Who are the Greek Cypriots

Cyprus and reunificationHope for the little success

November last year: Turkish soldiers march at the entrance to the Cypriot city of Varosha, followed by a chapel of scowling men in historical Ottoman costumes. In the stands: Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan next to Ersin Tatar, the newly elected President of the self-appointed and internationally unrecognized Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus.

The partial reopening of the former seaside resort of Varosha will be celebrated. In the summer of 1974, the almost 40,000 mostly Greek residents of Varosha had to flee from the advancing Turkish invasion troops. Since then, the island of Cyprus has been divided between the Greek and Turkish ethnic groups, and the ghost town of Varosha has become a symbol of this division: located on the UN demarcation line, guarded by the Turkish military.

(picture alliance / dpa / Sputnik | Kristina Afanasyeva) What stands in the way of a reunification of Cyprus
The only still divided capital in the world is in Europe: Nicosia in Cyprus. Now there is a new attempt to reunite the north and south of the island, which has been divided since 1974.

Last autumn, Erdogan ordered the partial opening of the dilapidated city. Since then, people have been allowed to walk through the deserted streets and picnic on the beach. But the supposedly generous gesture is primarily to be understood as a demonstration of power by the northern Turkish island and its protective power in Ankara: Look, we are no longer waiting for a solution to the Cyprus problem, we are creating facts. And so the Turkish-Cypriot ethnic group leader Tatar used the opportunity last autumn to address clear words to the south:

"The Greek stance has been preventing a federal solution for over 44 years. Therefore, it is time to look for a basis for cooperation on the basis of two states. But nobody should believe that we will ever give up our ties to the guaranteeing power Turkey."

(Getty Images / Sean Gallup) Out and about in the ghost town of Famagusta
Cyprus has been divided since 1974. An initiative wants to revive at least the former tourist stronghold Famagusta with the popular Varosha with a "reunification light" in the exclusion zone.

Bad omens for conversations

The new talks planned for this Tuesday between Greek and Turkish Cypriots in Geneva, Switzerland, under the auspices of the United Nations, are under the auspices of the worst possible omens. In the north of Turkey, Ersin Tatar, a political hardliner who fully represents Turkey's interests, was elected to power.

In addition, there is the simmering conflict over the suspected gas reserves in the eastern Mediterranean between the EU members Cyprus and Greece on the one hand and Turkey on the other.

Ersin Tatar (dpa-Bildfunk / AP / Nedim Enginsoy)

Hardly any contact between the two halves of the island

In the meantime, the tensions have eased somewhat after talks between Greece and Turkey. But points of friction remain. Turkey, for example, insists that the Cypriot Turks also share in the future income from gas production around the island.

Another problem: contacts between the Turkish north and the Greek south have hardly taken place for months - neither on a political level, nor between the inhabitants of both halves of the island. The crossings to the north have been closed by the Cypriot government - officially to contain the corona pandemic on the island.

Given these bad omens, what can the talks in Geneva ever produce? Definitely not a sudden reunification, says Hubert Faustmann, professor of international relations at the University of Nicosia and office manager of the Friederich-Ebert-Stiftung in Cyprus.

"This meeting is first and foremost about talks about whether to resume talks or negotiations. Because in the meantime there is no longer even agreement on what should be the basis for solving the Cyprus problem. "

(imago images / UIG) An island and its conflicts
As if under a magnifying glass, several conflicts on the European periphery are concentrated in Cyprus. On the one hand, there is the dispute over natural gas. On the other hand, more and more refugees overwhelm the south of the island.

The Cyprus question - a "frozen conflict"

For decades the United Nations has been trying to overcome the division of Cyprus, but to this day all UN peace plans have failed. The two ethnic group leaders and the guarantee powers Greece and Turkey last met in 2017 for negotiations in the Swiss winter sports resort of Crans-Montana. Both sides moved closer to each other, detailed reunification plans were worked out, but in the end the talks ended with no results. The opponents would even have yelled at each other again at times instead of talking to each other.

The Cyprus question is one of the so-called "Frozen Conflicts", those frozen conflicts worldwide in which a military conflict was replaced by a ceasefire. The recent war between Armenia and Azerbaijan over the Nagorno-Karabakh enclave has shown that conflicts that have been "frozen" for decades can break out again violently. This is one of the reasons why UN Secretary General António Guterres is making another attempt this week to find a permanent solution for Cyprus. Political scientist Hubert Faustmann:

"The UN itself does not want to continue to stand idly by, but at the same time it knows that it is involved in a process that is about talks for the sake of talks. A procedure that should be kept going for as long as possible, because it affects many sides is better. "

Cyprus has been a member of the EU since 2004

Guterres ‘predecessor Kofi Annan presented the most detailed and extensive reunification plan to date in 2003 after months of negotiations. Its core was the proposal for a federation of two states under the umbrella of the EU. Each part should be able to manage itself largely independently, the jointly elected President should alternate between a Greek and a Turk. The Turkish military was supposed to leave the island with the exception of a small contingent, and the Turkish north of the island was to surrender part of its territory. In the referendum on this so-called Annan Plan in April 2004, a majority of Turkish Cypriots voted in favor, while the majority of Greeks voted against.

Although settlement of the Cyprus conflict was initially made a condition of membership, the southern Republic of Cyprus was admitted to the European Union a month later. A big mistake, said former British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw in an event on the Cyprus issue in March this year. The Greek Cypriots were rewarded without any advance payment:

"I was involved in the decision at the time and could slap myself today for allowing a divided Cyprus to join the European Union. That only made things more difficult. There is currently no incentive for the Greek side at all The status quo suits them very well. Internationally they are recognized as the legitimate government of the entire island - and thus also the sole owner of the mineral resources off their coast. A federal agreement on both sides would mean power to the to surrender the Turkish side. And only a minority in the south is willing to do that. That is why I believe that in the end a two-state solution is sensible and inevitable. "

The Greek side was outraged by Straw's statement: a state secession from the north would retrospectively legitimize the Turkish occupation. This would take part of its territory from an EU state. This is likely to be an unacceptable process for Brussels, too.

Stressed EU-Turkey relationship

The Cyprus problem is already putting a strain on the relationship between Turkey and the EU. For a long time Ankara was interested in a solution, because Cyprus stood in the way of Turkey's accession to the EU. But meanwhile the resistance against Turkey's admission is so high that Ankara seems less and less willing to take Europe into account in its Cyprus policy. During his visit to Cyprus last year, President Erdogan openly threatened to intervene militarily on the island again by recalling the recent conflict between Armenia and the Turkish brother country Azerbaijan:

"We will continue to work with all our might on a common future with the Turkish Cypriots. You saw what happened in Azerbaijan. With our help, Azerbaijan was able to conquer the Karabakh region, which has been occupied by Armenia for 28 years, in just 42 days. And all of them Displaced persons can slowly return. "

Cypriot Turks are in the minority

With the support of Turkey, more and more settlers from the Turkish mainland are settling in the north of the island, and the Cypriot Turks are increasingly becoming a minority. Northern Cyprus is increasingly becoming a Turkish province, says Hubert Faustmann. Changing the status quo on the island is becoming more difficult every day.

"There are really good reasons to resolve this conflict in some way. But the process is gradual, slow and the political costs involved in solving this problem for the Greek Cypriot leadership are so high that it is nobody does. And that's why, in my opinion, unfortunately, the status quo is the most likely scenario. "

Legacy of British colonial rule

The Cyprus problem is a legacy of British colonial rule. When the end of it became apparent in the late 1950s, the two ethnic groups tried to achieve their opposing goals with the support of their respective "mother countries" Greece and Turkey. The original intention of the Greek majority - they make up 80 percent of the population - was "enosis", the union with Greece. The Turkish minority, around 18 percent of the population, wanted the island to be divided, "Taksim" in Turkish.

In 1960, after the end of British rule over the island, the independent Republic of Cyprus was founded - with both ethnic groups as national peoples with equal rights. Great Britain, Greece and Turkey assumed the role of guarantee powers; Their task was to monitor compliance with the key points anchored in the Basic Law, such as independence, territorial integrity and security. But in 1963 a civil war broke out. Turks and Greeks became enemies.

The events of 1974

When in 1974 the Athenian military instigated a coup against the Cypriot government to force unification with Greece, Turkey saw the Turkish minority in danger. She landed troops on the island and occupied the north. 160,000 Greek Cypriots had to flee to the south, tens of thousands of Turks from there to the north. Two so-called "ethnically cleansed" zones were created.

In 1983 the Turkish Cypriots proclaimed the "Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus" in the north. But until today it is only recognized by Turkey and economically it is completely dependent on the mother country.

Since the failure of the peace negotiations in 2017, supporters of reconciliation on both sides of the border have fallen further on the defensive. The hardliners are setting the tone again. The newly elected President Ersin Tatar in the north with massive support from Ankara no longer wants to talk about a common state. At least as long as he does not receive any other signals from Turkey. In the south, the prevailing consensus among the parties is that the Turkish Cypriots have nothing to fear in a Greek-dominated republic. After all, their minority rights are additionally secured by the statutes of the EU.

"There will be no two-state solution"

Before the talks in Geneva, Cyprus' President Nikos Anastasiadis shows in an interview with Greek television that he is ready to enter into concrete negotiations with the north on a federation, but at the same time makes it clear where the limits are for him:

"I can only say that I will take part in the talks with good will and I hope that we can find a basis to build on what we had already achieved in Crans Montana in 2017. But I also made it clear: a two-state -There will not be a solution like the one Turkey wants. It will not be accepted either by Europe, the international community or by us. "

Nikos Anastasiadis, the Greek President of Cyprus (picture alliance / dpa / Simela Pantzartzi)

Issues of power, land, security

Whenever the two sides come together to talk about some kind of reunification, the issues of "power distribution", "land distribution" and "security" are at stake. First and foremost is the question: What kind of state should a united Cyprus be? The Greeks have always viewed it as a continuation of the existing Republic of Cyprus, which the Turkish ethnic group is only joining again, so to speak. The Turkish Cypriots, on the other hand, want to be founders of a new state with equal rights.

In the previous negotiations in 2004 and 2017, both sides had come a long way: There should be a federal state with one nationality, but two administratively divided parts of the country. Each part of the country would have its own administration and even its own police force. And each part of the country would have its own parliament. Outwardly, however, the country would be represented by a joint government. At the national level there should be a parliament in which the Cypriot Greeks make up two thirds and the Cypriot Turks one third of the members.

Equal political treatment of the Turkish Cypriots is the core of a solution to the Cyprus problem for the EU as well - France's ambassador to Nicosia, Salina Grenet-Catalano, made this clear in an interview with Cypriot television in March:

"We want a reunified Cyprus in the European Union. And we believe that a federation is the best, if not the only way to achieve this goal. The political equality of both sides is extremely important for us in this context."

In addition to the distribution of power, the territorial division was also an extremely contentious point between the adversaries. According to the latest drafts for a peace agreement, the Turkish Cypriot north should cede around six percent of its territory to the south. The Turkish side agreed in principle to this, as it currently occupies 35 percent of the island's territory, although it only makes up just under 20 percent of the population. But there is a dispute about which areas should be ceded.

(picture alliance / AA / abaca / Turkish Ministry of National Defense) What the gas dispute between Turkey and Greece is about
The dispute between Turkey and Greece over sea areas threatens to escalate further - possibly militarily. It's about natural gas, but also about geopolitics and an unresolved conflict.

And then there is the issue of "security": Today around 35,000 Turkish soldiers are still stationed in the north of the island. The Cypriot Turks wanted at least some of them to stay for a transitional period to guarantee their safety. There was talk of 5,000 soldiers. The Greek side, however, proposed an international police force. A foreign army’s bases are unacceptable to the Greek side.

Reconciliation initiatives on both sides

The plans for reunification were well advanced in the previous rounds of negotiations. In the end, however, they failed on the home stretch - and each time because of detailed questions.

There are still numerous reconciliation initiatives on both sides that are campaigning for a common future: mixed historians' commissions, women's groups, mixed orchestras or cross-border sports groups. For these people, it is not so much their ethnic origin that counts, but their overall Cypriot sense of togetherness. But even among these reconciliatory Cypriots on both sides, expectations are dwindling, as the political scientist Hubert Faustmann, who works in Cyprus, observed:

"The hope that somehow a substantial solution is on the agenda of these talks - I don't think that very many still believe in it. There is a disillusionment, a fatalism, it is a process of coming to terms without finding out what we can observe here . "

Surveys show that there is little interest in reunification among young Greek Cypriots. After almost half a century of division, very few Greek Cypriots know a Turkish Cypriot personally - and vice versa. Although the border could be crossed largely without any problems before the outbreak of the corona pandemic, Cypriots only visited the other part of the country to go shopping, Hubert Faustmann observed

"We know from the polls that the younger the Greek Cypriots are, the higher the probability that they will not agree to a solution to the Cyprus problem. So the division is cemented on the Greek-Cypriot side. On the Turkish-Cypriot side it is exactly the other way around. The young Turkish Cypriots are relatively more willing to solve problems and reunite or more open than the older generation. That is the hopeful component. Unfortunately, that is the weakest link in the chain. "

Because the old people still determine the fate of the island: Nikos Anastasiadis, 74, on the Greek side and the 60-year-old Turkish Cypriot Ersin Tatar. It is unlikely that more than friendly words will come out of their meeting in Geneva with representatives of the UN and the guarantee powers Greece, Turkey and Great Britain over the next two days. But that would be a small success.