By Selcuk Colakoglu
Given the current state of the negotiations between the Turkish and Greek Cypriot sides in Cyprus, prospects of agreeing on a settlement currently look rather poor. Each side accuses the other of responsibility for the failure to reach a settlement until now. But no solution can possibly emerge while there are such great differences between the demands the two sides are presenting.
Cyprus has gone through three different phases since gaining independence in 1960. The first period is the term between the proclamation of the Republic of Cyprus and Turkey’s intervention in 1974. This period lasted fourteen years and during it, the Greek Cypriots, the majority of the island’s population, removed one by one the rights granted to the Turkish Cypriots in the founding constitution of the republic, and tried to push them into a position in which they were not granted equal citizenship. To a large extent, this policy of the Greek Cypriots was successful and Turkish Cypriots were expelled from the organizations of the state. Intercommunal clashes began to increase and the Turkish Cypriot community was obliged to migrate to Turkey.
The second period covers a term between 1974, when Turkey intervened militarily in Cyprus, and the referendum held under the Annan Plan in 2004. In the wake of the Turkish military intervention in Cyprus in 1974, the Turkish Cypriots who had until then lived in scattered settlements migrated to the north of the island which was under the control of Turkey, while the Greek Cypriots living in the north migrated south. Thus there came into being a division between the Turkish and Greek Cypriots based on territory.
The Turkish Cypriots, previously regarded simply as a minority by the Greek Cypriots, now obtained an independent land in the northern sector equivalent to one-third of the total island. This enabled the Turkish Cypriots to exercise their self-determination rights in 1983 and proclaim the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus (TRNC), thus giving a new aspect to the situation. The Turkish Cypriots had proclaimed to the international community that their sole alternative was not living together with the Greeks and that independence was also an alternative.
In the period between 1974 and 2004, intercommunal negotiations followed a constantly changing course and it was impossible to arrive at a final solution on Cyprus. During this period, the international community pointed to the Turkish Cypriot side and Turkey as the main culprits for the lack of a settlement. Ankara’s attempt to prolong the situation by claiming that “no solution is a kind of solution” simply gave grist to the claims of those who denounced Turkey to the world.
The third period in Cyprus began in 2004 with the Annan Plan. During this period, the AK Party government was trying to speed up Turkey’s accession to the EU and so it took the initiative in trying to reach a Cyprus settlement. That implied a shift in Turkey’s traditional line on Cyprus. A plan for a peaceful settlement was prepared under the leadership of UN Secretary General Kofi Annan and accepted after negotiations, and in April 2004 it was submitted to a referendum. Although it was accepted by 65% of the Turkish Cypriots in Northern Cyprus, it was rejected by an overwhelming proportion or 76% of the Greek Cypriots, and so was never put into effect. The most important reason why the Greek Cypriots rejected the Annan Plan was that whatever result the referendum produced, the Greek Cypriots were still going to join the EU as the “Republic of Cyprus.” Obviously, Southern Cyprus did not wish to share its sovereignty over the island with the Turkish Cypriots. With Turkey wanting full membership in the EU too, it must have appeared reasonable at that time for Southern Cyprus and Greece to try and wrest more concessions out of Turkey.
The rejection of the Annan Plan strengthened the perception of the international public opinion that it was not the Turkish Cypriot side but the Greek Cypriots who were obstructing the Cyprus problem. The referendum strengthened the view of the Turkish public that the Greek Cypriot side definitely did not wish for a bicommunal and bizonal federation.
Talks are currently in progress between the presidents of Southern Cyprus and Northern Cyprus under the guidance of the UN. But in September 2011, while these talks between Demetrius Christophias and Derviş Eroğlu were continuing, the Greek Cypriots decided to exploit deposits of natural gas under the Mediterranean, and this has been interpreted as an indication of a desire to undermine the negotiations. This view holds that the intention is to cause tension with Turkey over prospecting for oil and gas in the Mediterranean, and finally to undo the negotiation process for Southern Cyprus. Then Southern Cyprus, which is due to hold the rotating presidency of the EU in the second half of 2012, would be able to leave the problem open for a time and try to obtain a more advantageous basis for negotiations than the Annan Plan.
When one looks at the political process underway ever since the Republic of Cyprus was founded in 1960, there does not seem to have been very much of a shift in the basic attitude of the Greek Cypriots. The Greek Cypriot side regards the Turkish Cypriots not as co-founders and partners, but simply as a minority and does not want to share the state with the island’s Turks. As far as any settlement goes which might be imposed by international pressure, the Greek Cypriot side also wants to keep Turkey out of Cyprus as much as possible. Without the help of Turkey for the Turkish Cypriots, it would become much easier to follow a policy of rendering them ineffective both in the island of Cyprus and within the EU, including Greece.
Under present conditions, it appears unreasonable to expect Southern Cyprus to take any steps towards a settlement. In which case, Turkey has to take further steps to convince Southern Cyprus of the need for a settlement. Turkey should emphasize that if Southern Cyprus does not incline toward a settlement within a reasonable period of time, the political alternative has to be independence for Northern Cyprus.
The Taiwanese Model
One alternative policy for Northern Cyprus would be to apply the Taiwanese model. Between 1949 and 1971, Taiwan represented the whole of China at the United Nations, using the name “Republic of China.” But in 1971, mainland China managed to get Taiwan ejected from membership in the UN, and as the People’s Republic of China, it obtained the right of representation at the UN. The PRC then threatened to sever ties with countries which continued to recognize Taiwan as an independent state. Because of this, all the countries of the world today, apart from 22 very small states, recognize Taiwan as legally part of China. However, a large number of leading countries also operate every kind of link with Taiwan usually associated with an independent country. Their representative offices are called Commercial and Cultural Offices rather than embassies. Taiwan is still trading freely with every part of the world and there are direct flights between its capital Taipei and many other cities.
Turkey could follow this precedent for the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus. Of course, Northern Cyprus’s economy is miniscule compared to that of Taiwan, but it could at least establish de facto ties with countries in the Mediterranean basin. Compared to Taiwan, Northern Cyprus’s biggest problem is its isolation. The planes and vessels of no country, other than Turkey, use its ports. So if the Taiwanese model could be applied successfully, the isolation of Northern Cyprus would end. Though it is only Turkey which is diplomatically represented in Northern Cyprus, there are representative offices from the U.S., the UK, France, Germany, Australia, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, the European Union, and the Nakhchivan Autonomous Region of Azerbaijan, operating with varying statuses. Should Turkey support this precedent, it ought easily to be able to get fifty countries to open representative offices in Northern Cyprus. Trade between Northern Cyprus and third countries other than Turkey could be arranged as well as direct flights. If the Taiwanese model could be successfully applied to Northern Cyprus, the current negotiating position of the Greek Cypriots would be weakened, and they might begin to see the Turkish Cypriots less as a minority and more as a partner.
The Kosovo Model
If the Taiwanese model does not produce any easing in the negotiating position of Southern Cyprus, the final option for Northern Cyprus would be to try and get the rest of the world to accept the independence that was proclaimed in 1983. Kosovo declared its independence in 2008, and since then it has been recognized by 83 countries. It has not been able to join the United Nations because of Russian and Chinese vetoes, but it has nevertheless obtained a great degree of legitimacy internationally as an independent country.
Membership in the UN requires the approval of the Security Council. At present there are known to be five permanent members of the UNSC (the U.S., the UK, France, Russia, and China) opposed to independence for Northern Cyprus. However, Turkey could follow the Kosovo precedent and seek as many states as possible to recognize the TRNC as an independent state. Despite public threats from China, there have been 22 countries which recognize Taiwan as an independent state, and with Turkey’s support, many more states could recognize the TRNC. Turkey has the 16th largest economy in the world and its international influence is growing. So it might be able to get as many as 100 countries to recognize Northern Cyprus.
The Western world had warmly welcomed the independence of East Timor from Indonesia at the expense of the division of Timor Island into East and West. So, Northern Cyprus definitely has the right to determine its future with a referendum like East Timor and South Sudan under the present custom of international law.
USAK Center for Asia-Pacific Studies