On September 6th, Greek-Cypriot Prime Minister Nicos Anastasiades was photographed shaking hands with his Turkish-Cypriot counterpart Mustafa Akinci on either side of UN Special Envoy Jane Holl Lute. It was speculated that a restarting of peace talks was likely to happen soon. Instead, the handshake between leaders was the final act in a futile process consisting of six rounds of separate negotiations.
The possibility of agreement broke down over the issue of co-governance on the island, a term of reference the Turkish side wanted to include for any talks, but one that the Cypriot side does not consider warranted or constructive. Co-governance would allow Turkish Cypriots decision-making parity within an envisioned federal government which, President Anastasiades believes, could enable the minority community to determine government policy. According to prominent Turkish columnist Yusuf Kanli, discussions primarily concluded due to Greek Cypriot demands that any Turkish hydrocarbon explorations around the island cease as a pre-condition for negotiations.
Lute’s week on the island entailed a frantic round of meetings, but the envoy left with little achieved aside from vague promises of continued talks. Indeed, shortly after Lute’s departure, contentions between both sides resurfaced. The Cypriot Prime Minister defended his government’s position in an interview with the Associated Press (AP), stating that Turkish Cypriot policy was completely governed from Ankara and that their proposals would turn the island into a vassal state of Turkey.
“It’s another way of controlling the whole of the new state of affairs or the entire state, which will essentially be transformed into a protectorate”, Anastasiades said in the interview. “You can’t accept such provisions that would turn a state into the puppet of another state, but also become the only example in the world where potentially a peace deal would collapse the next day.”
Nevertheless, a series of meetings are set to take place between leaders over the next few days on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly, including talks between UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres and Anastasiades, Akinci, as well as Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis.
A Long, Tumultuous History
In 1964, the United Nations Force in Cyprus (UNFICYP) was deployed to prevent continued fighting between Greek Cypriot and Turkish Cypriot communities on the island. The Force’s responsibilities expanded when Turkish troops invaded in July 1974, following a coup d’état by those who favoured the island becoming a union with Greece.
The Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus was established in the wake of the incursion, which occupies over 35 percent of the island – yet it is only recognised by Turkey, which still keeps over 30,000 troops stationed on Cypriot territory. Hostilities officially ceased in August 1974, but the situation has become locked in frozen conflict that is monitored by one of the UN’s longest serving peacekeeping missions.
Since a de facto ceasefire in August 1974, UNFICYP has supervised the ceasefire lines, provided humanitarian assistance, and maintained a buffer zone between Turkish and Turkish Cypriot forces to the north and the Greek Cypriot forces in the south. The lines extend over 180 kilometers across the island, and in the absence of a formal agreement, UNFICYP’s 800-plus troops and 60-plus police officers deal with scores of incidents each year.
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Hydrocarbon Drilling and Varosha
The fractious relationship between the Cypriot Government, the Turkish Government and their proxy administration in Northern Cyprus has become increasingly agitated in recent months. Intrusions by Turkish vessels into Cypriot waters, seeking access to the country’s energy-rich deposits, sparked tensions and earned stern rebuke and sanctions from the European Union.
In his interview with the Associated Press, Anastasiades noted that the drilling was an examination as to whether the Turkish government was serious about peace talks, saying that he couldn’t negotiate while under threat.
Last week, in what was thought to be a sign of behind-the-scenes diplomacy, a Turkish drill vessel withdrew from Cypriot territory. Yet any hope for progress was quickly stricken when announcements were made by the Turkish Foreign Minister that there were plans to regenerate the ghost town of Varosha, an abandoned resort quarter in the city of Famagusta. The town has been deserted and only accessible by Turkish military and UN personnel since 1974, when it was annexed and the entire local population fled. Any move there is firmly resisted by the Cypriot side, as well as by the owners who were forced out of the properties that still exist there. UN Security Council Resolution 550 prohibits attempts to settle any part of the area by those other than its original inhabitants, and calls for the transfer of this area to the administration of the UN.
The Cypriot Government has continually sought to bolster international ties in order to keep the issue of its divided territory in the spotlight. Along with close partners Greece and Israel, Cyprus is party to a major piece of US legislation, titled the Eastern Mediterranean Security & Energy Partnership Act. This legislation would enhance Washington’s support for Cyprus in the fields of defence and energy cooperation. Prime Minister Anastasiades has said that he welcomes early signs of the likely lifting of a 30-year US arms embargo on Cyprus under the Partnership Act.