Cyprus became a possession of the Ottoman Empire in 1571 and it remained under its control for over three hundred years, until it was temporally ceded to Great Britain in 1878 that however, annexed it in 1914.
Already in 1931, large-scale anticolonial protests broke out in order to pursue enosis, the annexation with Greece, as Cypriots were supporting the Hellenic cause against Fascism in Europe. Despite the fact that in the previous years, Great Britain had already flirted with the idea of ceding the island to Greece in order to cause the final collapse of the Ottoman Empire, this time, its aim was to strengthen its relations with the only European country left resisting Fascism. However, the idea of enosis was only introduced on the island, without being actually turned into action. It was let sediment in people’s minds for the years to come. Indeed, in the late 1950s, the great majority was seeking freedom from foreign rule, which paved the way for a guerrilla group, the National Organization of Cypriot Fighters (Ethniki Organosis Kypriou Agoniston, EOKA) led by General Georgios Grivas, to seize the moment and start his battle for enosis. The United States and Great Britain who feared that the conflict could open the door to Soviet dominance in the eastern Mediterranean secretly supported Grivas in his fight against the communist leadership. Divide et impera was the strategy that once again in History, would be adopted by the British in order to weaken inter-communal relations between Greek and Turkish Cypriots—who until then, used to co-exist peacefully. Being left with no choice by the governments in London, Athens, and Ankara, Archbishop Makarios, the Greek Cypriot leader, agreed to independence as an alternative to union with Greece. Meanwhile the British, having lost their hegemony in Iraq, Jordan, and Egypt, were ready to leave the island and also leave behind the chaos they had created.
However, the London-Zurich agreements that led to the independence of Cyprus in 1960, provided the country with a new Constitution that did not treat Greek and Turkish Cypriots as equal citizens of the very same country, rather as two distinct categories. Independence concealed the seeds of partition: not only having fomented a group supporting union with Greece created resentments amongst Turkish Cypriots, not only the constitution increased the gap between the two ethnic groups, not only by signing the Treaty of Guarantee, Britain, Greece, and Turkey gained the opportunity to station their troops on the island until the present day with the justification to maintain the “sovereignty, territorial integrity and independence” of Cyprus, but now Turkey was also given a new reason to claim its old possession that had never been returned by Great Britain. Therefore, it took a proposal for constitutional amendments by Archbishop Makarios—now President of the Republic of Cyprus—to provoke violent fights between the two communities and the dispatch of the United Nations peacekeeping force (UNFICYP) in March 1964. Turkish Cypriots believed the amendments were aimed at suppressing their rights and were part of the Akritas Plan to achieve enosis; Greek Cypriots claimed the constitution was unworkable and prevented the two communities “from cooperation in a spirit of understanding and friendship”. In few words quoting Makarios, “the constitution had created a state but not a nation”.
The pivotal year was 1974. On 15 July, Nikos Sampson, leader of the Greek military junta, secretly backed for years by the American government and in cooperation with the National Guards and the Cypriot terrorist group, EOKA-B led a coup d’état against Archbishop Makarios. None of the guarantor powers took action to avoid what everybody knew would come next. Had they done so, a war, a forty-four-year invasion, and suffering could have been easily avoided. However, all the four-country had long waited for this moment: Greece was willing to share the island with Turkey if it meant achieving enosis; Britain had passed responsibility to the US, which was longing to weaken Makarios’ influence and strengthen its ties with NATO powers; and Turkey had been long waited for the favorable circumstances to set foot on the island. As the enosis with Greece may have been a matter of days, on 19 of July, Turkey invaded Cyprus invoking the Treaty of Guarantee to protect the status of Turkish Cypriots. The final occupation of one-third of the island occurred on 14 August 1974 and it lasts to this day. After being partitioned, Cyprus has experienced several painful and forced exchanges of the population between the North and the South, making over 300,000 people refugees in their own country. To further the demographic change, Turkey has been sending settlers to the North of Cyprus and these immigrations continue nowadays. In November 1983, the occupied area unilaterally declared its independence and the creation of the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus. This has always been considered a de facto state recognized only by Turkey.
Over the years, support for political union with Greece has dissipated. Since the late 1970s, leaders on both sides have engaged in several rounds of negotiations however, a successful understanding has never been reached. The key issues include the return of displaced Cypriots and the handling of their property, repatriation of Turkish settlers, demilitarization of the island, and the future role of foreign powers. In 2002, the most concerted attempt to reach a solution was initiated by the then UN secretary-general, Kofi Annan. In 2003, the Turkish Cypriot authorities eased border restrictions allowing thousands of Cypriots to cross the Green Line dividing the island for nearly thirty years. One major incentive was the Republic of Cyprus’s candidacy for membership in the European Union. However, the referendum on the Annan Plan was heavily rejected by Greek Cypriots, while Turkish Cypriots approved it. Whether it was a fair compromise, is debatable.
The current two leaders of both communities are fairly new—Mr. Anastasiades took office in 2013, and Mr. Akinci in 2015—and have started to be ready to engage in successful talks. A different political background helps to ease the situation: Greece is no longer interested in enosis being busy dealing with a severe economic crisis, and the fear of the domino effect of Communism has now dissipated. For his part, Erdogan’s Turkey does not seem interested in withdrawing its troops, being particularly interested in the most recent drilling operations in Cypriot waters. However, the social and legal situation on the island has also changed and the majority of Cypriots no longer sees Greece and Turkey as their motherlands. Turkish Cypriots are aware of the limitations a de facto state brings first and foremost political non-recognition and both external and internal economic isolation. Furthermore, the European Court of Human Rights opened the way for lawsuits from Greek Cypriots who lost property, with recent events of positive outcomes and Turkey being forced to pay compensations for damages. The most recent successful push for peace has been the opening of two new crossing points last November 12, more than ever needed in order to build a bridge between the two communities and instill trust and confidence towards the “other”.
I.1 A Country Victim of History: Foreign interests, Multiethnicity, and Desire of Self-determination
Because of its strategic geographic position at the crossroad of three continents—Europe, Asia, and Africa—Cyprus has always been the victim of invasions and colonisations. Mycenaean Greeks were inhabiting Cyprus from the late stage of the 15th century BC, followed by Assyrians, Egyptians, Persians, Phoenicians, and Romans. In 45 AC, the island was introduced to Christianity, in 395 it became part of the Byzantine Empire, in 649 it was invaded by the Arabs to be returned again to the Byzantines in 965. In 1192, in only one year, Richard the Lionheart conquered it and sold it to the Knights Templar that in turn, sold it to the Lusignan. For less than a century, Cyprus was then subjected to the Venetian Republic before being conquered by the Ottomans, and the rest is history.
More recently, Cyprus has caught foreign powers’ attention because its location is essential for any security dynamic in the region. Despite not being itself a NATO member, its members see it as an important component of potential interventions in the Levant (e.g. the Sovereign Base Areas of Akrotiri and Dhekelia belong to the United Kingdom’s overseas territory). In the EU context, Cyprus is important to Turkey nowadays not uniquely because of hydrocarbon explorations and military bases, failure to reach a solution to the Cypriot conflict has also prevented Turkey from being granted EU membership. Even further governments, such as Moscow’s, have strategic interests in the island which for years, has been an offshore banking haven for Russia. Furthermore, Cyprus is on the sea lane of the maritime highway connecting the Mediterranean Sea—through the Suez Canal and Bab al-Mandeb Strait—with the Indian Ocean, which in turn links to the Strait of Hormuz leading to the Persian Gulf and the Strait of Malacca connecting to the Pacific.
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