The ‘Cyprus problem’, like the ‘Irish troubles’, has been going on for as long as I can remember in some form or other. But in recent years there has been very slow progress in Cyprus, and some setbacks.
The Annan plan for reunification of the island was rejected by the Greek-Cypriots, but at least now it is possible for both communities to visit each other across the Green Line.
A few weeks ago the Greek-Cypriots demolished the Nicosia wall across Ledra Street. This forms part of the barrier between the Greek Republic of Cyprus and the Turkish Republic of North Cyprus. The barrier has been there in some form or other since 1955, before Cypriot independence. British soldiers erected barbed wire across Ledra Street to separate the two communities. Even now the border is not open at this point, as the wall was quickly replaced by a plastic barrier.
I understand a bridge across the UN buffer zone at this point, built to facilitate a new border crossing in the center of old Nicosia, was also demolished by the Greek-Cypriots. Their motive in demolishing this section of the Nicosia wall was apparently a gesture to prove they were willing to allow a new crossing point in Ledra Street, but theyÂ demanded mainland Turkish troops be removed from the North first.
This is clearly an unrealistic demand. Of course Turkish troops must be removed from the North, but this can only be done by serious negotiation, and they need to be replaced by an international security force to protect the Turkish-Cypriot population. This could be a UN or more probably a EU force, assisted by a Turkish-Cypriot security force. The Greek-Cypriots already have their National Guard, and two huge British military bases which effectively protect them. But they too could negotiate an international security force to protect them if they felt it necessary, being the majority population.
There is presently circulating a Greek-Cypriot inspired petition calling for the return of Famagusta/Varosha, the until now derelict town and closed tourist area which has been in the Turkish zone since 1974. From talking to Turkish-Cypriots I understand parts of this area are now being developed with new tourist hotels, etc. No doubt, having waited over 30 years without making any attempt to open up andÂ develop this once popular tourist area, the Turkish-Cypriots felt that since the Greek-Cypriots had rejected the Annan reunification plan, and seemed in no hurry to negotiate a new one, there was no point in just holding on to Famagusta/Varosha as a derelict bargaining chip, much of it frozen in the time of July 1974.Â
The petition is positive in that it calls for the return of Famagusta/Varosha, rather than for the dismantling of the TRNC and absorption of North Cyprus into the Greek-Cypriot administered Republic of Cyprus. But no parts of the TRNC will be handed over to the Greek-Cypriots without negotiation and an agreed plan.
The way forward is for both communities to come together in serious negotiations to solve all these problems. They have come a long way already. There needs to be a federal solution, with Turkish-Cypriot and Greek-Cypriot states within an reunited Republic of Cyprus.
For areas like Famagusta/Varosha there are various possibilities. It could be handed over to the Greek-Cypriot state, or it could perhaps be a federal area administered directly by the Greek/Turkish Cypriot federal government of the Republic. A place where Greek and Turkish Cypriots coexist peacefully, along with the returning tourists.
Then there is the question of the return of refugees to their former homes (this applies to both Turkish and Greek Cypriot refugees), compensation for lost homes/land, etc.. By negotiation and agreement a solution can be found which protects the minority Turkish Cypriot population from being swamped by Greek Cypriots and made powerless again.
One way would be for Greek-Cypriots, wherever they lived on the island, in the Turkish or Greek states, not to be able to vote in elections for the Turkish Cypriot state assembly, only for the Greek Cypriot state assembly, and in federal elections. The opposite would apply to Turkish Cypriots living in the Greek Cypriot state.
It is now high time some serious negotiations went on, and the whole island was reunited as a member of the EU. But gestures like knocking down walls and replacing them with plastic barriers, creating petitions, etc. is not going to change anything. Both sides have to show they really do want a solution and reunification, before it will happen, and before all the problems of refugees, compensation, EU membership for the Turkish Cypriots, etc. can be solved.
If Northern Ireland can do it, and the DUP’s Ian Paisley can sit in government with Sinn Fein’s Gerry Adams, then Turkish and Greek Cypriots can also come together in a joint administration for a Federal Republic of Cyprus.