Cyprus, reunification and a lot of maybes

Most of the remaining points of difference are not of principle but degree


The small town of Morphou, just north of the fortified line that divides Cyprus, epitomises in microcosm the island’s challenge. Unless it is returned in its entirety to the control of Greek Cypriots who were expelled from it 42 years ago by Turkish troops, no peace is possible. Or so Greek Cypriots say.

Turkish-Cypriot “president” Mustafa Akinci in turn insists he will not agree to a deal that would uproot 18,000 Turkish Cypriot residents for a second time in 42 years. Most of them would have to return to homes and farms in the south which have either fallen into disrepair or are themselves occupied by other Greek Cypriot refugees from the 1974 invasion.

The Greek- and Turkish-Cypriot communities have been split, divided by a UN buffer zone, since. Turkish troops invaded and stayed that year, following a coup by Greek Cypriots backed by the generals who ruled Greece at the time. Now only Ankara recognises the breakaway Turkish state in the north.

Some 90,000 Greeks in the south of the island want to get their old homes back, and the population transfer issue is pivotal to reconciliation of the two bitterly divided parts of the island which was under discussion this week at UN-sponsored talks in Geneva. That, and the presence on the island of some 35,000 “occupying” Turkish troops.

Like our own extended and tortuous peace process, the devil was in the detail of this week’s ultimately unsuccessful discussions. We are close to a deal, negotiators report, once again, but no cigar: in the end, however, most of the points of difference are not of principle but degree, and negotiable with a political will.

Property restitution

Critical issues in all six chapters of the negotiations remain to be resolved, ranging from those disputes about the extent of population return and property restitution, to security guarantees and the occupying troops, to the contested line dividing the island on the maps that the Greek- and Turkish-Cypriot leaders, Cyprus president Nicos Anastasiades and Akinci, exchanged this week.

The outline of an emerging agreement also echoes important elements of our own Belfast Agreement, with proposed governance principles and structures that have resonances of the same “parity of esteem” principles. Requirements, for example, for cross-community agreements (vetos) on issues in the federal chamber that will bring together the two self-governing parts of the island, and for sharing the presidency – equal rotation, if the Turks have their way.

Inbuilt dysfunctionality, is how some Greek Cypriot opponents of a deal, specifically of enforced powersharing, describe such proposals. It is a critique that owes much to DUP criticism of the Northern Assembly’s special cross-community provisions which have, only in the last week, been so tellingly exposed. But the suspicion in the North, as in Cyprus, is that the critics of powersharing are more concerned with preserving majoritarianism than ensuring effective governance.

Guarantor status

Also crucial to the dialogue is the pledge from the UK that it will bow to the wishes of both communities, if they can agree, in relinquishing its guarantor status, shared with Greece, and Turkey – sound familiar?

Critically, however, the same flexibility is expected of the reluctant Turks whose troop withdrawal is one of the few non-negotiable “red line” issues remaining. The continuing talks next week will focus on this issue. Crucial will be President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s adamant refusal to countenance withdrawal – hardline nationalists on whom he depends in Ankara’s parliament are opposed to any “abandoning” of Cyprus.

The precise line dividing the two states also remains contentious although, apart from intractable Morphou, there is only a 1 per cent difference between the areas set out in the respective maps. As is how to recognise the rights that Turkish settlers in expropriated homes have to those homes or the value they have added to them (the definition of “emotional attachment”). Will it be possible to offer refugees alternative lands, or swaps, or compensation? And what to do about the 40,000 or so Turks who settled on the island from the mainland?

Any deal will be put to referendum in both parts of the island – no formality, as Greek voters rejected a previous one in 2004 which they believed made too many concessions to the Turks.

Of course there’s then the small matter of international cash needed to underpin any deal – sound familiar? Some €10 billion, Nicosia suggests. The EU and IMF and other international funders have been in attendance in Geneva this week, ready, it is suggested, to do the necessary. After all this would all be good news for an EU so constantly on the back foot in recent times.

For now nothing is agreed until everything is agreed. So nothing is agreed.

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