Cyprus: Towards a Settlement?

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Cyprus: Towards a Settlement?

M.Ergün Olgun

(Former Undersecretary of the Presidency of the TRNC

and Former Turkish Cypriot Negotiator)

Brief Background

The Republic of Cyprus was established as a Greek Cypriot and Turkish Cypriot bi-communal partnership republic in 1960. Unable to overcome the obsession to unite the island with Greece and to internalize partnership, the Greek Cypriot partner violently hijacked the Republic of Cyprus in December 1963, deprived the Turkish Cypriot community of its constitutional rights and forced them into surrounded enclaves. Another coup, this time by Greek Junta officers and Greek Cypriot extremists, was staged on 15 July 1974 to unite the island with Greece. This resulted in Guarantor Turkey’s intervention, by virtue of the Treaty of Guarantee, to prevent such union.

Negotiations between the leaders of the two politically equal constituent peoples of the Island aimed at finding a comprehensive settlement have a long history. Negotiations go as far back as 1968 in Beirut. Without going into a lot of detail I briefly want to point out to some of the developments at the negotiations since 1968.

In 1977 and 1979 the two sides succeeded to reach two crucial High Level Agreements which still form the basis of the ongoing negotiations. According to these agreements the objective of the negotiations is to form a bi-communal, bi-zonal federation that will be based on the political equality of its two constituting communities. The negotiations have since been conducted under the auspices of the UN Secretary General’s Good Offices mission.

Despite these agreements the Greek Cypriot side has rejected the 1985-86 Draft Framework Agreement, the UN sponsored Set of Ideas of 1992, the package of Confidence Building Measures of 1994 and lastly the UN Comprehensive Settlement Plan (the famous Annan Plan) of 2004, which were all based on the word and spirit of the 1977 and 1979 High Level Agreements.

The sustained efforts of the Turkish Cypriot side and Turkey following the failure of the intense 2004 settlement effort and the unilateral admission of the Greek Cypriot polity into the EU (despite the refusal by the Greek Cypriot side of the UN settlement plan) finally bore fruit against the background of a change of leadership in the Greek Cypriot community. A new process started following the meeting of the Turkish Cypriot leader Mehmet Ali Talat and the newly elected Greek Cypriot leader Dimitris Hristofiyas in 2008. This new process yielded a set of convergences. In April 2010 Derviş Eroğlu was elected the new President of the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus. He was committed to continuing the negotiations from where it had left off in a constructive manner, but little progress could be achieved during the remaining term of office of Mr. Dimitris Hristofias.

After the Greek Cypriot elections in 2013 it took almost a year for the new Greek Cypriot leader Nicos Anastasiades to sit at the negotiation table. As a result of international pressure (particularly American) negotiations between President Derviş Eroğlu and Greek Cypriot leader Nicos Anastasiades yielded the 11 February 2014 Joint Declaration which injected new impetus to the process and added substance to the agreed settlement parameters.  Some key elements of this Joint Declaration are as follows:

  • The leaders expressed their determination to resume structured negotiations in a results-oriented manner. All unresolved core issues will be on the table and will be discussed interdependently. The leaders will aim to reach a settlement as soon as possible and hold separate simultaneous referenda thereafter.
  • The united Cyprus, as a member of the United Nations and of the European Union, shall have a single, international legal personality and a single sovereignty which is defined as the sovereignty which is enjoyed by all members States of the United Nations, under the UN Charter and which emanates equally from Greek Cypriots and Turkish Cypriots. There will be a single united Cyprus citizenship, regulated by federal law.
  • The powers of the federal government and like matters that are clearly incidental to its specified powers, will be assigned by the constitution. The Federal constitution will also provide for the residual powers to be exercised by the constituent states. The constituent states will exercise fully and irrevocably all their powers free from encroachment by the federal government. The federal laws will not encroach upon constituent state laws within the constituent states’ area of competences and the constituent states’ laws will not encroach upon the federal laws within the federal government’s competences.
  • Neither side may claim authority or jurisdiction over the other.
  • The united Cyprus federation shall result from the settlement following the settlement’s approval by separate simultaneous referenda. The federal constitution shall prescribe that the united Cyprus federation shall be composed of two constituent states of equal status.
  • Union in whole or in part with any other country or any form of partition or secession or any other unilateral change to the state of affairs will be prohibited.
  • The sides will seek to create a positive atmosphere to ensure the talks succeed. They commit to avoid blame games or other negative public comments on the negotiations.

On 24 July 2014, following intense meetings between the leaders and their negotiating teams, the two leaders agreed that both sides had completed the submission of proposals on all issues. When the leaders met again on September 17 following the summer break there was hope that basic agreement could be reached to move to the next phase of structured negotiations. The expectation was that the talks would proceed in a results-oriented manner and that following the referenda on both sides a lasting settlement would be achieved.

Despite the distance covered with the support of the Secretary General’s good offices mission and the push by the Turkish Cypriot side, Turkey and the Americans, the Greek Cypriot side again resorted to delaying tactics and attempted to frustrate the process by initiating a new round of unilateral off-shore drilling activity in jointly owned waters in the south east and south of the island. Pointing out that the two parties were in the midst of federal partnership talks, the Turkish Cypriot side proposed joint exploration and exploitation, both in the Northern Turkish Cypriot controlled and south Greek Cypriot controlled parts of the Island. As an alternative, the Turkish Cypriot side proposed that both sides put exploration activity on hold and, as a priority, focus on a comprehensive settlement, since it was already agreed that the exploration and exploitation of natural resources would be a federal competence.

When the Greek Cypriot side rejected both of these proposals and continued with its unilateral exploration the Turkish Cypriot side was forced to take counter measures to protect its equal and inherent rights over offshore natural resources. Unfortunately, the Greek Cypriot side used the Turkish Cypriot’s counter measures as a pretext to step away from negotiations in October 2014. This created an atmosphere of “insecurity” which made companies and countries involved and interested in hydrocarbons exploitation uneasy. This in turn resulted in intense pressure on both parties to resume the talks by finding a face saving formula that will apply to both. This was discretely achieved with the simultaneous suspension of activities by both sides in March 2015.

This suspension coincided with the Presidential elections in North Cyprus. Elections in April 2015 resulted in a change of Turkish Cypriot leadership and Mustafa Akıncı was elected President. Meanwhile, through the UN Secretary General’s Special Advisor on Cyprus (former Foreign Minister of Norway) Espen Barth Eide’s efforts, a new round of comprehensive settlement negotiations resumed on 15 May 2015 with the expectation and hope that a successful conclusion would be reached before the Greek Cypriot parliamentary elections in May 2016.

Most recently, after the EU-Turkey summit held in Brussels on November 29th, both the Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu and the President of the European Commission Jean Claude Juncker expressed their hope that a successful end is near.

Given this background, as someone who has been directly involved with the negotiating process between 1993-2005 and also between 2010-May2015, I now want to express my views on the opportunities/expectations that lay ahead and the potential obstacles and threats that face us.

Possible Opportunities and Expectations

Though the Cyprus problem is described by many as a “Cypriot” issue there are other interested parties/stake holders in the Cyprus dispute. Among these are  the Guarantor Powers of the 1960 Treaties of Guarantee and of Alliance (Turkey, Greece and the UK) and of course the EU.  Each of these has different expectations from a Cyprus settlement and sees different opportunities.

The opportunities and expectations I will be sharing here are those expressed by the TRNC President Mustafa Akıncı and his negotiating team, which I also mostly share.

  1. The 52 year old conflict is incurring a heavy cost on the two communities, as well as their mother countries Turkey and Greece. Settlement and the building up of a cooperative relationship can bring positive energy and synergy to Turkish Cypriot-Greek Cypriot relations, to Turkish-Greek-EU relations and to the region in general.
  2. A bi-communal, bi-zonal federal settlement to be based on the political equality of the two constitutive communities and on the equal status of the two Constituent States will enable the elimination of political, economic and social restrictions imposed on the Turkish Cypriot people, will facilitate the integration of the Turkish Cypriot Constituent State into the global system and will provide it with international legality. For their part, an agreement will address Greek Cypriot security needs, will provide for enhanced security and stability in and around Cyprus, will open up the Turkish market for tourism, shipping and other Greek Cypriot services activities and will enable hydrocarbons exploration and exploitation for the benefit of both communities.
  3. There is enough conflict, instability and human drama around Cyprus. The region cannot carry further conflicts and instability. Unless managed well, newly discovered hydrocarbon reserves in the maritime region around Cyprus could be a source of competition between stake holders and may cause conflict. An agreement to be found to the Cyprus conflict, including the joint use and exploitation of the hydrocarbon sources, will turn a possible curse into an opportunity.
  4. Settlement and political stability in Cyprus will produce geopolitical and economic opportunities for both sides and the region.
  5. Among the conflicts in the region, Cyprus is at the closest point to resolution and can turn into a model of cooperation, tolerance and living together among different ethnic and religious communities.
  6. Cyprus can set a win-win example to the prevailing win-lose approaches in the region.
  7. With settlement in Cyprus an area of cooperation could evolve in the fields of energy, water and electricity. Eastern Mediterranean hydrocarbons from Egypt, Israel, Lebanon and Cyprus can be carried to the EU through Turkey. This may reduce dependence on Russian gas. The interdependence in the fields of energy and water may create an atmosphere of regional stability and the resulting cooperation may enhance the ties between Turkey, Greece and the EU. Moreover, mutual interdependence may have a “gluing effect” on the region.
  8. Settlement in Cyprus could give a boost to Turkey’s accession process to the EU.

Possible Threats and Obstacles


In this section I would like to point out to some of the general obstacles and threats that the bi-communal and bi-zonal federalism objective could face before moving on to some specific obstacles and threats.

  1. A clear majority of Greek Cypriots passionately consider Cyprus a Hellenic Island and consequently see themselves as its sole owners. This hegemonic frame of mind is the major obstacle in the power sharing negotiations and finds reflection in Greek Cypriot solution proposals and the discussion of all chapters.
  2. The favourable atmosphere and window of opportunity that emerged following the simultaneous suspension of unilateral hydrocarbon exploration activity may close with the forthcoming Greek Cypriot parliamentary elections to be held in May 2016. Because the Greek Cypriot side is benefiting from the existing unacceptable status quo it refuses to conduct the process on the basis of a timetable despite pressure from the Turkish Cypriot side.
  3. Population and economic power asymmetries constitute key sources of political and economic problems, which particularly become serious in dyadic (two partner) federations. Such asymmetries exist in Cyprus and attempts by Turkish Cypriot negotiators to proactively introduce constitutional safeguards and/or checks and balances to contain future problems are strongly opposed by Greek Cypriot negotiators. Greek Cypriot negotiators have in fact consistently pursued policies that aim at perpetuating such asymmetries. Since usurping power in 1963 Greek Cypriot authorities have been imposing inhuman economic and social restrictions on the Turkish Cypriot community. At the recent talks, Greek Cypriot negotiators have been trying to permanently fix a 4 to 1 population ratio, an indication that Greek Cypriots want to keep Turkish Cypriots a permanent numerical minority. The continuation of the existing gap between the two politically equal peoples in the fields of political and economic power will leave the Turkish Cypriot side at a very disadvantageous position in a federal partnership which, eventually, could turn into a source of conflict.
  4. Alongside constitutional safeguards, the 1960 agreements foresaw effective external guarantees under the Treaties of Guarantee and of Alliance. These aimed at deterring the violation of the state of affairs created by the agreements. The Greek Cypriot side and Greece violated their pledge in both December 1963 and again on 15th July 1974 and it was thanks to the external guarantees that Turkish Cypriots, with Guarantor Turkey’s intervention, managed to obstruct the union of Cyprus with Greece. Now, the Greek Cypriot side and Greece are jointly trying to eliminate these external guarantees as well.
  5. Greek Cypriot negotiators are also refusing to give legal certainty to the arrangements that will be negotiated in Cyprus and that will go through separate simultaneous referenda, thus making such arrangements liable to legal challenges at EU courts.
  6. Both administrations suffer from high levels of public debt. Unless serious sustainable remedies are found and public governance and financial management improved on both sides, with the deep crises of confidence and the absence of a culture of cooperation, the federal partnership runs the serious risk of facing problems with financial and economic sustainability.
  7. Very few in each of the two communities speak the language of the other. This is bound to create communication problems, particularly in the initial years of a possible federation. The English language could be a medium of communication but not everybody speaks English. Furthermore, the absence of experience in power sharing/joint decision making processes could pose problems.
  8. Despite its refusal of the 2004 UN Comprehensive Settlement Plan the Greek Cypriot side was awarded with membership in the EU on 1st May 2004. Since then they have been trying to undermine some of the long established and UN endorsed key parameters for settlement by exploiting their membership of the EU. One crucial parameter the Greek Cypriot side is trying to undermine is the principle of bi-zonality. In his Opening Statement of 26 February 1990 the UN Secretary General had stated in clear terms that “The bi-zonality of the federation should be clearly brought out by the fact that each federated state will be administered by one community which will be firmly guaranteed a clear majority of the population and of the land ownership in its area.”  It is the practical requirements regarding population and property that Greek Cypriot negotiators are now trying to undermine. This shift poses a serious threat to the bi-communal and bi-zonal federation objective that is currently on the negotiating table.
  9. Despite the fact that the two sides say they are talking bi-communal and bi-zonal power sharing and despite the strong push of the Turkish Cypriot side since May 2015, all attempts have failed to implement a modest package of CBMs, particularly regarding arrangements to interconnect the mobile phone systems on the two sides and regarding the PDO registration and auditing of the Cyprus cheese  Hellim/Halloumi, because the Greek Cypriot side insists that their authorities should remain the sole competent authority.


The centre point in the negotiations of the Property Chapter is the establishment of criteria that will enable the settlement of the property issue in view of the bi-zonality principle and the fact that 40 years have passed since the Voluntary Population Exchange Agreement of 1975 which ensued the 15th July 1974 Greek-Greek Cypriot coup d’état. The mass movement of people to safer areas (both Turkish Cypriot and Greek Cypriot) has, out of necessity, led to the emergence of a new socio economic fabric, both in North and South Cyprus. After 40 years very few in North Cyprus today want to become refugees again and give up the safe and secure living they have long established.

It is with this background and on the basis of the criteria to be agreed that the Joint Property Commission will be mandated to settle relevant property issues through three agreed remedies: compensation, exchange of relevant properties or restitution. In doing this the  Commission will take into account the rights of current users of properties, based on the right to use or occupy such property by an authority, as well as the rights of the previous property owner.

Without any doubt, if arrangements were to be adopted in a manner that would significantly disrupt the socio-economic fabric/structure that has evolved over the past 41 years, this would lead to a human rights tragedy and paralyze the economy and social structure of the Turkish Cypriot Constituent State. TRNC President Akıncı is well aware of the fact that Turkish Cypriots will not say “yes” in the referendum for a settlement unless the large scale continuation of the socio-economic fabric that came about in the course of 41 years in Northern Cyprus is ensured.

Contrary to the needs of translating the principle of bi-zonality into practical terms, the Greek Cypriot side continues to insist that the first right of say regarding the choice of remedies in the settlement of property issues should be with the original owner.  Such a criterion would in no way facilitate the realization of bi-zonality and could result in the return to pre 1974 conditions, which is exactly what the Greek Cypriots want and which is anathema to Turkish Cypriots. The Greek Cypriots also reject giving legal certainty to arrangements that would be agreed (by making such arrangements part of primary EU law) thus making the terms of a possible political settlement liable to challenge at courts.

With the erosion and destruction of bi-zonality the Turkish Cypriot community would lose its territorial basis and with it risk becoming a subject community in a Greek Cypriot dominated state, unable to maintain its identity, political equality and security.

Security and Guarantees

The fact that the numerically strong Greek Cypriot community sees Cyprus as a Hellenic island and have resorted to every means to unite it with Greece (Enosis) for more than a century (most recently in 1963 and 1974) necessitates the presence of a strong and effective deterrence to prevent the repetition of such attempts in the future.  The 1960 Treaties of Guarantee and of Alliance provide the only legal and effective instrument through which such deterrence is provided and the Turkey – Greece balance that was established with the Lausanne Treaty of 1923 maintained.

The purpose of the Treaties of Guarantee and of Alliance was to prevent the violation of the state of affairs that was created in 1960. That state of affairs was violated by the Greek Cypriots in 1963 and again in 1974, this time by Greece and Greek Cypriot extremists together. It has not been possible to agree on a new state of affairs since. The last attempt to secure a comprehensive settlement by the UN was rejected by the Greek Cypriots in 2004.

The union of the island with Greece, something prohibited by international agreements, was narrowly avoided thanks to the 1960 guarantee system. Turkish Cypriots do not want to risk another onslaught by Greek Cypriot/Greek fanatics. The elimination or enfeeblement of the Treaties of Guarantee and of Alliance (which complement each other) and/or the full withdrawal of Turkish troops from Cyprus will create a vacuum of authority and eliminate a factor of deterrence against conflict in the Island. Such a development could lead to the recurrence of violence. There has not been violence on the island since the 1974 intervention of Turkey.

The undermining of the Treaties of Guarantee and of Alliance is also likely to put the Sovereign British Bases under the spotlight. This could lead to the undercutting of Western security and strategic footing in the region at a time when Russia (having lost its grip in Syria) is likely to bribe its way into Cyprus benefiting from Orthodox solidarity and the influence of the strong Communist AKEL party.


It is claimed that in the course of negotiations, at the insistence of the Greek Cypriot side, both parties have officially declared their population numbers.  The claim is that the Greek Cypriot side declared its citizens as 802 thousand (including citizenships granted to foreigners), and the Turkish Cypriot side as 220 thousand. It is further claimed that Greek Cypriots expected a larger number of TRNC citizens and were relieved with the declared number, this time demanding that the 4 to 1 population ratio be maintained between the two communities and also applied to Greek – Turkish nationals who would choose to live in Cyprus, even when Turkey becomes a member of the EU.

No doubt this is a racist, discriminatory and irrational stand which aims at permanently keeping the Turkish Cypriots trapped in the 4 to 1 minority ratio.  Surely Turkey will also reject such discrimination and irrationality as regards its own citizens.

There are a good number of “non-citizen” people in North Cyprus who have fully integrated into the Turkish Cypriot community and economy for more than 10 years, many with their spouses and children. Having fulfilled the necessary requirements, many of these have applied for and are awaiting TRNC citizens. The TRNC has an economy which functions with approximately 300 thousand people and caters for even more, bearing in mind the nearly 60 thousand foreign student population.  Some among those in the TRNC are temporary/occasional or seasonal workers who have come for temporary work. But there are some who now see the TRNC as their home and who have become inseparable parts of the TRNC economy and society. The TRNC economy and society cannot now afford to lose these skilled people because the Greek Cypriots want to maintain the 4 to 1 ratio. To treat them as second class is not compatible with human rights and contradicts economic logic.


A study conducted on behalf of the Peace Research Institute, Oslo, and published in the Journal of Peace Research (11 April 2012) emphasizes that “in highly unequal federations, both relatively developed and underdeveloped regions are indeed more likely to be involved in secessionist conflict than regions close to the country average.” (Inequality and conflict in federations, Christa Deiwiks, Lars-Erik Cederman and Kristian Skrede Gleditsch).


Research also indicates that large inequalities in population numbers in dyadic (two partner) federations is equally likely to lead to secessionist conflict.


Given the above findings increased parity between the political/economic power of the partners and their populations could contribute to the sustainability of a Cyprus federation.


Territorial Adjustment

The Turkish Cypriot position on territorial adjustments is that it will not be possible to secure a “yes” vote from North Cyprus if the arrangements presented to referenda on the territorial arrangement and the property issue seriously hamper the established socio-economic fabric and structure that has come into being out of necessity as a result of the 15th July 1974 Greek-Greek Cypriot coup d’état. Many Turkish Cypriots have been forced to abandon their homes, villages and towns for three times since the beginning of the Greek Cypriot EOKA/Enosis campaign in 1955. Turkish Cypriots do not want to be forced into rehabilitation by abandoning their homes and villages again.

The European Court of Human Rights in its “Demopoulos versus Turkey” ruling has underlined that  arrangements that will affect the lives of current users of properties in Cyprus (be it territorial adjustments or arrangements on the property issue) will have humanitarian and human rights implications.

There will need to be “give and take” to reach a political solution in Cyprus, but to get popular support behind such political solution the arrangements that will be offered cannot significantly jeopardise what people are currently enjoying out of necessity and due to no fault of their own. Furthermore, even limited rehabilitation will involve housing, arrangements for employment opportunities, education, health and similar infrastructure arrangements/projects which will all need significant contributions from the international community since such funds are not available locally.

Harmonization with the EU

As a member of the EU the Greek Cypriot side has already achieved harmonization with the EU. Turkish Cypriot businesses and producers, for their part, have little competition capacity vis a vis the EU market since Turkish North Cyprus has not been able to go through any EU harmonization process. This disadvantage may be overcome after the implementation of a reasonable transition period, but it will be difficult to overcome the “size” advantage of the Greek Cypriot economy and businesses.

Another problem is that both Greek and Turkish Cypriot public finances and economies are in serious trouble. Greek Cypriot public finance relies on a rescue package from the EU while Turkish Cypriot public finance relies on credit and aid from Turkey. Both have failed to improve the productivity and effectiveness of their public sectors and to restructure their public finances. A serious concern is that, in the absence of a culture of partnership and of working together, this failure could reflect itself in the functioning of the federal government and federal finances, particularly in the initial transition period when the federation will face a multitude of costly problems like the linking of  infrastructure networks, rehabilitation, harmonization and compensation needs.

It is worth remembering that Germany faced serious financial and economic problems in the unification process of West and East Germany. Uncertainties (particularly regarding property ownership), time needed for EU harmonization, limited experience with foreign markets and  limitations in  relevant entrepreneurial skills and capital may all have a stronger bearing on the Turkish Cypriot economy as compared to the Greek Cypriot economy. Furthermore, the transition from the Turkish Lira to Euro and new federal formalities/difficulties that may be faced in benefiting from the cheaper Turkish labour market may lead to production cost increases and further undermine the current competitiveness of the Turkish Cypriot economy.


The pressing need for settlement, together with the opportunities that lay ahead for Turkish Cypriots, Greek Cypriots and the region, are glaringly obvious. If rationalism had prevailed the Cyprus issue would have been solved a long time ago.

It is the hold of history and out dated visions and obsessions that are obstructing settlement in Cyprus.

The stability/security needs of our turbulent region and hydrocarbons discovery could together act as catalysts for change and resolution.  Political leaders need to look ahead and vision in the broader context. The coordinated exploitation of the hydrocarbon resources of the region could bolster cooperation between Eastern Mediterranean countries and contribute to  security and stability.

The critical arrangements of the comprehensive settlement agreement that will be approved by the two communities in the simultaneous referenda will need to have legal certainty, particularly regarding EU and international courts. The Treaties of Guarantee and of Alliance, which have proven their effectiveness by preventing union with Greece in 1974,  will need to remain in force to deter any violation of the terms of the new settlement agreement .

International involvement in the Cyprus dispute is on the rise. Over the last month or so the Foreign Ministers of Turkey, Greece, UK, Germany, Russia and the USA have all visited Cyprus. The Chinese Foreign Minister is due to visit the island shortly. Foreign Ministers are the Marketing Directors of the countries they represent. Their task is to promote the interests of their respective countries. While international support is essential and can help move the process forward (if handled/managed properly and in a balanced manner), resolution in Cyprus needs to be geared to the realities on the ground and the needs/merits of the bi-communal, bi-zonal federal partnership that will be based on the political equality of its two constituting communities and the equal status of its two Constituent States. Lessons need to be taken from both failed and successful federations (particularly dyadic federations) in designing the terms and arrangements of the settlement. If not properly addressed and remedied, the existing asymmetry of political and economic power could undermine the sustainability of a future federation. Such asymmetries should have been addressed yesterday and it is their continuation that is feeding non settlement in Cyprus.

It will not be easy to change the hegemonic frames of mind of the past into inclusive and consensus building frames of mind that are essential for power sharing today. Respect of the principles of political equality and of bi-zonality and the translation and application of these principles into practical terms will be crucial for the survival and sustainability of a possible federal partnership.

The Greek Cypriot side is entering an election atmosphere for parliamentary elections in May 2016. If an agreement is not reached by then the parliamentary elections will overshadow the negotiation process.

Failure to achieve a bi-communal and bi-zonal federal settlement yet again will fatally undermine the credibility and feasibility of the federal settlement model and will inevitably demand the discussion of alternative solution models.

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