By Dr. Ali Makki*
“Human beings are members of a whole,
In creation of one essence and soul.
If one member is afflicted with pain,
Other members uneasy shall remain.
If you’ve no sympathy for another’s pain,
The name of human thou cannot retain!”
(Saadi of Shiraz, 13th century Persian poet)
Failure to reach a resolution in the prolonged Cyprus stalemate has been a classic case of “garbage in, garbage out”—a well-known slang in computer sciences that implies the quality of output is directly dependent on the quality of input. In the Cyprus scenario, the same cyclical fallacies have been rehashed in each round of negotiation for nearly five decades, while foolishly expecting different results. Distorted notions continue to be repeated by unqualified “negotiating parties”, especially by Turkey, which attempts to cover up her misdeeds in the guise of a “peace guarantor” and shamelessly portrays her illegal military occupation of the northern one-third of the island as an act of “charity” toward the Turkish-speaking (TS) Cypriots. Furthermore, Turkey attempts to justify her war crimes by invoking tribalist propaganda and ignores the harsh reality that the occupation has impoverished and continues to marginalize the TS Cypriots.
Regretfully, too many dishonest and conflicted parties have been involved in negotiating the ethnic reunification of Cyprus, but if one looks beyond the superficial rhetoric and deceptive terms of reference used by some, the seemingly never-ending Cyprus stalemate would no longer appear as complex or unsolvable. In fact, reaching a meaningful and sustainable outcome merely rests on an objective reevaluation of the fallacies and on an honest handling of basic historical facts. Moreover, the steadfast enforcement of the United Nations (UN) resolutions passed against the Turkish occupation and explicitly calling out the violations of international law committed by Turkey—the occupying foreign aggressor in this conflict—are pivotal prerequisites for moving forward with the negotiation process. So, if we reframe the problem accordingly, then the commonly used term “Cyprus Problem” will clearly reveal itself as the “Turkey Problem”, and this uncovered truth will correct our perspective and paves the path forward. Removing Turkey as a negotiating party and dealing with her as a prime violator, without dancing around the subject, would finally enable Greek-speaking (GS) and TS Cypriots to work together on rebuilding their nation without the burdensome distractions and the constant dead weight of Turkey on their backs.
Although, Turkey is primarily to blame for the partition of the nation, Cypriots themselves are partially at fault for the prolongation of the problem by allowing foreign “guarantor nations” (Greece, Turkey, and the United Kingdom) hijack the future of Cyprus. It is naive to presume that any of the non-domestic negotiating parties are simply interested in helping the reunification process as a purely humanitarian act over their own national interests. Therefore, ordinary Cypriot citizens on both sides of the divide (in Greek- and Turkish-speaking communities) must finally take matters into their own hands and put an end to the foreign interference disguised as friendship or cloaked as linguistic, ethnic, or religious affinity that only feed into hyperactivated emotions. So, before it is too late, grassroots, bi-communal, people-to-people organizations must unite further and become more proactive in presenting the real social and legal issues at hand to address the grievances of each community in an authoritative and systematic manner. Cypriot citizens must finally be placed at the forefront of the reunification process instead of remaining marginalized as passive observers, while self-serving negotiators, including some incumbent Cypriot politicians play their endless political charades.
Additionally, it should be clear that Cypriots are neither citizens nor subjects of Greece or Turkey. Cyprus, as an independent republic since 1960, must present itself as a respectable, progressive, bilingual, and poly-cultural nation, inclusive of its citizens of Greek, Turkish, Maronite, Armenian, and other heritage. Cyprus is no longer a colony and many of the problems pertaining to six decades ago are irrelevant to the present era, especially in the current world order. Hence the presence of “guarantor nations” is an obsolete notion, and the waving of flags of Greece and Turkey on either side of the divide is shameful for an independent Cyprus, which must now prove itself to be capable of self-determination and be able to maintain its own sovereignty. The rebuilding of a progressive, egalitarian, and secular state should not solely revolve around ethnicity, language, or religion, and bygone experiences of the 1950s, leading up to the Turkish occupation in 1974, must only serve as lessons for the present and future to prevent the same mistakes from being repeated.
It is important to keep in mind that the indigenous Greek- and Turkish-speaking citizens of Cyprus have culturally more in common with one another as Cypriots (even genetically) than with the people of Greece and Turkey. Throughout its more than 10,000 years of human habitation, Cyprus has been populated by early prehistoric human settlers and was influenced by Phoenicians, Egyptians, Greeks, Persians, and more recently by Ottoman Turks among other cultural groups. However, a distinct and unmistakable Cypriot character has emerged over several millennia, which transcends the languages, cultures, and religions of its constituent peoples. Therefore, GS and TS Cypriots should look beyond pan-Hellenism, pan-Turkism, and other divisive tribalistic human constructs that have no utility or place in advanced 21st century societies, especially in a nation that has its own rich and distinctive culture and has been a member of the European Union (EU) since 2004.
As part of a holistic approach, the terminology used in the ethnic reunification process must also reflect historical truths, demonstrate honesty, and promote transparency to reinforce a sense of goodwill. In its present usage, to the detriment of all Cypriots, plainly using the term “reunification” without reference to the ethnic component falsely portrays a pre-existence of two nation states on the island that now seek to “rejoin” territories. Therefore, it must be clear to all parties (and to the international community) that Turkey occupied Cyprus in 1974 as a “guarantor power” but overstayed its designated role under false pretenses of “maintaining peace” only to partition the island geographically by means of ethnic cleansing and causing the deliberate displacement of GS and TS Cypriots with the ultimate goal of annexing Cyprus. So, contrary to the prevalent propaganda spread in the occupied territories, Turkey has never had the best interest of the TS Cypriots in mind and invaded Cyprus solely for her own territorial expansion and hegemonic ambitions.
After the short-lived and failed coup d’état orchestrated from Athens, which led to the end of Archbishop Makarios’ presidency, Turkey began to devise its own Turkish version of “enosis” by fanning the flames of ethnic division and has been promoting the idea of “taksim” (partition) for decades and cunningly instigated the formation of the internationally unrecognized “Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus (TRNC)” in 1983 to push the idea of what is now dubbed as the “two-state solution”. To this end, Turkey continues to vigorously implement settler colonialism and has incentivized the immigration of Anatolian Turkish citizens (now outnumbering Turkish-speaking Cypriots) to the occupied areas of Cyprus. Thereby, Turkey has been able to unfairly influence the political scene on the occupied side of the island, and Ankara has successfully manipulated elections by helping install puppet leaders who serve the strategic interests of Turkey instead of safeguarding the welfare and concerns of the Turkish-speaking Cypriots.
Regrettably, for decades, Ankara has been engaging in psychological warfare against both Greek- and Turkish-speaking Cypriots to pave the way for annexation of Cyprus as a critical step closer toward the goal of neo-Ottoman expansionism. For instance, Turkey has forced the renaming of cities and villages, has banned the use of Greek language, and has desecrated and converted centuries old Christian churches to Islamic mosques in the occupied territories of Cyprus. Therefore, further delays in ending the Turkish occupation of the island will undoubtedly embolden Turkey’s position and can lead to more destabilization in the Aegean and Eastern Mediterranean regions. The longer it takes to solve the Turkey Problem in Cyprus, the more vulnerable Cypriots of all generations and ethnicities will become toward the phenomenon of “Cyprus problem fatigue” and may more readily imbibe the lies and deceptive campaigns of historical revisionism spread by Turkey. Weary Cypriots are more likely to be swayed toward the so called “two-state solution”, simply to see an end to the tiresome deadlock since the 1974 Turkish occupation of their country, even though neither community seems to want permanent partition.
No sensible and patriotic Cypriot today wants to see Cyprus be divided then subsequently get devoured by a foreign nation, albeit one that may share linguistic or religious affinity with one of its ethnic communities. It is unimaginable that Cypriots would desire to become second class citizens of Greece with its myriad domestic and economic challenges or would voluntarily submit to becoming the oppressed subjects of a theocratic dictatorship and follow political, economic, and religious edicts handed down from Ankara. It is already heartbreaking enough for TS Cypriots residing in the occupied territories today to have to address postal articles to and from “Mersin, Turkey” when they send or receive letters and parcels within the occupied parts of the Island. Hence, the desire to become citizens of Turkey or Greece does not seem to be on the wish list of any Cypriot from either linguistic community.
It is self-evident to anyone with a sense of logic and respect for justice that the internal affairs of Cyprus must be solved solely by Cypriot citizens and by 21st century means and protocols. Most of the causes and vulnerabilities of the inter-communal conflict that existed in the 20th century (prior to the Turkish occupation of 1974) are no longer present, relevant, or imminent in Cyprus today, aside from the post-traumatic fears conjured up and perpetuated by Turkey. In addition to ethno-linguistic concerns, other pressing local and global realities must be addressed soon, including serious environmental and climatic concerns, proper management of natural resources, public health matters, and a sensible handling of the migrant challenge on both sides of the divide, just to name a few points.
Fortunately, Cyprus has a great reserve of cultural strengths and possesses an indomitable character embedded in its kind, hospitable, and educated people and in its poly-cultural heritage. So, rebuilding an egalitarian, democratic, and forward-thinking pluralistic nation within the present framework and ideals of the EU, especially at the hands of the progressive younger generation of Cypriots and drawing on the wisdom of the older generations should be a matter of fact, as already observed in many successful instances of bi-communal interactions and trust-building efforts, time and time again. Targeted, explicit constitutional amendments and guarantees will further serve to meet the needs of a modern Cypriot society in the context of a European nation and will help allay fears of political and civil inequality based on ethnicity, language, or religion. For the sake of comparison, Cypriots may look toward various multicultural models of governance as they exist in Belgium, Canada, Switzerland, or elsewhere to devise a system that best suits Cyprus. Additionally, the dystopian fear-mongering of a potential ethnic strife under one flag in a future unified Cyprus, as propagated by Turkey and perpetuated by a minority of self-serving politicians residing on both sides of the divide, is nothing but a smoke screen that should be blown away to clear the air for building a spectacular common future for Cypriots by Cypriots, regardless of their home language, ethnicity, or preferred religion—A future that could also serve as a phenomenal example to other nations.
Suggested Action Items:
- First and foremost, Turkey is a bona fide aggressor and must not have the privilege to decide the future of Cyprus and should be barred altogether from participating in any decision-making process, aside from logistical planning and coordination for withdrawal of its military forces.
- Secondly, meddling by non-Cypriot negotiators with eyes on Cyprus’ geopolitical importance and hydrocarbon resources should end immediately. Only qualified native Greek-speaking and Turkish-speaking Cypriot citizens and trusted advisors of their choice should be present at the negotiation table.
- The flags of Greece, Turkey, and the illegal entity referred to as the “Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus (TRNC)” should be replaced by the common flag of Cyprus designed by Ìsmet Vehit Güney (a Turkish-speaking Cypriot) over a decade before the Turkish occupation. This step will help restore dignity to the island and would remove outward symbols of division and tribalism.
- The international community must clearly understand that the goal in Cyprus is an ethnic reintegration of a single country and not a territorial reunification of two states. There is only one Cyprus that was militarily violated by Turkey, and the territorial integrity of Cyprus must be restored by the immediate and unconditional withdrawal of all Turkish troops from the occupied north and by the departure of the Greek military force stationed in the unoccupied territory.
- Build a comprehensive indigenous Cypriot military force capable of land, naval and air defenses against potential foreign threats.
- The era of “guarantor nations” has long ended. So, as an interim confidence building measure, the United Nations may be encouraged to establish a long-term operational base for its peace-keeping troops to train on Cyprus and to doubly serve as the potential peacekeeper in the event of an unlikely civil unrest during the transition period of the ethnic reunification. Such neutral presence will certainly help deter and reduce the fear of inter-communal conflict, which would be doubtful to take place, especially when educated Cypriots with the genuine intent to rebuild their nation are placed at the helm of leadership.
- In the next round of presidential elections, qualified Turkish-speaking Cypriots can be nominated to run for the office of vice president, which is theoretically guaranteed by Article 1 of the 1960 constitution of the Republic of Cyprus. A bi-communal electoral participation will provide Turkish-speaking Cypriot citizens a renewed opportunity to exercise their constitutional rights after decades of disruption. A great advantage in this scenario, especially for the TS Cypriots will be the fact that their votes will be cast on the unoccupied side of the island under the auspices of the European Union, which will be free of interference by Turkey and prevents being outnumbered by non-Cypriot (Anatolian) Turkish “voters”. Such bold constitutional maneuver will perhaps be the most effective confidence-building measure yet to help crystallize inter-communal trust. However, once the reunification is implemented, the hierarchical structure of governance may be constitutionally amended as desired by Cypriots for a more egalitarian political system that is not based on ethnicity in the future.
- The world community, especially members of the EU must pressure Turkey (more vigorously than the current verbal rhetoric and token slaps on the wrist) until Turkey unconditionally withdraws its military from the entire territorial borders of Cyprus, including the fenced-off ghost town of Varosha in Famagusta.
- All displaced Cypriots must be able to return to their homes and properties across the island (on both sides) without any pre-conditions starting immediately and should have the right to live and work and lay to rest their departed loved ones anywhere on the island without interference.
- The Turkish government, the leadership in the occupied territories, as well as the government of the Republic of Cyprus should seriously consider “thinking outside the box” by serving the real interests of all Cypriot citizens and their desire for rebuilding a unified nation and demonstrate genuine goodwill for a meaningful and sustainable change. After all, life does not revolve around “Turk” versus “Greek” in a ”Tom and Jerry”-like mindset (reference to the American cartoon characters) as played out by the politicians from both sides. Fortunately, President Erdogan and Mr. Tatar are in a unique position to jointly earn the Nobel Peace Prize if they choose to stop their belligerence toward the prospect of a reunified Cyprus and if they end their modus operandi of spreading hatred, xenophobia, and pan-Turkish ideology.
- By adopting an unequivocal, non-tribal, non-hostile, modern, and pragmatic outlook to facilitate the ethnic reunification of Cyprus and by gaining the trust of all Cypriots (both Turkish- and Greek-speaking citizens), Turkey can more effectively set the stage for her own sustainable economic growth and for establishing a legitimate and constructive political influence in the Eastern Mediterranean region. By earning the confidence and respect of its neighbors and ceasing to be an unrelenting bully, Turkey can organically position itself as a cornerstone of stability with immense pride. The Turkish government cannot pretend to be “European” or claim to be the “bridge between East and West”, while not demonstrating the acumen to play by the rules of proper conduct. It should also be self-evident that by behaving like a rogue nation and continuing to militarily occupy an EU member state will undoubtedly further delay and undermine Turkey’s credibility for accession to the EU and will raise serious doubts about her worthiness and reliability as a NATO member.
*Dr. Ali Makki is a concerned world citizen, a physician, a linguist, and a university professor, who considers himself an activist for social justice, peace, and conflict resolution. He grew up multilingual and multicultural and has lived in various countries over the past five decades. His worldview is Zoroastrian but prefers to avoid ethnic, linguistic, religious, and political labels, where possible. He has studied the history and archeology of Cyprus and has researched the nuances of its tumultuous colonial experience. Over the years, he has formed close and strong bonds of friendship with Cypriots living in the north and south of the island and has a deep admiration, love and respect for Cyprus and its people.