for the resolution of the Cyprus Problem.
Amongst solutions to this problem, the most widely discussed proposal is a bi-communal, bi-zonal federation between the Greek and Turkish Cypriot communities. Whilst another, and increasingly possible, alternative is the recognition of two states, one that is Greek Cypriot and another that is Turkish Cypriot. So far, the two-states solution has never been discussed in the UN-led peace talks. However, the election of Ersin Tatar, a known hardliner and supporter of a two-states solution, as the President of the TRNC, has marked the first time a political figure has proposed the consideration of the two-states solution as part of the UN-led negotiations.
For 47 years, bi-communal discussions have failed to solve the Cyprus Problem despite the numerous UN calls for the two Cypriot communities to negotiate a solution. Greece, Turkey and the United Kingdom serve as guarantor powers responsible, under the 1960 Treaty of Guarantee, to ensure the independence and territorial integrity of the island. The Declaration of Independence of Cyprus signed in 1960, proposed a federation with a Greek Cypriot president and a Turkish Cypriot PM. The Cypriot federation collapsed in 1963, following the first bi-communal tensions in the wake of the islands independence.
Major discussions on the unification of the island and the establishment of a new federation were made between 1989 and 1992 with the Boutros-Ghali Plan, and in 2004 with the Annan Plan. The failure of the plans to lead to the unification of the island is attributed to domestic disagreements between the two Cypriot communities.
The Boutros-Ghali Plan failed, as, according to each sides leaders at the time, there was a lack of ‘confidence-building’ measures between the two communities. When the Annan Plan was proposed by the UN the two Cypriot communities had already grown politically distinct. According the Greek Cypriots, the Annan Plan was an indirect partition of the island as it imposed restrictions on the resettlement of Greek Cypriots in cities under the control of the TRNC. Thus, in a referendum held in the RoC a majority of 75,83% voted against the plan.
In addition to the domestic differences between the two Cypriot Communities, the role of foreign powers was also crucial in the failure to reach a solution. The Greek and Turkish governments, as guarantor powers, have supported the RoC and the TRNC respectively. Greece and the RoC, although closely allied, act as two independent states, maintaining independent foreign policies on the Cyprus Problem and on foreign affairs. Greece, like the UK, does not actively participate in the discussions, other than what is obliged through its role as guarantor power. In contrast, the Turkish Cypriot government relies on Turkey in order to form its foreign policies. For Northern Cyprus, Turkey is the main economic contributor and their only foreign ally. Turkey in turn views the TRNC as a geopolitical advantage which gives them access to the Eastern Mediterranean natural resources.
Political disagreements between the Cypriot, Greek and Turkish government have also contributed towards the previous collapse of the peace talks. Recent tensions over the Eastern Mediterranean oil crisis and Turkey’s illegal drilling activities in the region could potentially have a negative impact on the next round of negotiations as well.
Since the Turkish Invasion of Cyprus, representatives from neither of the two Cypriot Communities have met to discuss the two-states solution. The election of Tatar as the president of the TRNC could mark the first time that the two-states solution will enter official peace negotiations. President Tatar, backed by Turkey, has stated that although he is willing to attend a new round of discussions on the Cyprus Problem, he refuses to discuss any other proposal than the two-states solution – which would entail the official recognition of the TRNC as an independent state. This would inevitably mark a political defeat not only for the Cypriot government but also for Greece and the UN, which have repeatedly called for the unification of the island.
The UN called the two Cypriot governments to a five-party meeting, to discuss the future of Cyprus peace talks. A five-party meeting format will include the presence of the two Cypriot leaders, representative from Greece, Turkey and the United Kingdom – as the island’s guarantor powers – and the UN as the moderator of the talks. Jane Holl Lute, the UN special envoy, was sent to Cyprus on the 11th of January 2021 to meet the two leaders separately in advance of discussions beginning in February. The Cypriot President, Nicos Anastasiades, welcomed the UN initiative to resume the negotiation process and restated that a bi-communal federation is the most favourable solution to the Cyprus Problem. Tatar, on the other hand, expressed his willingness to participate in the five-party meeting but stated that a federation is no longer a realistic solution for the island. The UN did not make any official statements for either of the meetings, but the next round of negotiations is expected to take place in late February, in New York.
February 2021 will mark the first official negotiations between Ersin Tatar and Nicos Anastasiadis, the Cypriot president, under the supervision of the UN. It is yet unclear whether the two presidents will discuss the two-states solution or if the Greek Cypriot government would veto such a proposal. So far, the official Greek Cypriot stance is against such a solution.
The Cyprus Problem has remained unresolved for 47 years despite the numerous bi-communal talks held by the UN to find a solution. So far, the two Cypriot communities have discussed several variations of a federation that would unify the island. Disagreements between the two Cypriot communities, and the extensive involvement of the Turkish government in the affairs of the TRNC have led to the collapse of all the negotiations that took place since 1974. Greece is a close ally of the RoC but does not have an active role in the negotiation process. Turkey supports the split of the island into two states and has repeatedly called for the international recognition of the TRNC. The newly elected president of the TRNC, Ersin Tatar, has been the first leader of the Turkish Cypriot community who has officially proposed the two-states solution. With the next round of talks taking place in February, the RoC has two options; either to comply with Tatar’s request, meaning a political defeat, or to refuse his proposal, leading, once again, to the collapse of the negotiation process.
Rafaela is a part-time MA student in the Conflict Resolution in Divided Societies programme at King’s College London. She received her BA in War Studies and Philosophy. She is a Staff Writer for the Shield and writes for a Cypriot newspaper. Currently, she is a Research Analyst for London Politica. Her main academic interest is on the role of intelligence in policymaking. She also has a passion for Human Rights and has interned at the Cyprus Refugee Council. Rafaella enjoys traveling and learning about new cultures in her free time.