Since 1974, the island of Cyprus has been divided between the Greek Cypriots and Turkish Cypriots. Progress in the latest UN-mediated peace talks has brought renewed hope of a unified, federated Cyprus.
Shortly after gaining independence from British control, Cyprus descended into an 11-year period of inter-communal violence pitting the majority Greek Cypriot population against the minority Turkish Cypriots. This culminated in a coup d’état attempt by Greek nationalists and military juntas to incorporate Cyprus into mainland Greece, provoking a Turkish military invasion which led to the capture of present day Northern Cyprus. Since then, a UN buffer zone and specialist peacekeeping force have kept the communities separated.
The latest round of peace talks appear to have made significant advances towards the aspired goal of a united island. The most significant step cited by diplomats was each side sharing their proposal for the internal administrative borders in a future federal Cyprus. Further indicating the progress in negotiations, the new UN Secretary-General, António Guterres, attended part of the talks as well as senior representatives of the countries of Greece, Turkey and the UK, guarantors of post-colonial Cyprus.
The UN’s Specialist Adviser to the Secretary-General on Cyprus, Espen Barth Eiden, has described the dialogue as ‘a great chance’ to reach a lasting political settlement. There also seems to be agreement that the Greek Cypriot leader Nicos Anastasiades and his Turkish Cypriot counterpart Mustafa Akinci have entered talks with a genuine desire for union and reconciliation.
However, continued negotiations remain far from straightforward. Several difficult issues require resolution, including the proportion of territorial gains by the Greek Cypriots to reflect their larger population, whether to have a rotating presidency between leaders of the Greek and Turkish Cypriot communities to ensure political equality and who should act as security guarantors of the agreement. The Greek side is adamant that the c.35,000 Turkish troops currently stationed in the North must withdraw and are also said to prefer the EU as guarantor.
In 2004, a similar proposed peace settlement was decisively rejected by Greek Cypriots in a referendum. Any solution from the latest talks would also be subject to separate referendums in the Greek and Turkish Cypriot communities.
The scars of the 1963-1974 inter-communal conflict remain visible, most visibly through the existence of the Commission for Missing Persons (CMP), established in 1981, which tries to trace the remains of the Greek and Turkish Cypriot recognized figure of 2,001 missing persons. Another longstanding topic of contention in negotiations, property, reflects the mass displacement of people that occurred with in excess of 150,000 Greek Cypriots forced to abandon their homes following the Turkish military intervention.
Notwithstanding, whilst the scars of conflict remain on this Mediterranean Ocean outpost, they are perhaps a little more faded as time produces an increasing proportion of the population born after 1974 and thus not shaped by personal memories of the conflict.
If successful, a settlement would undoubtedly boost Guterres’ reputation as a mediator, even though they first began nearly two years ago under Ban Ki-moon’s UN Secretariat. Guterres himself recognized that any agreement would be viewed as ‘a symbol of hope for 2017’ .