They had lost patience with the archbishop’s methods and wanted to enforce enosis. The coup prompted Turkey to react and resulted in Turkish diplomats shuttling between Zurich, New York and London trying to get the UK or the UN to intervene. The efforts failed, and in June 1974, Turkish troops landed in the northern part of the island. A cease-fire deal established the Green Line, and a UN peace-keeping force were entrusted the task of watching it -- with 35,000 plus Turkish troops watching them and the south of the island. This situation remains in place today.
The Cyprus problem has turned into a money-generating industry that dominates the entire population. I sometimes wonder what islanders would have to talk about and newspapers to write about if a solution were found. Most Cypriots, whether they be Greek or Turkish, remain pessimistic about a solution being found. There is little sense of a shared identify, particularly amongst the younger generation who have grown up separated by barricades.
The search for a solution has been under way ever since, but all attempts have failed, the latest being in April 2004 when the Greek Cypriots rejected and the Turkish Cypriots approved in a referendum the UN-backed Annan plan. The plan’s failure disappointed the international community, including the EU, which had agreed to allow Cyprus to join the EU only a few weeks later in the hope that it would encourage a solution to the problem. In fact, the opposite happened, and it has proved far harder, given that the two sides are no longer playing on an equal playing field. With the EU taking Cyprus on board, it is no longer a neutral player, and while the Cyprus problem was never a precondition for the membership of Cyprus, it is a prerequisite for Turkey’s, which is deeply resented in Turkey.
After four years of stagnation new talks began in September 2008, but progress between the Turkish and Greek Cypriot leaders, Mehmet Ali Talat and Dimitris Christofias, has been sluggish. Both leaders have pledged to find a deal, with Christofis saying he will not run for a second term if he fails. It is also heartening that after almost 18 months, the pace has picked up and progress is being made to bridge the many remaining gaps. While talks are now suspended due to the presidential election in the north, it is hoped that if Talat is re-elected, quicker progress will be made once this election period over. Talat’s chances have improved since the judgment of the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) a few weeks ago. Up until then the Greek Cypriots always believed the law was on their side, which may be a syndrome of the fact that so many Greek Cypriot politicians are lawyers who tend to reduce everything -- including the Cyprus issue -- to a legal or a contractual dispute. Everyone bought into this following the legal victories at the ECtHR in the 1990s. However, this was turned on its head by the ECtHR’s decision referring all applications for violations of the property rights of Greek Cypriot refugees to the Immovable Property Commission (IPC) in the north. This was an unexpected boost to Talat that may make all the difference in the polls.
Resolving the Cyprus problem is crucial to Turkey’s EU membership bid. While there are numerous other obstacles on the road to the EU, the Cyprus problem is the most difficult, and whether or not Turkey actually joins could hinge on a resolution. When EU leaders agreed at the December 2004 summit to open accession talks with Turkey, one of the conditions was that Ankara must extend its 1963 Association Agreement to the EU’s new member states, including Cyprus, which is not recognized by Turkey. While in July 2005, Turkey signed a protocol extending its customs union to the 10, at the same time Ankara issued a declaration citing this did not mean Turkey recognized Cyprus. Since then Turkey has refused to open its ports and airports to Cyprus as it claims the EU has fallen short of having direct trade with the unrecognized northern part of the island.
During his recent visit to Turkey, EU Enlargement Commissioner Stefan Füle pressed Turkey to normalize relations with Cyprus. However, Turkey believes the Cyprus issue should not affect their accession process and they will not budge an inch until either the EU keeps the commitments it made to the Turkish Cypriots or until a comprehensive solution is found that will reunite the island and solve all other issues related to the problem. Reaching a solution will require bold leadership and vision -- something that has been in short supply for most of the past 35 years. Talat and Christofias (and Turkey) have a unique opportunity to transform the entire region by breaking this vicious circle of failure and turn it into a virtuous one. After all, change will not come if we wait for some other person or some other time. The time is now.