A threat­en­ing dead­lock

The Hamilton Spectator - - COMMENT - Gwynne Dyer is an in­de­pen­dent jour­nal­ist whose ar­ti­cles are pub­lished in 45 coun­tries.

There is only one vil­lage in Cyprus where Greek-Cypri­ots and Turk­ish-Cypri­ots live side by side. It’s called Pyla, and the only rea­son that the two eth­nic groups there con­tinue to live to­gether is that it’s in the United Na­tions Buf­fer Zone that sep­a­rates the Repub­lic of Cyprus from the “Turk­ish Repub­lic of North­ern Cyprus” (TRNC). It would be in real trou­ble if the UN pulled out.

That could hap­pen. UNFICYP (United Na­tions Peace­keep­ing Force in Cyprus) is 53 years old, and pa­tience is run­ning out. For­mer UN Sec­re­tary Gen­eral Ban Ki-moon warned in 2011 that “UNFICYP’s con­tin­ued pres­ence on the is­land can­not be taken for granted,” and the cur­rent Sec­re­tary-Gen­eral, An­to­nio Guter­res, has said quite plainly that this can­not go on for­ever.

But he may have been bluff­ing. He said that just be­fore the umpteenth con­fer­ence seek­ing to re­unify the is­land opened in the Swiss re­sort of Crans-Mon­tana on June 28. Ev­ery­body reck­oned that it had a good chance of suc­cess — but now that it has failed, we will find out whether Guter­res meant his threat or not.

It should have suc­ceeded. Pres­i­dent Ni­cos Anas­tasi­ades of the Repub­lic of Cyprus and Pres­i­dent Mustafa Ak­inci of the TRNC were very close to a deal, and it looked like the two com­mu­ni­ties on the is­land were both will­ing to vote for it. (Ref­er­en­dums on both sides would have been re­quired to rat­ify any deal.) But the talks fell apart at the last hur­dle.

When Cyprus got its in­de­pen­dence from the Bri­tish Em­pire in 1960, three coun­tries were given the job of guar­an­tee­ing the con­sti­tu­tion that laid down how power should be shared be­tween Greek-Cypri­ots and Turk­ish-Cypri­ots: the United King­dom and the two “mother coun­tries,” Greece and Turkey. These guar­an­tors had the right and duty to in­ter­vene if the terms of the deal were vi­o­lated.

The power-shar­ing deal col­lapsed in 1963, mainly be­cause a large num­ber of GreekCypri­ots wanted union with Greece. The Turk­ish-Cypriot mi­nor­ity fled into dozens of iso­lated en­claves, and in 1964 the United Na­tions sent in the UNFICYP peace­keep­ing mis­sion to pro­tect them. But none of the guar­an­tors in­ter­vened.

Ten years later, in 1974, the colonels who ruled in Athens or­ga­nized a bloody coup in Cyprus that over­threw the elected gov­ern­ment and in­stalled a regime com­mit­ted to unite the is­land with Greece. When Bri­tain, the other guar­an­tor, refuse to act against the coup (Bri­tain had mil­i­tary bases on the is­land), Turkey sent troops on its own.

Greek-Cypriot re­sis­tance col­lapsed in a few days, and Turkey oc­cu­pied more than one-third of the is­land. All the Greek-Cypri­ots in the Turk­ish-oc­cu­pied zone fled south, and all the Turk­ish-Cypri­ots in the rest of the is­land aban­doned their be­sieged com­mu­ni­ties and fled north. And that’s how it has re­mained for the past 43 years, with UNFICYP pa­trolling the buf­fer zone be­tween the Repub­lic of Cyprus and the TRNC.

Four years ago, both parts of the is­land man­aged to have gov­ern­ments that were in favour of re­uni­fi­ca­tion at the same time. There was broad agree­ment on a fed­eral repub­lic with wide au­ton­omy for the two com­mu­ni­ties, and so the con­fer­ence in Switzer­land be­gan last month with high hopes.

It was Turkey that killed the hopes for a fi­nal deal in Switzer­land. In past years it was never an ob­sta­cle to a deal: the var­i­ous pre­vi­ous at­tempts at a per­ma­nent set­tle­ment died for other rea­sons. But it’s a dif­fer­ent Turkey nowa­days — one ruled by a mini-Putin called Pres­i­dent Re­cep Tayyib Er­do­gan.

Er­do­gan holds ab­so­lute power only by grace of a ref­er­en­dum in April that he won by a mere one per cent mar­gin — and he only got that by mo­nop­o­liz­ing the me­dia cov­er­age and fid­dling the re­sults.

The Turks who voted “No” against ex­pand­ing Er­do­gan’s pow­ers see him, quite rightly, as the end of real democ­racy in Turkey, so he needs to wrong-foot them and keep his own sup­port­ers mo­bi­lized by in­flam­ing public opin­ion with var­i­ous na­tion­al­ist griev­ances. This time it’s Cyprus.

Turkey re­fused to give up its right to in­ter­vene in Cyprus un­der the 1960 agree­ment, or to with­draw the 35,000 sol­diers it keeps sta­tioned in the TRNC. So the deal col­lapsed, and it will be a long time be­fore any­body tries again. If ever. But in the cir­cum­stances, it is very un­likely that the United Na­tions will pull its peace­keep­ers out.


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