The divided island of Cyprus confirms the axiom that political leaders occasionally need excuses for success. The United States should give newly elected Greek Cypriot President Demetris Christofias an excuse to negotiate the reunification of the island with Turkish Cypriot President Mehmet Ali Talat by breaking the international embargo on the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus (TRNC) through direct transportation, trade, telecommunications and sporting links.
Cyprus fractured between Greek Cypriot and Turkish Cypriot de facto sovereignties in 1963 following the demise of the 1960 constitution. Since then, Greek Cypriot leaders have lacked any political incentive to compromise from a position of domination because the Greek Cypriot south has enjoyed exclusive international recognition while Turkish Cypriots have suffered from political isolation and economic strangulation. The Greek Cypriot south is represented at the United Nations. It enjoys diplomatic relations with every nation but the Republic of Turkey. It represents the entire island at international sporting or cultural events. Greek Cypriot intransigence has carried no penalty. Indeed, stubbornness has been rewarded by the international community through the continuing global embargo of the Turkish Cypriots but for Turkey. Turkish Cypriot youth, straining in a economy under perpetual duress, have had to flee the island in search of opportunity. Time has allowed the embargo to weaken Turkish Cypriot resistance to the Greek Cypriot ambition to reduce them to vassalage. In this favorable international context for the Greek Cypriot south, any Greek Cypriot leader who would have yielded anything to Turkish Cypriots would have been committing political suicide.
At its birth from British colonial rule in 1960, Cyprus sported a single sovereignty with single citizenship under a finely balanced constitution. To opine on responsibility for the destruction of the constitutional order in 1963 and the necessity for Turkish troops to rescue Turkish Cypriots from violence in 1974 would imperil ongoing reunification talks. It is sufficient to note that through Greek and Greek Cypriot lobbying and a western prejudice favoring Christians over Muslims, the international community has severed virtually all government and private connections to Turkish Cypriots for nearly 45 years. That isolation was not required by national or international laws. It was the result of cynical political or economic calculations of governments and private enterprise. Intermittent negotiations over reunification with separate constituent states predictably stagnated for three decades. Greek Cypriots generally demanded supremacy, while Turkish Cypriots generally demanded equality.
Then came the 2004 “Annan Plan.” United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan fashioned a Nobel Prize-like breakthrough to reunify Cyprus through a bold scheme of federalism that accommodated both Greek Cypriot and Turkish Cypriot aspirations while reciprocally quelling their fears. Dual referendums on the “Annan Plan” were held in April that year. Turkish Cypriots voted overwhelmingly in favor. The United States and the European Union had lured them into affirmative votes by promising to end the strict embargo on the TRNC if the unexpected happened and Greek Cypriots balked. They did, but the embargo has remained. Neither the United States nor the EU has honored their respective promises to open direct links to the TRNC. Their international credibility has plunged and diminished their ability to facilitate reconciliation elsewhere through a combination of promised carrots and sticks. To add insult to injury to the Turkish Cypriots, who had voted in favor of peace and unity, the European Union proceeded to admit solely the Greek Cypriot south as a new member, theoretically representing all of Cyprus on the heels of its shipwreck of reunification.
The issue remained dormant for four years until the 2008 election of Greek Cypriot President Christofias on a platform that included a renewal of negotiations with President Talat. Face-to-face talks began early in the year. After a meeting on May 23, the two leaders committed themselves to achieving “a bicommunal, bizonal federation with political equality, as defined be relevant [United Nations] Security Council resolutions.” The envisioned partnership dispensation would comprise a federal government with a single international personality along with a Turkish Cypriot constituent state and a Greek Cypriot constituent state bearing equal status.
President Christofias and President Talat met again on July 1, when they agreed in principle on a single sovereignty and single citizenship. A scheduled meeting on July 25 is expected to conclude with an agreement to begin discussions in September on a comprehensive final settlement. Working groups and technical committees have already been addressing core political questions and day-to-day issues such as education, road safety, health and the environment.
Despite contrary expectations from world leaders, Greek Cypriots nixed the “Annan Plan” because they perceived that the international embargo of the TRNC put time on their side. The United States can reverse that perception by immediately initiating transportation, telecommunications, trade and sporting ties with the TRNC conditioned on a certification by the secretary of state that Turkish Cypriots are negotiating in good faith for reunification on just and equitable terms. That opening is exactly what President Christofias needs to sell an equal partnership single Cypriot state to his compatriots.
Bruce Fein is a resident scholar with the Turkish Coalition of America.