Dan Lindley

Cyprus: What Is to be Done?

April 30, 2004

            The Cypriots, Greece, Turkey, the E.U., the U.S., and the world community would be better off with a unified and peaceful Cyprus. However, Greek Cypriot rejection of the Annan reunification plan contains a silver lining. Had the Cypriots reunified while uncompromising nationalist attitudes prevail on Cyprus, the stage might have been set renewed ethnic tension and conflict.

            If the Greek and Turkish Cypriots experience tensions after a settlement, the Annan plan would have amplified these problems because it largely recreates Cyprus’ troublesome 1960 constitution. The plan gives each side veto power over legislation, and it includes disproportional representation of the Turkish Cypriots in the Senate, the Chamber of Deputies, and in the civil service. There is a rotating presidency, and the Supreme Court is divided between three Greek Cypriot, three Turkish Cypriot, and three external judges. These features mean that if ethnic tension flares up, the new government will gridlock and disputes will erupt over government functions – exactly what caused and exacerbated conflict in the early 1960s.


            If Cypriots viewed each other as Cypriots instead of Greek Cypriots and Turkish Cypriots, none of these group-based rights and privileges would matter. They would be vestiges from a distant time when the majority threatened the minority, and it took special rights to compensate.

            Unfortunately, Greek Cypriot nationalism remains a problem and Cypriots are not ready for reunification. Tassos Papadopoulos is a long time hard-liner and he was elected to reject the Annan plan. If the Greek Cypriots were ready for compromise, they would have stuck with Glafcos Clerides. If the Greek Cypriots were ready for compromise, debates whether to vote for the Annan plan would not have been characterized by intra-Greek Cypriot violence, hateful graffiti, and utter lack of leadership by politicians to prepare the Greek Cypriot public for compromise. Finally, the Turkish Cypriots were not motivated to vote yes because of shared Cypriot identity. They wanted the recognition and wealth that would come with E.U. membership.

            It is true that Cypriots handled the opening of the border in April 2003 peacefully. Yet, many Greek Cypriots who wanted to vote yes to a solution were so intimidated by nationalist violence and threats of violence on the eve of the election that they did not dare speak out for a ‘yes.’

            So what is to be done? Hopes for early reunification are dashed, and if I am right, that is a good thing in the short term. Yet in the long term, everyone involved will benefit from reunification.

            The first steps are for the Turkish Cypriots to give back the land they would have ceded under the Annan plan, and for Turkey to drastically reduce its armed presence. There were legitimate reasons for Turkey to invade in 1974, but they took too much land and stayed too long. In exchange for these steps, the world community should recognize North Cyprus.

            Second, the E.U. and U.S. in particular should work hard to get North Cyprus up to E.U. standards. Given the small size of North Cyprus, this should be relatively easy and cheap.

            Third, the E.U. should admit North Cyprus. This would resolve the Cyprus problem, and help smooth Turkey’s eventual E.U. admission. Greek Cypriots would gain freedom of movement and freedom to purchase property. The world would benefit from seeing the E.U. accept a Muslim-oriented state. Our shared future depends on working together, and there are few better and safer ways to progress down this path than to let tiny North Cyprus into the E.U.

            Finally, Cypriots must take advantage of this interval to reduce malignant nationalism, and to agree on common histories of their past. In the great rush towards a reunification plan, none of the principal leaders on Cyprus took responsibility for troubles in the past and made apologies to the other side. Introspection and apologies must precede any reunification plan, E.U.-based or not. If they do not, group-based protections will be necessary, and they will foreshadow trouble to come.