I remember reading an article which suggested that if an alien landed in Cyprus he would be completely confused by the island’s situation. Sadly, he would not be alone. In Cyprus two communities, Greek and Turkish, have been living entirely separately from one other since 1974 when Turkey invaded the island after the Greek junta carried out a coup against the legal government of Cyprus. The Republic of Cyprus, established in 1960, only managed to truly represent all its citizens until 1963 when the Turkish Cypriot Members of Parliament resigned as the result of clashes between the two communities. To Cypriots and the international community the Cyprus issue seemed to be a complex problem destined never to be resolved.
Enter the European Union…
What gave Cyprus a new dynamic politically and socially speaking was its application (recognized by international law and the international community) to join the European Union in 1990. Following a positive response from the Commission (1993) and the Council (1994), Cyprus began accession negotiations in 1998, a process which was completed successfully in 2002. From the beginning, Greek Cypriots argued that accession would act as a catalyst for solving Cyprus’ political problems.
In 2002 the UN Secretary General Mr. Kofi Annan called the two sides together to negotiate plans for the creation of a bi-community, bi-zonal Federation which would allow a united Cyprus to enter the European Union. The talks created a breakthrough in Cypriot society. The Turkish community in particular, suppressed by its government, viewed the opportunity to reunite Cyprus and entry to the EU as a chance to improve their lives in all respects. Turkish-Cypriots criticized their leaders for being negative and almost 80,000 people marched through in the streets to demand a solution. By mid-March 2003 the negotiations had reached a standstill and on 16th April 2003 Cyprus signed the Accession Treaty to the European Union on the understanding that Cyprus as a whole would join the EU but the ‘acquis communautaire’ would be only apply to the area controlled by the legal authorities until a solution to the problem could be found.
Pressure on the Turkish Cypriot leadership, which carried most of the responsibility for the failure of the talks, led to the decision to partially raise the restrictions of freedom of movement along the so-called ‘green line’. The gates opened on 23rd April 2003 and since then more than half a million people have visited the ‘other side’. The main argument of all those who supported division as the best possible solution to the problem collapsed overnight: there was no war, nobody was killed or injured. Instead, people cried on each other’s shoulders. The argument that the two communities could not live together but instead would kill each other as soon as a cease-fire began was demolished.
Most importantly, Cypriots began to create a common history together. Recent elections in the Turkish Cypriot community were headlines in Greek newspapers for the first time since 1974 and the two official languages of Cyprus have started to appear together almost everywhere. Finally, we have started to behave as a bi-community country, respecting one another’s differences and celebrating our coming together.
Optimistic for the future
Almost a year later, a new round of talks, with the blessing of EU and the United, is set to begin on 11th February 2004. The aim is for negotiations to be completed before 1st May 2004. The partial change in the leadership of the Turkish Cypriots is currently creating a more optimistic climate which hopefully will drive us towards a political solution. The EU may once again become the medium through which to guarantee peace in Cyprus, friendship in Greek-Turkish relations and security in the region. The accession of a united Cyprus to the European family will also facilitate and speed up Turkey’s own accession process. The European Union can serve as the umbrella to shelter a new period of prosperity and cooperation in the troubled Greece – Cyprus – Turkey triangle.