The reunification talks and guarantor conference on Cyprus in Geneva is where we find out if the Cyprus Problem can actually be solved, said UN envoy Barth Espen Eide. The most emotional issues have been left until last, he added.
Eide left the unsaid hanging. What would happen if the final chapters are not solved by the Cypriot leaders? The threatening subtext of Turkey permanently annexing north Cyprus is always there.
Conference on Cyprus
For the first time since Turkey invaded Cyprus, the Republic of Cyprus (RoC) comes face-to-face with top-level Turkish officials. The Conference on Cyprus is at the Palace of Nations in Geneva on January 12th. The conference will only take place if there is progress on the issue of territory. The talks centre on territorial divisions between the Greek-and-Turkish Cypriot federal states. The reason that Turkey even has a say in Cyprus’ future is because it is a signatory to the Treaty of Alliance, along with Greece and the UK. The three powers are guarantors of Cyprus’ sovereignty. The treaty, designed to prevent the island from joining Greece or Turkey, also adds a factor of 1000 to the level of complexity.
The treaty is legally valid and not a dead letter, said Eide. Only the signatories to the treaty can change it at this stage, he added.
New voices in the Cyprus Problem
The EU is a counterbalance to Turkey’s aggressive determination to be the deciding factor in Cyprus. It has an observer role in the conference. France is keenly interested, it is a member of the UN Security Council and a member of the EU. Already, there has been a clear message from France in support of the Cypriot-led reunification talks. Germany also sent the same message. A resolution to the Cyprus problem is not just peripheral. It is significant to the EU, said Martin Schaefer, foreign ministry spokesman.
So, with the UN, the EU, Turkey, the UK and Greece in the same room, all arguing over Cyprus – what could go wrong?
The stakes are high; Turkey’s EU membership is not the least of them. The Conference on Cyprus has a start date on the 12th, but doesn’t have an end date, said Eide. It may not begin with the premiers of Turkey, Greece and the UK, but if it goes well, may end at the top level. Chaired by the new UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres, the conference could be volatile. The most emotional issues from the past will raise their heads.
“This is going to be difficult, but it’s possible…Even if the majority of issues have been solved in all chapters, it is not the easiest questions that we have left until the end,” said Eide.
These are issues of national identity, sovereignty, and security. Perhaps the most emotional of all – Cyprus’ place in the world. The Cypriots are divided because their national identity was torn apart by former colonisers. The Ottoman Empire and British Empire left a trail of enmities and political repression in their wake. After 57 years of self-governance, there is even more resistance to the idea of foreign guarantors. Especially the ones that invade and refuse to withdraw their troops – like Turkey.
Turkey is also in breach of the terms in the guarantor’s treaty. It provided for a limited intervention, not the all-out invasion and occupation of 1974. Greece was in complete opposition to Turkey’s actions, but was brought back in line by NATO. An all-out war between Greece and Turkey was avoided at the time. Greece hasn’t forgotten the humiliation though.
There are many who point to Germany’s example, saying that it was reunified even after WWII and its horrific enmities. Why then can’t a little island like Cyprus solve its problems? The historical enmities in the Cyprus conflict shouldn’t be underestimated. They stretch back to the Byzantine Empire and the roots of its dissolution after it was conquered by the Mongols. The Ottomans brutally persecuted Greek minorities in what is modern-day Turkey. They occupied Greek islands and the mainland. These atrocities are recent memories in the region.
Turkey has entered a neo-Ottoman mentality, and is especially volatile after the attempted coup in July 2016. Its leader Erdogan is thin-skinned and sees enemies everywhere. He and his cabinet are not peacemakers, and have high scores for human rights abuses. It is this Turkey taking part in the conference on Cyprus. Greece is weaker after its prolonged financial crisis, but no less ready to defend its territory. The UK is also going through its own Brexit crisis.
So, Cyprus is not the only nation at the table with emotional issues. Whether they can be resolved in a mature and reasonable way depends on everyone’s goodwill. The hopes aren’t terribly high in Cyprus, but that doesn’t mean they’re not there.
If a final deal is reached in Geneva, it goes to separate referenda in the Greek-and-Turkish Cypriot communities, where the emotions are running equally high.