THE President of Cyprus, Nicos Anastasiades, and the Turkish Cypriot leader, Mustafa Akinci, have agreed to intensify efforts to reach an agreement this year to reunite the divided island. They were speaking in New York after a meeting on Sunday with the UN secretary-general, Ban Ki-moon, after several months of negotiations in which progress is reported to have been made.
Cyprus has been divided since 1974, when Turkish troops invaded and occupied the northern part of the island after a right-wing Greek Cypriot coup attempt that was backed by the ruling military junta in Greece. UN efforts to mediate a deal culminated in simultaneous referendums in the two halves of the island in 2004. While Turkish Cypriots accepted the proposed solution, Greek Cypriots rejected it.
Mr Anastasiades and Mr Akinci are both fervent proponents of reunification, and have developed a strong personal relationship, thus offering the best ever prospects for success. The two men want to conclude a deal by January, in order for new referendums to be held early in 2017, before the start of a presidential election campaign in the mainly Greek Cypriot southern part of the island, and the launch of new offshore gas exploration, which, Turkey insists, should await the island’s unification.
Mr Ban, speaking on Sunday, said “time is of the essence.” He urged both leaders to “continue to engage in the process with determination, courage, and creativity”.
Two key subjects have yet to be agreed on: territorial adjustment, and security. At present, some traditionally Greek Cypriot towns and villages lie on the Turkish Cypriot side of the line separating the two communities, and vice versa. The plan would be to alter the course of the line between what would be the two halves of a federal bizonal Cyprus. In some cases, populations would be resettled.
As far as security is concerned, the aim is to end the part played by the three guarantor powers, the UK, Greece, and Turkey — an arrangement introduced when Cyprus won independence from Britain in 1960. While the UK and Greece are happy to relinquish this position, Turkey is not.
Related is the question of the presence of Turkish forces on the island; Turkey is insisting that some troops should remain as a security guarantee. Finding a formula that would allow each side to maintain at least a token military presence, perhaps in the guise of a national guard force, is one of the remaining challenges in the negotiations.
Even if the two leaders reach agreement on all outstanding matters, there is no guarantee that the Cypriot people will endorse it. Although both sides in the talks have agreed not to announce details of the negotiations until they are complete, opponents of unification have been vociferous on both sides of the line. The Turkish Cypriot government opposes the diplomatic process, even though Mr Akinci is a keen supporter of it.
Within the Greek Cypriot community, the Orthodox Church has traditionally been one of the loudest critics of making concessions to Turkey and Turkish Cypriots. In a statement earlier this month, the Church said that the abolition of the current Republic of Cyprus would “spell the beginning of the end of Hellenism” on the island.