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A Cypriot’s vision for Cyprus

Posted by (Regular StockWatch Contributor) on March 31st, 2017 - 9 Comments

On March 19th 2017 Mr Cavusoglu, Turkey’s minister of foreign affairs, laid out his government’s vision for Cyprus: “transforming the island into a bastion of peace, stability, co-operation and economic prosperity.” As a (Greek) Cypriot, I share that same vision.  Unfortunately, Mr Cavusoglu’s article did not convince me.  Rather than propose ways to build lasting peace where Greeks and Turks live together in Cyprus as equals, his approach is designed to ensure increased control of Cyprus by Turkey. This will not allay Greek Cypriots’ fears and will stoke their sense of injustice. His proposal does not map a way forward for the island to be united.

How can enduring conflicts, such as the one between Greeks and Turks in Cyprus, be resolved? One key component must be to adopt a shared narrative of history and that narrative must reflect history. Despite ethnic fighting on the island between 1963 and 1974, which both Greeks and Turks must “own up to”, it was Turkey that escalated the violence with its 1974 invasion and occupation of the island. Being myself a five year old at Bellapais in 1974, one of the villages still under Turkish occupation, I was an early witness of the horror in people’s faces when Turkey attacked. Making around 40% of the Greek Cypriot population refugees is a disproportionate act relative to pre-1974 ethnic skirmishes between irregular civilians. I realize that these facts cannot be erased from the memory of the Greek Cypriot community, but if peace is to have a chance in Cyprus, both Turkey and Turkish Cypriots need to start recognizing the simple fact that 1974 was a disproportionate response not justified by the scale of skirmishes in the earlier period.

A common historical narrative is important in building a shared vision between Greek and Turkish Cypriots, which brings me to the second disagreement with historical facts in Mr Cavusoglu’s essay. Mr Cavusoglu states that “the Turkish Cypriots, with Turkey’s support, have consistently worked for a just and lasting comprehensive settlement despite the unjust isolation imposed on them by the Greek Cypriot side… Today the status quo is unacceptable to both sides.” The historical truth is that between 1974 and 2003, the stated position of both Turkey and the Turkish Cypriot leadership under Mr Denktas was that the Cyprus problem had been solved in 1974. My grandparents could return as guests to visit their occupied home only after 2003. It was then that Turkey and the Turkish Cypriots allowed freedom of movement across the border. Until that time, Mr Denktas openly discouraged any contact between Greek and Turkish Cypriots on the island. His refusal to participate in the Cypriot negotiating team for European Union (EU) entry is telling of his attitude toward the status quo and his vision for the future.

I realize the historical references above are backward-looking, rather than forward-looking. Nevertheless, disagreements with how one views history are not isolated details in reaching a peaceful settlement that can pass the test of time. Biases and distrust will persist as long as a common narrative is not in place. At the end of the day, Cyprus should not become an ethno-federal state where people do not trust each other and families pass on ethnic hatred from generation to generation.

Looking further into the future, Mr Cavusoglu’s vision runs counter to building a sense of Cypriotness, since he emphasizes that “a balance between Greece and Turkey will be struck, meaning that Turkish nationals will be treated on equal footing with Greek nationals exclusively on the island.” This is where my vision is completely different: Greece and Turkey are proud and large countries with their own challenges and opportunities. Throughout the last one hundred years both countries have been involved either explicitly or implicitly in affecting the course of Cyprus’ history. The Greek Cypriots have managed to cut the umbilical cord between Greece and Cyprus and it is the Turkish Cypriots’ turn to act likewise. Cypriots are adults and do not require Treaties of Guarantees by their “motherlands”: Cypriots need to be allowed to determine their own future.

Unfortunately, cutting this umbilical cord is much harder for the Turkish Cypriots for a number of different reasons. Turkey has been providing explicit financial aid to the tune of around one billion dollars a year to the Turkish Cypriots. It is still not clear to me whether, in the event of an agreement to solve the Cyprus problem, this accumulated financial aid will be treated as a write-off to be forgiven or as national debt to be repaid. Cyprus does have a national debt of around 100% of GDP but that is not owed to Greece, and there is no plan for Greece to offer financial aid to Cyprus. The Turkish Cypriots, and Turkey, must start thinking in the same way. Finding opportunistic excuses about discussing historical events (for example, the 1950 plebiscite for “Enosis”) does not alter the unmistakeable facts on the ground. Namely, that it is the Turkish Cypriot community that relies economically, politically and socially on Turkey(even when it comes to switching from summer to winter time, and despite the tragic consequences this simple decision can have on innocent bystanders like children going to school early in the morning). It is therefore the Turkish Cypriots and Turkey that need to convince everyone that Turkish Cypriots can stand on their own as a politically equal state in a federation.

Mr Cavusoglu also emphasizes that “the vast majority of Turkish Cypriots will not accept a settlement that does not entail Turkish guarantees.” By the same yardstick, the vast majority of Greek Cypriots will not accept a settlement that entails Turkish guarantees. External actors (“motherlands”) have typically not helped increase trust in the past and one wonders why we should expect that experience to change in the future. How can a common vision for Cyprus be developed if part of the nation believes it is under perpetual occupation? My humble opinion is that no nation-building can take place in Cyprus as long as Turkey maintains troops there. In fact, the mere presence of any troops from either Greece or Turkey provides either ethnic community with reason to suspect, and eventually hate, each other. The mere presence of such troops will just increase the risk of future conflict escalation. A proposal more likely to succeed would probably involve the United Nations devising, within the European Union framework, a security system that does not involve either Greece or Turkey.

One litmus test whether the necessary political stability, a prerequisite for economic growth, can become reality in a united Cyprus,could be whether the proposed solution can attract the Greek and Turkish Cypriot diaspora back to the island (or at least prevent the current residents from emigrating). From afar, my personal assessment is that a lot more needs to be done for that to happen. Both sides in Cyprus need to be convinced to take risks but an ethno-federal state that perpetuates historical inaccuracies, is hostage to strong foreign powers, and continues to breed ethnic hatred, even just through the mere presence of Greek or Turkish troops, cannot succeed. More imagination and vision is needed for peace in Cyprus to have a chance.

Alexander Michaelides is a professor of finance at Imperial College Business School.

Categories → Οικονομία

  1. avatar
    E. Z. on March 31, 2017 - (permalink)

    There is this fallacy that somehow we are negotiating with the T/C. No, we are negotiating with Turkey whose aim is to ensure that Cyprus will serve its geopolitical and strategic interests. In other words, the strategy of Turkey is to ensure at fist that the government of a federated Cyprus will be obedient to any wishes that Turkey might have. And, in the long run with high fertility rates (perhaps a five children per family policy) and possibly immigration, the majority of the population in Cyprus will be Muslims. And that will mean the beginning of the end of Christians in Cyprus. And please do not be naïve to believe that we will have agreements and a constitution and therefore we are protected and Turkey will respect the rule of law.
    Obviously, under these circumstances, the number of Cypriots in the diaspora will increase significantly.

    • avatar
      marios on April 3, 2017 - (permalink)

      “And, in the long run with high fertility rates (perhaps a five children per family policy)”
      Typical factual less comments see here for facts

      “the majority of the population in Cyprus will be Muslims. And that will mean the beginning of the end of Christians in Cyprus”
      So are you suggesting the Cyprus problem stems from religion or is of a religious nature?

      • avatar
        E. Z. on April 4, 2017 - (permalink)

        Few days ago, Ertogan asked Turks living in Europe to have at least five children. Obviously, in order to change the demographics of Europe.

        The problem of Cyprus, since 1974, is one of invasion, occupation and ethnic cleansing of the Christians who were residing in the occupied part of Cyprus.

  2. avatar
    Anonymous on April 1, 2017 - (permalink)

    “A common historical narrative is important in building a shared vision” This is very important. I think Cypriot Teacher’s union had a similar project. Hope cool headed people like you will help Cypriot’s to move forward for a better co-existence in common homeland.

  3. avatar
    Stelios Nicholson on April 3, 2017 - (permalink)

    A common historical narrative is crucial. Even more imperative is the creation of a common identity. A catalyst to this end can be:
    (a) By offering all citizens of the new state the option to declare oneself just Cypriot and not necessarily Greek Cypriot or Turkish Cypriot.
    (b) By using the method of weighted cross voting by all Cypriots (G/C & T/C) not only for the election of president and vice president as it is suggested today, but also for the election of the federal parliament.This will result in diminishing the power of nationalists on both sides and will force politicians seeking office at the federal level to address and seriously consider the needs and aspirations not only of their community but of the other community as well.

    • avatar
      xposure on April 5, 2017 - (permalink)

      Language is also an important aspect. The EU has proven that there is no true integration with a language barrier. There is a free market and movement of labor only in name since skilled labor is very hard to move from say Greece to Germany because of the language barrier.

    • avatar
      kaitanou on April 21, 2017 - (permalink)

      I wonder who are the Turkish Cypriots see the comment xyz. Are you sure that it is only a Cypriot issue.

  4. avatar
    kaitanou on April 18, 2017 - (permalink)

    As to historical truth in the modern era I would mention the following:
    The execution of several hundred leading Greek Cypriots in 1821 to discourage Cyprus joining he Greek Revolution.
    The 5000 Turkish Cypriots who joined the British colonial forces to fight EOKA.
    The attacks on Greek Cypriot civilians by Turkish Cypriots in the latter part of the 1955-59 EOKA struggle.
    I would draw attention to the fact that the fighting which started in 1963 ended in 1967. Up to the Turkish invasion of 1974, which at the very least took advantage of the coup against the president, there was no further fighting and talks to find a solution were progressing until they were interrupted in 1974.

    However I would like to say for me and many history is not the issue but how to give participation to the Turkish Cypriots without damaging the democratic rights of the Greek Cypriot majority. A solution has to be reasonable and viable. This involves a struggle for economic resources. At the back of this we also have interference by outside powers to satisfy their strategic interests, it is much more than a struggle between the two communities.

  5. avatar
    XYZ on April 19, 2017 - (permalink)

    Dear Mr. Michaelides,
    As always, a very good article. Nevertheless, I do have a couple of points:
    i) With the aim of being convincing, you are trying to be “objective” and “balanced” between the two sides, which leads you to the use of a “too polite” wording vs the Turkish side (eg refer to your phrase “a disproportionate response” – I think it was just a perfect touch in the context of their plan, not a response at all). Please be careful because this approach (nowadays adopted by most GCs) might distort facts of Cyprus history. On the 20th of July 1974 I was in Kyrenia too, quite a few miles NW off Bellapais. That was next to the invasion coast. But it was Iain Walker, not me, who posted a shocking report in the daily “The SUN” dated 5th August 1974 under the heading “Barbarians”.
    ii) You refer to the TCs (with whom we have to live) as well as to the Turkish troops (that have to leave!) but not a single word about Turkish settlers. Today TCs are only 11% of the Cypriots. Similarly they are a small percentage of the population in the occupied areas. On the contrary, the population of Turkish settlers is estimated to be gradually converging towards the size of the GC population. Are we going to be united with them? And to grand to a settler by rotation the presidency of Cyprus? And to abolish the Republic of Cyprus? No kidding! And what are we going to get in return? Do our leaders know where they are driving us?
    iii) Does anyone on earth remember the decision of the majority of the people of Cyprus of 2004 (the referendum)? I just wonder.
    Best Regards

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