Since the days of Homer, the Greeks and the Turks have been highly intermixed in their affairs, owing in no small part to their geopolitical and demographic proximity. Yet perhaps the most contentious dispute of interests is that of Cyprus, which both nations cohabited from 1571 until 1974, when a Greek-sponsored coup (PDF) led to a Turkish invasion of the island. Since then, decades of division and entrenched political stances have made any recognition of a shared past or anticipation of a united future unthinkable. Today, Cyprus is a de facto militarily-partitioned state between Turkey and Greece, and the subject of one of the longest-running United Nations (UN) missions; only one side of the island – the Greek-led Republic of Cyprus – is internationally recognised as legitimate; and peace negotiations –a “complex and ongoing process” – repeatedly stalled even before a 2004 referendum on a final peace deal was rejected by Greek Cypriots.
Permanent, de jure partition of the conflict in Cyprus provides the promise of a lasting peace to the Turkish Cypriot side of the island– which constitutes 37% of its geography: security, legitimacy, and stability.
Reunification – a pipe dream?
Plans that have been drafted for the Cyprus problem to date have always advocated reunification and consequently have always embedded the characteristics of the 1960 Republic of Cyprus Constitution that triggered the conflict on the island. A readiness for political compromise and social cohesion – undisputedly a precursor for any peace deal – is debatably non-existent on the island. The psycho-political stance of the two Cypriot communities indicates that they want to remain divided; Cyprus should not be left at the mercy of an endless peace process where issues are negotiated to a point of tautology.
The fact that the two communities on the island continue to defend their own histories and biases, means that they are not ready to reunify; nor indeed, one might argue, should either side accept the dilution of their cultural, ethnic, and religious heritages. Rather, to push repeatedly for this elusive peace serves only to delay an inevitable outbreak of dispute into the future– held back only by an internationally-monitored border.
The challenges of partition
Partition is a common political practice, but unfortunately it is rather difficult to have it recognised. Partition attempts tend to have consequences which spill across international borders; the disintegration of Yugoslavia is one such example. International responses are therefore crucial to such matters, a starting point for which would be to accept the fact that ‘communities’ have a right to secede as a matter of international institutional morality; this recognition would consequently eradicate many legal and political problems surrounding partition, such as human rights and property issues. There needs to be an acceptance of ‘here-and-now’ realities if the ultimate aim is peace.
One such reality is the fact that the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus (TNRC) unilateral declaration of statehood was a manifestation of the right of self-determination of the Turkish Cypriot people. Conversely, the TRNC has long been declared ‘legally invalid’ by a UN Security Council which also demanded its non-recognition by other UN States Member and by the European Union (EU). Despite the presence of the Turkish army with the consent of the TNRC as ruling authority – as highlighted in Loizidou v. Turkey – they remain accused of maintaining an ‘illegal occupation’.
There are further axiomatic legal obstacles to partition, such as Article II of the 1960 Treaty of Guarantee signed by the two Cypriot leaders, Turkey, Greece and the United Kingdom. International organisations such as the EU perpetuate the existence of the 1960 Republic of Cyprus, granting it enjoyment of protections awarded to states under public international law. In reality, however, there exist two democratic states of Cyprus and obstacles to peace are overtly political rather than strictly legal, a fact that is underscored by efforts of successive UN Secretaries-General in overseeing international mediation efforts; accordingly, the solution needs to be a political one.
Partition would also result in the destruction of rights of residence and property of both Greek and Turkish Cypriots; justified mutual claims for compensation can, however, be raised following the recognition of the TRNC. Moreover, redistribution of land rights in the interests of permanent peace is not, however, a new concept and has been employed – contentiously but successfully – on Northern Ireland and most recently in Colombia.
The promise of peace through partition
Tensions between the North and South are particularly low in Cyprus, in large part due to the de facto partition on the island. The EU recognises Cyprus as a “beacon of stability” and this status quo has effectively eliminated fears of falling victim to renewed violence among the two Cypriot communities. One may hesitate to claim that the partition of Cyprus has had more of a positive impact on Cypriots than the alternative of the government which would have taken power after the Greek-led coup in 1974, but it is undeniable that partition has enforced an albeit unwelcome peace on Cyprus. Partition has been argued to have avoided a descent into widespread ethnic cleansing– saving lives – and allowed sibling communities to grow under tense but stable conditions.
If the partition of Cyprus is internationally accepted, a wide variety of challenges of the ongoing peace negotiations can be resolved: derogations from EU law regarding living in the north without limits; freedoms will be restored throughout Cyprus; the contentious guarantorship will cease to be required; and Greek Cypriot authorities will acquire the sole legal right to use the hydrocarbon findings that have been found on the south of the island.
Without a doubt, permanent peace necessitates at the very least, independent Turkish Cypriot executive power and court jurisdiction free from Greek Cypriot influence given that neither side of the island wants to lose their free determination. A political and territorial partition would therefore present a fresh start that could terminate this long-lasting ethnic conflict.