Gwynne Dyer: Cyprus is still divided—but maybe not for much longer

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      It was not so much a straw in the wind as a cheese in the wind. It’s a chewy, salty cheese that is delicious grilled: halloumi, as they call it in the Greek-speaking Republic of Cyprus, or hellim, as it is known in the Turkish Republic of North Cyprus. 

      This week, the island’s two rival governments jointly applied to the European Union to give halloumi/hellim “Protected Designation of Origin” status, like French champagne or Greek feta, so that no other producer can use the name. It was a small miracle. 

      Cyrus has been divided since 1974, when a bloody coup backed by the generals’ regime in Athens, intended to unite the island with the “mother country”, was answered by a Turkish invasion to protect the Turkish-Cypriot minority. Turkey ended up holding the northern third of the island, and Greek-Cypriots who lived in that part of Cyprus fled south while Turkish-Cypriots in the southern part of the island fled north. 

      When the dust settled, there were two Cypruses: the internationally recognised Republic of Cyprus, now almost exclusively Greek-speaking, and the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus (TRNC), recognised by nobody except Turkey.

      Forty-one years later, Cyprus is still divided—but maybe not for much longer.

      The Greek-Cypriots have done much better since the split. With a legitimate state that is now a member of the European Union, they can trade and travel freely, and per capita income on the Greek side is twice what that of the Turkish side.

      But it hasn’t all been roses: the Greek-Cypriot banks ran wild during the boom years, and the country is just emerging from an EU-backed bail-out that hurt a lot.

      For the Turkish-Cypriots, time is running out. There are only 120,000 of them, and they are already outnumbered by the Turkish immigrants, most of them ill-educated and unskilled, who have flooded in since 1974.

      In the past 10 years, with a conservative Islamic government in Turkey, they have also been facing the creeping Islamization of their traditionally secular society. 

      So the Turkish-Cypriots have good reason to seek a deal that gives them their own state within a reunited, federal Cyprus. For Greek-Cypriots a deal is less urgent, but with 30,000 Turkish troops still on the island and neighbours whose identity is becoming more Turkish and less Cypriot their future is uncertain.

      The problem is that presidents come and go, and there are rarely presidents on both sides willing to make a deal at the same time.

      Now there are. Mustafa Akinci was elected president of the TRNC in April, and immediately asked to start reunification talks with his opposite number, President Nicos Anastasiades—who immediately agreed.

      “The passage of time is not helping a solution,” said Akinci. “The more time passes, the more the division becomes consolidated.”

      After three months of talks, including seven personal meetings between the presidents, the talks seem to be going well. Well enough, in fact, that they both showed up on Tuesday night (July 28), together with 700 guests from both sides of the divide, for an evening of Cypriot music performed by the bi-communal group Kyprogenia at the Othello Tower in Famagusta. 

      There was a lot of symbolism in this, because Famagusta was a Greek-Cypriot city, famed for its beaches, that ended up empty and on the wrong side of the ceasefire line in 1974. It has been quietly crumbling away ever since, but the Othello Tower, a 14th-century fortress, has just been renovated by a group of Greek and Turkish Cypriots working together to restore the island’s shared heritage. 

      There is much optimism about these talks, because both leaders understand that there can be no going back to the good old days before 1974 (good for the Greek-Cypriots, at least, although many Turkish-Cypriots were living under siege in barricaded ghettoes). Most of the refugees of 1974 (or their descendants) will not be going “home” again.

      Too much has happened, and even now Turkish-Cypriots would not feel safe in a unitary state.

      But a federal republic with two states, each largely but not exclusively communal, is perfectly possible. It would free Turkish-Cypriots from their long isolation, and expand economic opportunities for people in both communities. The Turkish army would go home, the barbed wire and entrenchments of the “Green Line” would vanish, and Nicosia, the world’s last divided capital, would be one city again.

      It is just good sense, and Presidents Akinci and Anastasiades will probably make the deal—Akinci reckons they will be there before the end of the year. There is just one problem. A very similar reunification was negotiated in 2003-04 with the help of the European Union and the blessings of both the United Nations and the United States.

      In the 2004 referendum, the Turkish Cypriots voted for it by a two-to-one majority, but the Greek-Cyriots rejected it by a crushing three-to-one majority. After all, they greatly outnumber the Turkish-Cypriots and they are far richer. Things are peaceful right now, so why should they compromise? 

      Because Cyprus lives in a very dangerous neighbourhood, and it’s a really bad idea to keep the old domestic hostilities going as well.



      Jul 29, 2015 at 11:55am

      How many peacekeepers, British and Canadian, lost their lives keeping the Turks and Greeks from, killing each other in in Cyprus? Perhaps their sacrifices have not been in vain after all?

      Jul 29, 2015 at 7:02pm

      I would like to remind Mr. Dyer that Canada is also a Bicommunal Bizonal Federation, so is the USA for that matter. If Cypriots are refused "the right" to be recognised as Cypriots, without any further discrimination or distinction, any solution that is proposed which makes them "Greeks", and "Turks" will be rejected.

      I would like to remind Mr. Dyer, that Cypriots exist. Koray Basdogrultmaci and Cinel Senem Husseyin fought long and hard for this respect and recognition from the regime recently, which claims to represent them, and who charged them, first with an act that was not illegal (flying the Flag of Cyprus), then for disturbing the peace, then for sedition. The Flag of Cyprus, like Cyprus exists, Cypriots exist, even in the north, now; thanks to them, they had to insist though.

      That federation would comprise a federal government with a single international personality, along with a Turkish Cypriot constituent state and a Greek Cypriot constituent state, which would be of equal status.

      ...count them Mr. Dyer, (at least three governing bodies make up a BBF). You are suggesting that what is illegal and against the Universal Principals all Humanity respects, is a good idea (by dividing "them" in two). Yes, let's ignore the fact that in Canada, Canadians can vote as Canadians, whether there are Constituencies in Canada or not. In your Cyprus, it is Cypriots, as Cypriots that are being marginalised, for the sake I might add, of the very same "Greeks", and "Turks", the other half as i like to call them, who are the cause of the impasse, as much as the infamy. They, the people of Cyprus, are not "Turks", and the rest of them called "Greeks", they are Cypriots, the victims in this tragedy; picking sides is pure hypocrisy, because it is the "This" which must stop.

      Fevzi Ogelman

      Jul 30, 2015 at 12:44am

      repulsewarrior (above) is deluded. He wants to deny that Turks are Turks and Greeks are Greeks.What about the Cypriot Hellenism that the GCs are going on about? Isn't this that killed the RoC? One needs to be real. The island of Cyprus is made up of Greek Cypriots and Turkish Cypriots, with different religion, different language, different customs and different ideals. They may join up in a federation if there's a need in BOTH their circumstances. My bet is on a NO SOLUTION.

      vanlaten m

      Jul 30, 2015 at 8:09am

      Dear All,

      politicians can take decisions regarding the tools they put in place mainly to keep themselves in position . What they can not decide is the emotional aspect of every individual.
      What about the right of the expulsed Greek cypriot on their former land and houses .
      What about the people who went to the Turkish side over these 41 years and settled in these houses ?
      The Turkish cypriots are free in their own land but they feel like prisoned in the rest of the world.
      This issue is a rather particular experiment to see if Turks can fit into the E.U.

      The EU want to move forward by expansion . Too big to fail seems to be objective I am afraid.

      I suggest a NO to this solution as long as the EU is not coherent .

      Interesting Article

      Jul 30, 2015 at 1:07pm

      I didn't know much about the state of affairs in Cyprus. It's too bad that, after generations of living in Cyprus, both the Turks and the Greeks can't learn to perceive themselves as one people with much in common. I'm guessing the biggest barrier to unification is language.

      Aug 3, 2015 at 1:27am

      Luckily, and in great part due to the overwhelming professionalism, exemplary leadership, and high levels of readiness and training of the UN peacekeepers of, combat casualties between 1964 and 2008 were a relatively number of 15, with a total fatalities breakdown as follows:

      Fatalities - Up to and including 31 October 2008, UNFICYP has suffered 179 fatalities:

      Accidents: 97
      Illnesses: 44
      Malicious Acts: 15
      Other: 23

      I am in no way denigrating or taking away from the great sacrifice and heroism of those who most selflessly have made the ultimate sacrifice for the sake of peace on the island of Cyprus, and, again, I chalk the relatively low amount of fatalities over the long life of the mission on how this is one UN mission that was done so right... a mission that other UN peacekeeping ones should use as a model of how to do it not just correctly, but in an outstanding manner.


      Aug 3, 2015 at 5:52am

      Mr Dyer, if you want to be calling your self a historian and journalism you need to get your facts and story right.