Does anybody else remember the Cyprus debate? For a while in the 1990s and early 2000s it was the hot topic, right up there with the Irish question and the Israeli-Palestine arguments. The division of the Mediterranean island between the independent, Greek-cultured nation in the south and the Turkish occupied northern zone split opinion both on and off the island, as well as providing further ammunition for the centuries old Greco-Turkish rivalry. But lately, the debate has faded into the background. The Middle East has taken over the news, with terrorists, Iraq, and the seemingly ever present Israel taking centre stage. But events do not simply cease to occur when people are not watching, and the Cyprus hotspot has duly continued to boil. So what has been going on?
In short, slow progress, Greco-Turkish relations on the island have been rocky ever since Cyprus attained formal independence in 1960, with it taking just three years for violence to break out on the island, and only four for Turkey to threaten a full-scale invasion to remove Cypriot independence altogether. In response, Turks and Greeks broke down into factions, favouring their own ‘mother country’ over any attempt at unified cooperation. This all culminated in attempted Greek annexation of the island in 1974, which led to an armed Turkish response. Over 2000 Cypriot civilians died in the ensuing violence.
The island has not been functionally unified since. Despite near global recognition of the de jure rights to the island held by the nation of Cyprus, Turkish ‘Northern Cyprus’ continues to be held by the Turks. This control has some pretty serious controversies, chief among which that it is near certain that the Turkish government forced settlers into Northern Cyprus from their own country to consolidate control, in clear violation of the Geneva Convention. However, no nation has actively opposed the Turkish control, because nobody is actively going to declare war on Turkey just because their occupation of Cyprus is slightly dodgy. Instead, the UN Security Council simply condemns the Turkish control over and over again every year, and nothing really changes.
Attempts to unify the island have only led to failure. The closest the island has ever come to becoming one nation once more was in 2004, with the Annan Plan. This saw a referendum held in both Northern Cyprus and regular Cyprus to reunify on the basis of a common constitution, but it only saw widespread Turkish support. Greeks on the island were widely opposed, and as the majority population on the island, this caused the plan to fail. Since then, the status quo has reigned supreme. Small amounts of progress occasionally occur, with the borders between the two sides of the islands gradually becoming less restricted, but the division remains. As of the 15th May 2015, talks have been reopened between the two sides, but to little success as of yet.
So can we ever expect any progress from the island? Perhaps. Both sides seem genuinely committed to some form of unification, and as we have seen in Korea, that can go very far even in extremely divided societies. However, the Greeks and Turks still despise each other intensely, and that will always cause problems in Cyprus. The island is the meeting point for Greeks and Turks. If they can’t get along, the island will always struggle to be truly unified.