The Cyprus Problem in Perspective
July 20th, 2000, marks the 26th tragic anniversary of Turkey’s invasion of Cyprus. As a result, an estimated 35,000 heavily armed Turkish troops continue to occupy 37% of Cyprus’ territory.
Nearly 200,000 Greek Cypriots, who fell victim to a policy of ethnic cleansing, were forcibly evicted from their homes and became refugees in their own country. More than a quarter of a century later they continue to be prevented by the Turkish occupation army from returning to their ancestral homes.
Over 1400 Greek Cypriots, including four Americans of Cypriot descent, have been missing since the Turkish invasion of 1974 and their fate is still unaccounted for. The remains of another Cypriot American who was also missing since the tragic events of 1974 have been found and identified in 1997, following an investigation mandated by Congressional request.
In an attempt to change the demographic structure of the occupied area, Turkey has transferred from the Turkish mainland more than 80,000 settlers, to whom the homes and lands of the evicted Greek Cypriots were illegally distributed. These actions are prohibited under international law (Geneva Convention of 1949).
Despite a humanitarian agreement (known as the Vienna III Agreement) reached in 1975, that would have allowed 20,000 Greek Cypriots and Maronites to stay and live a normal life in the occupied Karpasia Peninsula and the Maronite villages, less than 500 enclaved Greek Cypriots and 160 Maronites remain in the occupied area today. This is the result of a systematic campaign of harassment and intimidation and continuing massive violations of their most basic rights and freedoms, including those guaranteed by Turkey in the Vienna III Agreement.
Cyprus’ rich 9000 year-old cultural and religious heritage in the occupied part has not escaped unscathed and archaeological sites, Byzantine churches and other places of worship have been destroyed or plundered.
These flagrant human rights violations perpetrated by Turkey in Cyprus have been the subject of a series of interstate applications that the Republic of Cyprus has lodged against Turkey with the European Court of Human Rights of the Council of Europe. The European Commission of Human Rights which examined these applications, has issued a report in June 1999 on the Fourth of these Interstate Applications, finding Turkey responsible for continuing violations of several provisions of the European Convention of Human Rights relating to the issues of the missing persons, the living conditions of the enclaved, the properties of the displaced persons, etc.
Moreover, the European Court of Human Rights has issued its judgment (December 1996) in a case involving an individual application by a Greek Cypriot displaced person, Titina Loizidou, brought against Turkey, for violations of certain provisions of the European Convention of Human Rights relating to the Applicant’s property rights in the occupied area of Cyprus. The Court found, inter alia, that the so called ‘TRNC’ which is not recognized by the international community and is an illegal secessionist entity as far as international law is concerned, could not and did not deprive the Applicant of her property, which still belongs to her. It further held that the Turkish Army and, consequently, Turkey, was directly responsible for not allowing the Applicant to enjoy her property and ordered Turkey to pay damages to the Applicant. Turkey has yet to comply with this ruling of the European Court of Human Rights.
In 1983, in flagrant violation of international law and the Treaties establishing the Republic of Cyprus and guaranteeing its independence and territorial integrity, Ankara promoted a “unilateral declaration of independence” in the area under its military occupation. The UN Security Council, including the US Government, condemned this declaration and the attempted secession as legally invalid and, called for its withdrawal. The Security Council also called on all States not to recognize the purported state of the ‘TRNC’ and not to facilitate or in any way assist the secessionist entity (UNSC Res. 541 and 550). To-date, no country in the world recognizes the so-called “Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus” except Turkey.
Since 1974, the UN has adopted numerous resolutions on Cyprus that call, inter alia, for the withdrawal of all foreign forces from the island, the return of the refugees to their homes in safety and respect for the sovereignty, independence, territorial integrity and unity of the Republic of Cyprus.
In an effort to achieve a peaceful solution to the problem, several rounds of negotiations have taken place all of which have failed, principally because of a lack of political will on the Turkish side and its refusal to abide by international law and to comply with Security Council resolutions and the High Level Agreements reached in 1977 and 1979 which provide the framework for a solution.
On the contrary, Turkey has upgraded its military presence on the island; it has made repeated threats against the Republic of Cyprus for further military action and has spared no effort to block any progress towards a just and viable solution. More recently, the Turkish side has moved away from the bi-zonal, bi-communal federal solution that it had earlier agreed to that was endorsed by the international community and put forward a proposal for a confederation of two sovereign states. It, furthermore, blocked progress by setting two new unacceptable preconditions for the resumption of the peace talks, namely, prior recognition of the illegal entity set up in the occupied area and the withdrawal of Cyprus’ application for membership in the European Union.
The international community, including the US, has categorically rejected the confederation proposal and the other unacceptable preconditions of the Turkish side for the resumption of negotiations, which attempt to change the agreed parameters on which a solution is to be based.
The Security Council also clarified its position on the parameters of a settlement by reiterating its position that “a Cyprus settlement must be based on a State of Cyprus with a single sovereignty and international personality and a single citizenship, with its independence and territorial integrity safeguarded and comprising two politically equal communities as described in the relevant Security Council resolutions, in a bi-communal and bi-zonal federation and that such a settlement must exclude union in whole or in part with any other country or any form of partition or secession” ( UNSC resolution 1251)
In fact, the leaders of the G-8, have dealt with the Cyprus issue in their meeting in Cologne (June 20, 1999) for the first time in a substantive way and have urged the UN Secretary General, in accordance with the Security Council resolutions, to invite the leaders of the two sides to comprehensive negotiations without preconditions in the autumn of 1999. The UN Security Council in its resolution adopted on June 29, 1999 reiterated the G8 leaders’ appeal and requested the UN Secretary General to proceed accordingly (UNSC resolution 1250).
As a result of this coordinated international effort, a new round of proximity talks between the two communities was launched, under UN auspices, which began in December 1999. This process is still continuing, with a second round of proximity talks having taken place in Geneva in February 2000 and a third round scheduled to commence, again in Geneva, on July 5th 2000, with the full support of the US and all the other members of the UN Security Council.
The Government of the Republic of Cyprus firmly believes that the only way forward is through a sustained and result-oriented process of negotiations, with a view to finding a mutually acceptable solution that will reunite Cyprus and its people.
Within this framework, the Cyprus Government has made numerous gestures of goodwill in an effort to facilitate the achievement of a solution. It has, for example, cancelled an order for the importation and deployment of a Russian defensive air-to-surface missile system on Cyprus, and has put forward a comprehensive proposal for the complete demilitarization of the island, which has been rejected by the Turkish side.
In addition, a policy of rapprochement and reconciliation between the two communities in Cyprus, through a program of bi-communal contacts at the grass roots level, which has the support and encouragement of the US and others, has been frustrated throughout the years, particularly since December 1997, when the Turkish side banned the participation of Turkish Cypriots from such bi-communal contacts.
The Cyprus Government has also extended an invitation to the Turkish Cypriot community to participate in the Cyprus-EU negotiating team, which was also rejected by the Turkish side.
The Government of the Republic of Cyprus applied for full membership to the European Union in 1990. The application was accepted and substantive negotiations are now under way for Cyprus’ accession to the EU. This positive development presents a fresh opportunity in the efforts to advance a settlement, because it will act as a catalyst and provide the necessary incentive to all the parties involved to work more constructively towards that end. Cyprus’ accession will greatly benefit all the people of Cyprus and especially the Turkish Cypriots, both politically and economically, by safeguarding security, prosperity and sustainable economic development for all Cypriots and by providing the best framework for cooperation and reconciliation.
In fact, although the European Union underlined in its Helsinki European Council meeting (December 1999) “that a political settlement of the Cyprus problem will facilitate the accession of Cyprus to the EU”, it went on to clarify that “if no settlement has been reached by the completion of accession negotiations, the Council’s decision on accession will be made without the above being a precondition”.
The US Government has always supported a just and lasting solution to the Cyprus problem. President Clinton has taken a personal interest in the issue and as part of his commitment to help achieve a solution he has appointed Ambassador Alfred Moses as his Special Emissary for Cyprus. Ambassador Moses succeeded Ambassador Richard Holbrooke who previously held that position. President Clinton has repeatedly stated that the US Administration will continue its efforts to achieve progress and that, towards this end, it will take advantage of all opportunities to advance a settlement, including membership for Cyprus in the European Union.
The US Congress has also dealt with the Cyprus problem and on a number of occasions it has reaffirmed that the status quo in Cyprus is unacceptable (H.CON.RES. 42 and S.CON.RES 11, 104th Congress). It has repeatedly reiterated that the situation in Cyprus is detrimental to the interests of the US in the eastern Mediterranean (H.CON.RES. 81 and S.CON.RES.41, 105th Congress), that lasting peace and stability on Cyprus would be best served by a process of complete demilitarization and has encouraged the President to launch an early substantive initiative, in close coordination with the UN, the EU and interested governments to promote a speedy resolution of the Cyprus problem on the basis of international law, the provisions of relevant UN resolutions and democratic principles.
If a solution is ever to be achieved, however, it is essential that all these decisions and pronouncements of the international community are fully implemented and for the Turkish side to respond positively to the call of the international community for a resumption of the negotiations without preconditions and within the agreed parameters.
As the G8 leaders stated during their meeting in Cologne “The Cyprus problem has gone unresolved for too long. Resolution of this problem would not only benefit all the people of Cyprus, but would also have a positive impact on peace and stability in the region”. The US maintains vital interests in this volatile region and a solution of the problem would work towards improving the relations and cooperation between Greece and Turkey, two key NATO allies, thus strengthening NATO’s southern flank in the eastern Mediterranean.
It is hoped that the US Congress will continue to firmly support the people of Cyprus by urging Turkey to comply with the resolutions of the United Nations and to work constructively for a solution of the Cyprus problem within the agreed parameters.
The strong support of Congress combined with President Clinton’s reaffirmation of his personal commitment “to work for an end to the tragic conflict on Cyprus, which is dividing too many people in too many ways” are essential in bringing about a just and peaceful solution in the near future.
After 26 years of forcible division it is all the more urgent and, indeed, imperative to take all necessary steps to actively support all efforts to end the forcible division of the island and its people and reunify Cyprus through a just and lasting solution.