By Shawn Broyles
On the corner of Pygmalionos and Lidras in Old City Nicosia sits my favorite bar, a small specialty beer establishment called Brewfellas. From the Outside patio I can slightly lean to see around the corner to the end of Lidras where there is a guard shack staffed by three uniformed Greeks. This is of course the main pedestrian checkpoint to cross the Green Line into the TRNC, a United Nations demilitarized zone which divides both the city of Nicosia and the country of Cyprus. On about a weekly basis I go through this checkpoint to both practice my Turkish in the cafes of Lefkosha (The Turkish name for north Nicosia) and peruse the bookstores. Given the relative ease of passing one might never surmise the turbulent history of the Green Line and the ongoing ethnic tensions on the island. If one spends any significant amount of time on the island this history becomes apparent. It lies just below casual observation but defines almost every aspect of political life. The last presidential debate in 2013 had an entire session dedicated solely to this issue which is grounded in Cypriot history and self-determination. More importantly one would not immediately know the incredible effect that the history of a small island and the resulting dispute could have on the economic future of the international community.
It would be both glib and obtuse to attempt to describe all of modern Cypriot history within a small article such as this, so I will do my best to only outline the major points that are relevant to the issues at hand, primarily sovereignty. Cypriot history ancient and modern is defined by this concept. The Greek speaking population on the island which has been there since the end of the Bronze Age has spent nearly all of that time ruled by numerous foreign powers from Romans and Byzantines to Crusaders and Ottomans. The most pertinent colonial masters for the sake of our discussion are the Ottomans and finally the British Empire. Ottoman rule from 1570 onward introduced a Turkish population to the island through both its patrimonial Timar system and some forced relocations from Anatolia, with some natives converting to Islam and joining the Turkish community to avoid the heavy taxes levied against non-muslims. That Turkish population has hovered around 18-20 percent and remains so today. For most of the Turkish populations’ tenure on the island both Greek and Turkish Cypriots have lived in relative peace. Indeed Sir Samuel White Baker, a British officer, wrote in his accounts in Cyprus as I saw it in 1879 (a year after its administration was officially turned over to Britain from the Ottoman Empire) the great amount of economic co-operation that existed between the two communities.
British colonial rule would, however, prove to be brutal and polarizing. The idea of enosisor political union with Greece became popular among Greek Cypriots during the early 20th century. Cypriots had long been tired of being denied say in their own governance by the British and thus sought sovereignty through enosis. This was a part of a much larger historical idea to unite all Hellenic peoples and was therefore subject to nationalist and fascist overtones. The successful union of Crete with Greece and subsequent expulsion of Turks from the island rightly worried Cypriot Turks who began to support partition or taksim. Intercommunal violence during this period was only exacerbated by British policy during the 1950s to turn a blind eye to, and at times agitate, armed Turkish groups in order to neutralize armed Greek pro-enosis groups (see TMT and EOKA respectively). Independence came in August of 1960 with United Nations membership only a month later. The subsequent constitution appeared to only create more problems and intercommunal violence continued resulting in the establishment of the UNFICYP (United Nations Peacekeeping Force in Cyprus) with resolution 186. Despite U.N. presence on the island, tensions between the two communities, partially fueled by their respective national patrons, continued to pursue their projects which culminated in violence. After the displacement of 30,000 Turkish Cypriots in December 1963 the British military drew the ‘’Green Line’’, a ceasefire line which would become impassable after the events of 1974. A series of military dictatorships in Greece throughout this period would eventually culminate in the attempt to realize enosis through force and overthrow the democratically elected Bishop Makarios III, whom the United States State Department labelled the ‘’Castro of the Mediterranean’’, not a favorable epithet during the most intense years of the Cold War. In response to mobilization of Greek and Cypriot forces, Turkey invaded the north part of the island under the auspices of the 1960 Treaty of Guarantee which they felt legitimized their action, despite protest from the U.N. and the international community at large.
The events of 1974 are complex and for a separate discussion. Suffice it to say that the events which led to the Turkish invasion of the island were precipitated by rightists and fascist thugs on both sides who were encouraged by the CIA, the State Department, and Henry Kissinger, a story which I leave to much more eloquent and perspicacious minds. I urge anyone interested in these events to read the late, great Christopher Hitchens’ indictment of Henry Kissinger in The Trial of Henry Kissinger which has an entire chapter on the Cyprus dispute.
The most salient fallout from the 1974 conflict is the long lasting political division reinforced by the international community and the immense loss of personal property. By December of 1974 over 180,000 Greek Cypriots had been displaced to south of the Green Line. Almost immediately several thousand Turkish Cypriots moved to Turkish occupied territory and claimed formerly Greek property, the return/compensation of which is a key discussion points in the most recent (December 2015) peace talks between Nicos Anastasiades and Mustafa Akinci.
The Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus which declared its’ independence in 1983 remains unrecognized by any nation or international body with the exception of Turkey on whom it relies heavily for economic assistance. The Greek side of the island, the Republic of Cyprus, has no diplomatic relations with Turkey, a problem which lends itself to problems both grand and banal. Indeed, there are no direct flights between Istanbul and Larnaca, much to my irritation. These grievances of international recognition which economically isolate the TRNC and cause the RoC to use their veto against Turkish accession to the EU can only be resolved by the communities on the island. It is in this very major way that the events of 1974 and resulting negotiations on property and security affect the international community.
The most notable and recent plan to resolve these issues was the famous 2004 Annan Plan for Cyprus. Despite great hope for the Annan Plan which proposed a two state federation with a rotating presidency, limited right to return, and a ‘’Reconciliation Commission’’ to address previous issues, the Greek side gave the referendum a loud and resounding ‘’no’’ with 76 percent of voters rejecting the plan while the TRNC largely accepted it. This rejection was received negatively in the international community. The word ‘’disappointment’’ was aimed at the Greek Cypriot decision by both Germany and the United States. Regardless of one’s opinion on the rejection of the Annan plan, it would be at the very least unfair to denounce the decision as unwarranted. Among the many reasons given for the no vote was the international community’s limited addressing of Greek Cypriot security concerns. There were and are 35,000 Turkish troops on the island which is a matter of major concern for modern Cypriots.
Indeed 1974 is still with in living memory for many. I can no longer count how many discussions I have had with older cab drivers about their experiences during the 1974 war. Many have not returned north to see their childhood homes as it would only serve to reinforce the intense sense of loss they already bear. Despite these feelings of intense sadness, anger, and loss, Greek Cypriots have not given up on the idea of unification with the north. The nationalist fervor of enosis is long gone for both older and younger Cypriots. During my first month on the island I wore a wristband with a Greek flag on it. Much to my surprise I was met with disapproval. ‘’Why would you wear this? You’re in Cyprus, not Greece.’’ This is a sentiment which seems to cross most party lines. With renewed talks as of 2014 and the numerous meetings between the two heads of state Anastasiades and Akinci, it seems as if Greeks may be ready for a peace agreement.
It is no coincidence that these renewed talks occur within the context of the 2012-2013 financial crisis and the discovery of large offshore natural gas reserves in 2008. It is estimated that Cyprus stands to revive its economy and gain several billion euros if unification can be agreed upon and EEZ disputes with Turkey resolved. I will leave the complexities of this discussion for the next article but I will close with what I believe to be a very true and important statement. The ability of the international community to resolve disputes with an approach heavily informed by historical knowledge and understanding is essential to maintaining economic and physical security. Make no mistake, Europe’s aims to move away from dependence on Russian hydrocarbons, especially in the light of current events in the Crimea and Ukraine, hinge largely upon their ability to help resolve disputes within the European Union. Cyprus is a unique and important part of this dynamic. As I will elaborate in the next article, Cyprus natural gas reserves, unification, and improvement of relations with Turkey remind us that we should not dismiss small, far-off border disputes as irritations rooted in historical rivalry but as chances to stretch the muscles of our international organizations to create a more peaceful, economically stable world.
The UNA EO blog is a collective venture. The purpose of this blog is to highlight meaningful experiences had by Americans in Eastern Oklahoma as well as to promote diplomacy in our home state.