Robert Ellis Last week at a House of Commons event on Cyprus, Europe minister Chris Bryant called the fact that within the EU we have a divided capital and a divided island “a scandal and a tragedy”. It is difficult to disagree. Article history
But as Greek Cypriot leader Demetris Christofias has pointed out, Britain bears much of the blame. When Britain refused to grant self-determination to Cyprus in the 1950s, the Greek Cypriot demand for enosis (union with Greece) led to the campaign and threatened British control of this strategically important island.
The British countermove was to invite both Greece and Turkey to a conference in London in 1955, ostensibly to discuss political and defence matters affecting the eastern Mediterranean. However, as defence minister Selwyn Lloyd explained to the cabinet before the conference: “Throughout the negotiations our aim would be to bring the Greeks up against the Turkish refusal to accept enosis and so condition them to accept a solution which would leave sovereignty in our hands.”
According to the 1923 treaty of Lausanne Turkey had renounced all claim to Cyprus, so it had to manufacture a series of arguments – historical, geographical and above all strategic – to justify its interest in the island. In 1956 Nihat Erim submitted a report to prime minister Adnan Menderes, which can be considered the blueprint for Turkey’s strategy over the last 50 years. The Erim report clearly states that the only solution for Cyprus consists of partition under Turkish control and mentions population exchange and settlement by mainland Turks as means to this end. The following year the Turkish Cypriot leader, Dr Fazil Küçük, proposed a division of the island that corresponds to the final line of the Turkish advance, the Atilla Line, in 1974.
The 1960 constitution, underpinned by a treaty of guarantee between Cyprus, Greece, Turkey and the UK, was regarded as provisional by both the Greek and Turkish Cypriots. According to the secret Akritas plan, which was first revealed in 1966, the Greek Cypriots under archbishop Makarios intended to amend the constitution in their favour, suppress Turkish Cypriot resistance “immediately and forcefully” and finally declare enosis.
When the first stage of the plan was put into operation at the end of 1963, fighting broke out, but the Turkish Cypriots had prepared for this. Already in 1955, Turkish Cypriots were ordered by their leaders to cut social and financial ties with their Greek Cypriot neighbours. Nine years later they were forced into enclaves all over the island – all with the aim to demonstrate that peaceful coexistence was impossible and that partition was the only solution.
The tragedy consists not only of the thousands of lives that have been lost because of intercommunal strife and Turkey’s invasion but also, among others, the lawyers, journalists and trade unionists who have been murdered because of their opposition to enosis and partition. The consequences can also be seen at a laboratory established by the CMP (Committee on Missing Persons) in the buffer zone, where a dedicated team of Greek and Turkish Cypriots work to establish the identity of victims of the conflict.
The US ranks high among the villains. After fighting broke out in 1964 the Acheson plan proposed partition as a solution, but this was not achieved until the Greek junta’s coup against Makarios and Turkey’s intervention in 1974 – both with the covert support of Henry Kissinger.
The Annan plan of 2004 was, in fact, a British and American plan to secure the reunification of Cyprus and the strategic goal of Turkey’s membership of the EU, but the final version was rejected by the Greek Cypriots because it was heavily weighted in Turkey’s favour.
Three weeks ago the European parliament passed a resolution on Turkey, calling on Turkey to immediately start withdrawing its troops from Cyprus, address the issue of Turkish settlers on the island and enable the return of the sealed-off section of Famagusta to its lawful inhabitants. The Turkish response was predictable. Prime Minister Erdogan called the resolution “baseless and unacceptable” and his chief EU negotiator, Egemen Bagis, said Turkey shouldn’t take it seriously.
However, Britain sits on the horns of a dilemma. On the one hand, it is committed to support the US’s strategic objective of Turkey’s EU membership. But on the other hand, it cannot ignore the continued occupation of 37% of an EU member state.
At the EU general affairs council meeting in Brussels in December, Britain tried to dodge the issue, supporting the Swedish proposal to reduce the Cyprus question to the level of the border dispute between Croatia and Slovenia. When this failed, it issued a counter declaration a fortnight later, stating that it was in the EU’s strategic interest not to let “bilateral issues” hold up the accession process.
The court of appeal’s judgment in Apostolides v Orams has also put a spanner in the works. It confirmed last year’s landmark legal decision by the European court of justice that, although the Republic of Cyprus does not exercise effective control in the occupied areas, the judgment of its courts can still be enforced. In this case, it concerned property purchased in northern Cyprus, which belonged to a dispossessed Greek Cypriot owner.
As the court of appeal noted: “Quite apart from security council resolutions, the United Kingdom has an obligation under the Treaty of Guarantee to recognise and guarantee the independence, territorial integrity and security of the Republic of Cyprus.” It is paradoxical that Turkey invokes this same treaty to justify its continued presence on the island.
Talks between the two Cypriot leaders, Demetris Christofias and Mehmet Ali Talat, are sluggish, and the fear is that Turkey will use a breakdown to reinforce its claim that the recognition of an independent Turkish state in northern Cyprus is the only viable solution. If Chris Bryant would like to break the deadlock, he could urge Turkey to abide by the European parliament’s resolution and withdraw its troops.