CYPRUS: Is the UN plan a solution?



United Nations secretary general Kofi Annan, releasing a grand plan for the resolution of the 28-year-old Cyprus conflict on November 11, has given Greek and Turkish Cypriot leaders a one-month deadline to agree on its basic principles. The deadline coincides with the European Union (EU) summit in Copenhagen on December 12 at which Cyprus will be invited to join.

On July 20, 1974, Turkey invaded Cyprus in response to a military coup on the Mediterranean island. The coup had been organised by the military dictatorship that ruled Greece at the time. The Greek generals intended to annex Cyprus.

Both the Greek and Turkish regimes were members of the US-dominated NATO military alliance and were very close to Washington. There is little doubt that the coup and invasion were jointly organised to oust the troublesome Cypriot government of Archbishop Makarios, who had refused to allow US bases on the island and had joined the Non-Aligned Movement.

Turkey claimed it was defending Turkish Cypriots from the Athens-backed Greek-Cypriot chauvinist forces, who had a grisly record of attacks on Turkish Cypriots. However, the Cypriot junta was overthrown by a democratic uprising by Greek Cypriots within six days; the next day the Greek junta itself collapsed.

But instead of withdrawing, Turkey occupied 37% of the country and drove 200,000 Greek Cypriots from their homes. Rauf Denktash, the leader of the equally brutal Turkish-Cypriot chauvinist forces, was installed as ruler.

Because 60,000 Turkish Cypriots had sought protection from the invading Turkish troops following the coup, the internationally recognised Cypriot government became a de facto Greek-Cypriot state. In 1983, Denktash declared the section of Cyprus occupied by 35,000 Turkish troops to be an independent “Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus”; this “state” has only been recognised by Turkey.

UN plans

In general, Greek-Cypriot governments have long pushed a UN-supported solution based on the principle of a federation between the Greek and Turkish Cypriot communities, which would each control its own territorial zone. But at crucial times, some governments have buckled to pressure from the right wing, which considers any federation to be a concession to “partition”.

Denktash and his Turkish sponsors insist that only two independent states of “Turkish Cyprus” and “Greek Cyprus” can form a loose “confederation” of two internationally recognised governments. A Turkish-Cypriot left opposition, which favours pursuing these UN plans, has continually gained the most votes in Turkish Cyprus, yet Denktash remains in power with the votes of 100,000 colonists from mainland Turkey — more than the entire Turkish-Cypriot population.

The latest UN plan is a compromise — one internationally recognised government is envisaged, but the two communities would control their own governments with vast powers, forming two “component parts” of the state. Cypriots would have common citizenship, but also be citizens of their respective sub-states. The two communities would be recognised as equal, not as majority and minority as Greek nationalists prefer. The Swiss and Belgian systems of government have been widely touted as models for the “new” Cyprus.

Territorial adjustments would lower the Turkish Cypriot zone to around 28% of the island (Turkish Cypriots made up 18% of the pre-1974 population). Many Greek-Cypriot refugees could return to their homes within the expanded Greek zone.

Greek and Turkish refugees could also return to homes in the zone controlled by the other group, but each sub-state may limit the number of residents from the other if their percentage increases too rapidly. This was a demand put forward by the Turkish side because it was afraid its zones may be swamped with returning Greek refugees. As the enlarged Greek zone is still smaller than the Greek Cypriot's share of the population, many Greek-Cypriot refugees would have to be compensated rather than be allowed to return.


For supporters of human rights and national self-determination, the Cyprus issue is very complex. The right of self-determination for any nation with a clear territory is fundamental. However, Denktash's “Turkish Cyprus” created its own territory via the ethnic cleansing of the majority of the population of the region seized by Turkish troops.

From a democratic point of view, refugees should be allowed to return, meaning there would be no solid single-ethnic areas. The rights of the expelled Greek Cypriots have been violated by a powerful foreign army. But between 1960-74, after Cypriot independence from Britain, Greek-Cypriot and Turkish-Cypriot right-wing forces launched numerous attacks on each others' civilians, and, as a minority, the Turkish Cypriots had more to fear, especially during the 1974 coup. However, Turkey has also directly intervened, dropping napalm on Greek Cypriots in 1964.

But trying to work out who is “most guilty” has become irrelevant. The point is to recognise that past experiences mean that both communities have great anxieties about solutions that do not fully restore their rights or protect their security. What is required is the maximum amount of dialogue within and between the two communities, with no restrictions on the breadth or the timing of this dialogue.

This is the problem with the UN plan. After decades of minimal involvement, why has the UN suddenly presented a 30-day ultimatum which cuts across such dialogue?

The US sees the Turkish military as a strategic ally, whose alliance with Israel and support for US aggression in the region puts it out on a limb in the Middle East. Therefore, Washington is pushing the EU to accept Turkey as a member as a reward, while being opposed to any reduction in the Turkish military's political power, as is required by the EU framework for Turkey's admittance. For the US, this reward is cheap: it is the EU that would have to pay the enormous subsidies necessary to help raise the economic level of this Third World country.

European rulers however have little interest in doing this. According to the right-wing think-tank Stratfor: “Turkey has more farmers than all of the soon-to-be EU members combined. If they were eligible for agricultural subsidies under the EU's Common Agricultural Policy, it would swiftly bankrupt the EU.”

Membership for Turkey's poverty-stricken population of 65 million would also mean millions of Turkish workers being legally entitled to seek work in Europe, while the millions of Turkish guest workers already there would gain full employment and social security rights.

Turkey's huge Muslim population is also a threat to the ideological cohesion of Europe. While Europe's social-democratic leaders are loathe to admit they share the sentiment, right-wing leaders such as former French President Valery Giscard d'Estaing and Conservative German opposition leader Edmund Stoiber speak for them when they have recently stated that Turkey simply does not belong in a “Christian Europe”.


It is one thing for the EU to arm the vicious Turkish regime, but quite another to stain the reputation of this elite club of “democratic” countries by letting its henchmen become members. Yet by demanding democratic changes as a condition for Turkey's accession to the EU, which it has no intention of granting, it is setting the scene for a crisis.

To postpone that conflict, the EU wants to incorporate a united Cyprus on December 12, hence the rush for a rapid solution. Otherwise, the EU will have to allow the internationally recognised Cypriot administration to join without a settlement. If that happens, Turkey has threatened to formally annex northern Cyprus — that is, a piece of EU territory. On November 14, Turkish military chief General Hilmi Ozkok warned “granting EU membership to the Greek-Cypriot administration will drag the eastern Mediterranean into a permanent crisis.”

Yet Turkey's hostility is not motivated by its desire to keep a small piece of real estate, but by the blow its loss would deal to chauvinist military if nothing was gained in return. If the EU agreed to allow Cyprus and Turkey to join it at the same time, the Turkish regime would facilitate a solution to the Cyprus problem. But if Turkey cannot join the EU on December 12, it at least wants a date set for the beginning of accession talks. Otherwise, even the integration of a united Cyprus will still lead to crisis, but a more manageable one.

To head off a worst-case crisis, the US and the EU, from opposite standpoints, want a rapid settlement. But all sides are double-crossing each other — the EU will not accept Turkey under any conditions and the Turkish military will never accept EU-required democratic changes that dilute its power.

While the Turkish military and hard right-wing Greek and Turkish forces have attacked the UN plan, it has been welcomed as a basis for negotiations by the Cypriot governments and most centre and left forces in Cyprus, Greece and Turkey. Turkey's new “Islamist” government of Tayyip Erdogan has given stronger support to a “Belgian” solution than any former Turkish regime. However, all have bitterly complained about the deadlines.

Some left-nationalists who oppose the plan, including the Greek Communist Party, miss the point when they argue that it does not give “their” side all the justice it deserves. After 28 years of total separation, any solution that allows the two peoples to communicate freely opens the potential for a better solution. The alternative is formal partition.

Some aspects are indeed objectionable — the “guarantor” status of Britain, Greece and Turkey would continue, and, while the Turkish occupation would end, small numbers of Greek and Turkish troops would remain. British military bases, which would be used in an attack on Iraq, would also stay in place. All this should be condemned, but it is no different from the present situation.

Above all, deadlines and ultimatums should be rejected, as they drastically restrict the most essential element for the plan's success — free, open-ended dialogue within and between the two communities, not just government leaders.

From Green Left Weekly, December 11, 2002.
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