Turkey-Cyprus: The Frozen Conflict

The stalemate between Cyprus and Turkey over the future of the island is decades old and there’s no end in sight

With the Israelis and Palestinian peace talks starting and the world seems to have forgotten about another conflict.  Like its more famous cousins, the West Bank and Gaza Strip, northern Cyprus is also disputed territory, with one country saying its not occupied land and the majority of the world saying it is.  In 1974, following decades of diplomatic tit-for-tat between the Greek and Turkish Cypriot communities Turkey-proper invaded and the Turk-Cypriots declared independence.  Even today, only the Ankara government recognise it as an independent country.

Following millennia of rule occupation, from various Greek populations starting with the Mycenaean’s in circa 1100 BCE, the Ottoman Empire invaded in 1570-71 and for the next 300 years brought in their own people and administration.  Following Russo-Ottoman disputes in 1878 and amidst calls for a Cypriot-Greek union eventually led to the United Kingdom taking administrative control.  During this period, there was growing ethnic tension which occasionally erupted in deadly violence and pogroms.  In 1923 following the Lausanne Treaty, Cyprus became a British Colony, eventually gaining independence in 1960.

Following a coup d’état in Cyprus, organised by the military Junta that ruled Greece, the Turkish government ordered an invasion, nominally to protect the ethnic Turk population but, in reality, to try and impose a pro-Ankara government.  After the invasion, a ceasefire line was agreed in August, effectively partitioning the island between Turkish-Cypriots in the north, and Greek-Cypriots in the south, this status quo pervades to this day.  In the immediate aftermath of the invasion, the Greek population in the north was expelled, and there were small reprisals by the Greek community in the south of the island.  In 1976 the Turkish government was found guilty by the European Court of Human Rights of:

  1. Displacement of persons
  2. Deprivation of liberty
  3. Ill treatment
  4. Deprivation of Life
  5. Deprivation of Possessions

Following this, the ECtHR investigated several more times, and found them guilty of various breaches of the European Convention of Human Rights.  These decisions have had little effect on the issue and international organisations, including the European Union and the United Nations, seem to have little to say on this matter.

cyprus_limassol_300Comparing this to Israel, the Israelis have not been found guilty by an international court of any war crimes or any of the above.  The UN resolutions passed against Israel are by block-voting of the Arab states and unofficial warnings by those states to ensure its commercial and defensive partners vote in favour of the Palestinians.  The UN spends more time on the Israel-Palestine situation than any other single topic that comes before it.

The EU and UN do not seem to be doing anything, while the Turkish-Cypriot President, Dervis Eroglu, has stressed the need for talks earlier this month, possibly starting in mid-October, stating

“We should not wait for another resolution plan to be prepared by the UN Secretary-General. A resolution plan should be prepared by the two parties on the island which will mutually benefit the two sides and two peoples in Cyprus”

In a meeting on 24th July, the Italian Foreign Minister, Emma Borini met her Greek-Cypriot counterpart and congratulated them on being willing to talk, saying that the talks and a resolution will help further Cyprus’ integration into the EU.  All this without the constant to and froing of John Kerry, or alternative plans issued by international organisations.

The difference between the Israeli-Palestinian situation is huge.  Both sides in the conflict have historical, cultural, and religious ties to the land.  Both peoples have inhabited the area for hundreds, and thousands of years.  Cyprus, meanwhile, is wholly Greek.  The Turkish population were implanted by the Ottomans and again following their 1974 invasion.  Tensions are just a high, and, unlike the West Bank and Gaza there is a UN Peacekeeping force permanently present in a buffer zone between the two areas.  The biggest difference, however, is that both sides in the Middle East have stressed, on an international scale. The need for talks, while neither side in Cyprus has pressed hard for talks.  Despite these differences, both situations are also very similar in that both peoples, while wanting peace, are not willing to give up their claims to the land and accuse each other of atrocities.

So why has the world forgotten about Cyprus?  Firstly, politically, the world does not seem to bother about what can be described as a local conflict.  Secondly, the Arab world is able to block vote in the UN against Israel while neither Turkey nor Cyprus can gather more than a few allies each.  Lastly, there is much to be gained for whichever political leader(s) can get the Israelis and Palestinians talking and a solution agreed.  After four, almost five, decades of Turkish occupation, Turkish-controlled Cyprus is an annoyance on the international political scene and people just have domestic or political prestige at stake to bring the situation to a close.  It is one of many forgotten conflicts in the world.  While we watch the Arab world implode, and Israel-Palestinians talk, there are many other situations that, to the people affected are, ultimately, much, much more important.

Alex Patnick


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