December 8, 2023

By Steven Roberts……..

As I write this the talks on the future of Cyprus between the elected Presidents in both parts of the island (or to use official jargon ‘the leaders of the Greek Cypriot and Turkish Cypriot communities’) have resumed. This follows a hiatus for the past few weeks caused, not by any disagreement in the talks themselves, but by a vote in the Greek Cypriot Parliament over commemorating an historical event in schools. I won’t go into details of that argument, but it is timely to consider what the options for North Cyprus might be whether these talks succeed or fail.

The current “non-solution solution” of an internationally recognised state in the south of the island and a state in the north recognised only by Turkey (who created it with its 1974 military intervention), is not sustainable economically or politically in the medium to long term. North Cyprus is economically dependent on Turkey, has an underdeveloped business sector, and a tourist industry that is too dependent on large hotels and associated casinos. Not only that but the continued presence of the United Nations forces in Cyprus that have kept a sometimes uneasy peace on the island must be in question. UNFICYP, they may have been here since the 1960s, but only on a mandate that runs for 6 months at a time.

When you look at the possible outcomes to success or failure of the talks, and how North Cyprus might look in the future there are only a limited number of possible permutations.

Despite the apparent complexity, I think there are only one of five possible outcomes i.e.:

  1. Two internationally recognised states.
  2. One Unitary state in Cyprus.
  3. North Cyprus being annexed into Turkey as its 82nd province.
  4. A ‘Taiwan’ or ‘Kosovo’ option with the TRNC getting some limited recognition from a few countries, but probably not the United Nations, the Council of Europe or the European Union.
  5. A Federal Cyprus based on a BiZonal BiCommunal federation (with political equality and clearly defined roles for the federal and national tiers of government).

So let’s look at these in more detail.

1) Two internationally recognised states

This idea has strong support among Turkish Cypriot nationalists in North Cyprus, and among some Greek Cypriot nationalists in the South too (though they are reluctant to admit it publicly). This option has been ruled out in a succession of United Nations resolutions, and in the 42 years since the Greek ‘coup’ and Turkish ‘intervention’ of 1974, and the 33 years since the declaration of the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus, no country except Turkey has recognised the state controlling 37% of the island of Cyprus as a country.

What has changed in four decades? Well on the one hand new nations have been created from the break up of Yugoslavia and the end of the Soviet Union, but most of the nations that came out of these changes, like Latvia, Estonia, Croatia, Slovenia etc were either re-established countries, states in previous federations, or both. Other new entities such as Transdniestre and Abkhazia remain unrecognised, and the recent Russian interventions in Ukraine have probably made it less likely that two Cyprus states would be recognised internationally.

2) One Unitary state in Cyprus

Europe is composed of a mixture of Unitary and Federal states. Unitary states (like the UK and France) are governed by an Executive (Government) and a Legislature (Parliament, or Assembly). All power comes from these sources, although some may be devolved to Councils or Regions. In Federal nations (like Germany or Belgium) the powers of the States and the Federal (national) Government are defined.

The Unitary state option is preferred by some Greek Cypriot nationalists, but largely opposed by Turkish Cypriots. A Unitary state would have a built in Greek Cypriot majority on the island, and the concern is that this majority could dominate Turkish Cypriots and other minorities such as Armenians and Maronites (and not forgetting foreign residents).

3) North Cyprus being annexed into Turkey as its 82nd province

Until recently this option was not really taken seriously, but is is now being floated by some as a real proposition. Given the economic dependence of the north of the island on Turkey, its long term use of the Turkish Lira, and the number of Turkish settlers who came to the North in the last 42 years, what is to stop this happening?

Well two things actually, firstly the majority of Turkish Cypriots do not want this. They did not see one colonial power (Britain) leave just to replace it with another, and they resisted the EOKA aim to unify Cyprus with Greece. They have shown that they want to govern themselves, not to be dominated by foreigners and occupiers.

Secondly, there would be huge international opposition, as we saw with the Russian annexation of Crimea, or the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait 26 years ago. Given Turkey’s role as the key member of NATO in this region, it is clear that such a move would bring instability into the whole of the Eastern Mediterranean.

4) A Taiwan or Kosovo option with limited recognition of the TRNC

Some have promoted this as an end in itself, while others have said this is where North Cyprus might end up if the current settlement talks fail. Under this option there could be direct trade and direct flights, but international recognition would be limited.

Economically this might be better than the current situation, but the North Cyprus economy would still be closely tied to that of Turkey, so although this state would be nominally independent, in reality would it be any more independent than the current TRNC?

On the positive side, this option may help gain more international recognition for the many Universities in North Cyprus.

At present Turkish Cypriots who qualify to get passports in the south are classed as EU Citizens, and able to travel freely and work in EU countries. It is unclear whether this would still be the case if the TRNC became a ‘Mediterranean Taiwan.’ What is more certain is that it would not improve the position of those who were born in North Cyprus to parents who came from the Turkish mainland. Currently they cannot get EU passports, and this option would be unlikely to change that.

5) A Federal Cyprus based on a BiZonal BiCommunal federation (with political equality and clearly defined roles for the federal and national tiers of government).

A Federal Cyprus with a Turkish Cypriot in the north and Greek Cypriot constituent state in the south was agreed in principle by former leaders Rauf Denktash and Archbishop Makarios as far back as 1977. It arose in the aftermath of the war in 1974, and the transfers of population that occurred in its aftermath. We forget too easily that many Greek and Turkish Cypriots did not want to leave towns and villages where they and their families had lived for generations. The decision was forced on them and about 200,000 Cypriots became refugees on their own island.

Since 1977 all the talks between the Cypriot communities brokered by the United Nations have sought to flesh out the broad principles into a solution that all could at least accept and work with. The first serious attempt to get agreement was made in the late 1980s with the ‘set of ideas’ produced by the UN. This failed to make progress but the next attempt promoted by the UN was the Annan Plan, once again it was a plan put together by diplomats and officials, but this one did get as far as a public vote, Turkish Cypriots approved it, but Greek Cypriots did not. When Mehmet Ali Talat and Dimitris Christofias took office they restarted talks, this time ones led by Cypriots with the UN taking more of a facilitating role. These talks made progress on a number of chapters, but Talat was voted out of office, then the economic crisis happened, so momentum was lost.

The election of Nikos Anastasiades in the south and Mustafa Akinci in the north of the island led to the resumption of talks, once again aiming to reach a settlement on the basis of a Federation. Strong progress has been made this time, on issues such as policing, EU matters, and levels of responsibility between the Federal and State Governments, but there are still stumbling blocks. Some are disagreements between the Cypriot negotiating teams, but also coming into play are disagreements between Greece and Turkey on issues which are nothing to do with Cyprus (like the status of an uninhabited islet in the Aegean), but which have a negative impact on the talks.

Mustafa Akinci, Espen Barth Eide and Nikos Anastasiades

If these talks conclude with a settlement we will see a united Cyprus with one international personality, but with most powers devolved to the Greek and Turkish Cypriot states. This would be similar to Belgium, where most powers are administered by Flanders and Wallonia, with the federal Government mainly dealing with national defence, foreign policy and the budget. If a Federal Cyprus can be agreed then there will be no more ’embargoes,’ the island will be in the EU, and all its citizens will have the ‘four freedoms’ that stem from that i.e.:

  •  Free movement of goods.
  • Freedom of movement for workers.
  • Freedom to provide services.
  • Free movement of capital.

Whether these talks can succeed where other initiatives have failed remains to be seen. Even if agreement is reached will it be supported by Greek and Turkish speaking Cypriots in a referendum? Ultimately this will be a decision for Cypriots, but as incomers who live on the island we will have views if not votes. Those of us who want to stay here do have a stake in the outcome.

The only certainty is that the current temporary limbo status of North Cyprus has run its course.

Change is coming, it’s a question of what change, and when?

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