The Eastern Mediterranean is currently fraught with security challenges. Failed states, mass migration and terrorism afflict the region. Amid this turmoil, however, a golden opportunity exists to resolve one issue that has eluded a lasting settlement for decades. I am referring to the island of Cyprus. My government’s vision for its future involves transforming the island into a bastion of peace, stability, cooperation and economic prosperity.
The Cyprus issue is complex. The entity known today as the “Republic of Cyprus” was a truly unique case. It was a partnership state purposefully designed as such and established nearly 60 years ago on the basis of three international treaties concluded between Great Britain, Turkey, Greece and the two co-founder peoples on the island, the Turkish and Greek Cypriots. These two communities had been living on the island for centuries. They were and still are two distinct peoples with different religions, cultures and ethnicities. The special mechanism founded in 1960 aimed to reflect the understanding that these two communities could coexist peacefully side by side, in a functional federation based on their political equality, under guarantees provided by the two motherlands and Great Britain.
Regrettably, the experiment failed after only three years. The Greek Cypriots forcibly ousted their Turkish Cypriot partners from all the organs of the young state, in open breach of the founding treaties and the Constitution. In 1964, a United Nations Peacekeeping Force was established on the island to protect the Turkish Cypriots from ethnic cleansing. Though negotiations between the two sides commenced in 1968, in 1974 a military junta in Greece attempted to annex Cyprus and prompted Turkey’s intervention in accordance with the 1960 Treaty of Guarantee. In 1983 the Turkish Cypriots set up their own republic while still striving for reconciliation with their erstwhile partners in the south. That search continues to this day. The goal is a completely new partnership.
The Turkish Cypriots, with Turkey’s support, have consistently worked for a just and lasting comprehensive settlement despite the unjust isolation imposed on them by the Greek Cypriot side. Yet it was the Greek Cypriots who rejected numerous UN-sponsored settlement initiatives over the decades. Today the existing status quo on the island is unacceptable to both sides. A new, prosperous Cyprus without ethnic tensions will thus be welcomed by all concerned.
This new state of affairs can come to life with a successful conclusion of the ongoing UN-sponsored negotiations. Any settlement must fulfill certain criteria in order to be sustainable and just. The two sides on the island must be politically equal; one side cannot dominate the other or incorporate it as a mere minority. Power has to be shared in a bi-zonal, bi-communal partnership. The EU will ensure that the basic parameters of the settlement are legally anchored within its primary law. A balance between Greece and Turkey will be struck, meaning that Turkish nationals will be treated on an equal footing with Greek nationals exclusively on the Island.
And finally, safeguards will be put in place to prevent any recurrence of the tragic events of the past. The robust framework provided by the existing Treaties of Guarantee and Alliance will continue to ensure the future stability of the island, where the presence of Turkish forces in the north has effectively been averting any further outbreak of conflict for over four decades. Opinion polls in Northern Cyprus clearly indicate that the vast majority of Turkish Cypriots will not accept a settlement that does not entail Turkish guarantees. Given their traumatic experiences at the hands of the Greek Cypriots in the ‘60s and early ‘70s, no one can blame them, especially after the Greek Cypriot side’s recent attempt to introduce commemorations in their schools of the 1950 plebiscite on “Enosis” (union of Cyprus with Greece), to which the actual roots of the Cyprus issue can be traced.
If a comprehensive settlement in this general framework is to be achieved, the Greek Cypriot side must finally acknowledge the Turkish Cypriots as politically equal partners, and take their justified concerns into account.
The Greek Cypriots have much to gain if common sense prevails among them. A settlement will bring with it Turkey’s friendship and cooperation, from which Cyprus as a whole will benefit. We can supply enough water over and above the requirements of the entire island. Hydrocarbon resources can be freely explored and exploited. New shipping avenues will emerge and trade volumes will rise when Turkish ports are opened to Greek Cypriot vessels. Coupled with a settlement’s positive impact on Turkish-Greek relations, these developments will usher in a new era of cooperation and prosperity in our region. There will be no losers here; it will be a textbook case of a win-win situation.
Yet this can only be done with courage, political will, and leadership to take the settlement process forward to a successful conclusion. We can no longer afford to become mired in Sisyphean diplomacy. Turkey and the Turkish Cypriot side are determined to reach a settlement in Cyprus. Now is the time for our sustained efforts to be reciprocated. The time has come to go the extra mile, which is the hardest mile of all.
• Mevlut Cavusoglu is the minister of foreign affairs of Turkey.
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