And bring all Cyprus comfort

On the eve of the commemoration of the 1974 Turkish invasion of Cyprus, DR MICHALIS MICHAEL looks at the complex histories and communal insecurities at the core of the island’s division.

When in 2001 Ibrahim Aziz filed against the Republic of Cyprus and its three guarantor powers, at the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR), one could have been forgiven for imagining that EU-ization was to empower the citizenry against the ubiquitous communal state.[i] Five years earlier, Titina Loizidou, won a landmark lawsuit against Turkey for denying her access to her property in northern Cyprus.[ii]

Although both cases lend themselves to polemical exploitation, in different ways and for different reasons, they aspired to higher expectations from any settlement of the Cyprus problem. At a more fundamental level, such narratives/images underscored the ethical dilemma compounding each attempt to resolve the conflict: how to construct a legal-constitutional order, dictated by a set of historical determinants, including the desire to rectify past injustices, which reconciles human rights and group security, with the expectation of upholding the fundamental precepts of liberal democracy, whilst fortifying the foundations for sequential integration/unification.
Conflicts and their settlements are neither inert nor eternal.

Rather, particularism and historical contingency remain their abiding elements, thrusting them ever forward, even though they appear exceptional and insulated. Any study of the Cyprus problem, needs to constantly remind itself of the key question: why despite endless negotiations and countless proposals, has there been no resolution to the Cyprus conflict? Expressed a little more precise, was failure of the Cyprus talks due to the belligerent nature of the negotiating parties?

Or, are the underlying reasons to be found in the conflict’s broader internal and external dynamics? Is it not possible, indeed likely, that we can find a close connection between these two questions? What is the precise distinction between them? Do the very structures and mind-sets underpinning the negotiations render them incapable of facilitating a political settlement?

The answers lie in the complex web of interacting factors—internal and external to Cyprus—that have shaped the overall negotiating process. Such an approach analyses those events, circumstances and relationships that have impeded or facilitated a peaceful resolution of the Cyprus problem. It must be noted that the combination of factors was neither uniform nor consistent in its impact, and that complex interactions produced, at different times and phases, different processes and effects.

In analysing the relationships between the two sets of factors—internal and external—and their interconnected and often contradictory implications, it is possible to identify elements of continuity and change both within and between the phases that make up this period. In conceptualising relevant trends and relationships, we develop an overall assessment of the psychological and political dynamic that has thus far obstructed a resolution of the Cyprus problem.

Impending and Facilitating Factors

The intercommunal talks generally treated the Cyprus problem as an ethnic conflict, and sought its resolution on this basis. It must be noted that the two communities had been politically, economically, socially and psychologically separated over time, whilst the 1974 partition endowed this separation with a geographical, demographic and military dimension. This deeply entrenched separation constituted the main impediment to any effective rapprochement.

The net effect of the physical division of the island has been to hamper communication, interaction and contact not only between the two communities but even between those forces which were prepared to pursue, or at least explore, common interests and objectives. In addition, postponement of a solution led at different times one or both parties to resort to unilateral actions outside the confines of the process, thereby exacerbating the conflict and further impeding negotiation and third party mediation.

One of the key conclusions to emerge from this discussion is that both communities had, for different reasons and in different ways, became supporters of the status quo which they viewed as, if not ideal, at least preferable to the uncertainties of any future regime that did not incorporate their maximum expectations. On one side, the Turkish Cypriots feared that reunification within a strong federation would see them revert to the pre-1974 situation as an isolated minority dominated by a larger and more powerful Greek Cypriot community. On the other side, the Greek Cypriots viewed any federal solution that did not encompass a strong central authority and the withdrawal of the Turkish troops, as no better than their existing predicament.

They would be sacrificing their legitimacy as the sole recognized Cypriot state and would be risking the total occupation of the island. Though the motivation and the rationale may have differed, the position of both parties was similar in one important respect: they both considered the incentives for change weaker than the security of the status quo. Fear of worst case scenarios paralysed the will and the capacity to pursue a riskier but ultimately more promising course.

Conflict resolution contains no certainties. They are thwarted by many unknown variables and susceptible to internal and external fluctuations. Besides security, the conflict’s nagging presence becomes a constant reminder of the impossibility of sealing off one epoch from the next with any confidence in evolutionary progress. Asymmetry, inequality, disparity, and inclusion/exclusion, continue to define and redefine inter- and intra-communal relations, often underscoring class, gender, generational and other social cleavages.

The pervasive disposition of the status quo, sits uncomfortably with Cyprus’s historical order. In the interim, new trends have pegged Cyprus’s particularism to regional and global transformations. Europeanisation is but one manifestation of Cyprus’s modernization as it teasers out the boundaries of Western expansion and incongruous/contradictory convulsions of its own search/self-definition.

The Cyprus conflict has many identities. The challenge confronting Cyprus ultimately lies in its capacity to transform itself into a postmodern society with a political arrangement that transcends its historical insecurities. Often a climate of uncertainty and ambivalence demands risk-taking. In this sense the EU offers itself as a surrogate for creative politics. As Cypriots need to overcome their past and create their own history, there is the danger that continual rejections will prolong stalemate, and stalemate will ensconce partition.[iii]

[1] Cassio, Act II/Scene I, William Shakespeare (1603-04) Othello, the Moore of Venice.
[i] Aziz complained that “he was prevented from exercising his voting rights (at the 2001 elections) on the grounds of national origin and/or association with a national minority”. Declared partially inadmissible, the Court found that there had been a violation of Article 3 of Protocol No. 1 (right to free elections) as well a violation of Article 14 (prohibition of discrimination) of the Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms, awarding Aziz €3,500 for costs and expenses, ECHR, Case of Aziz v. Cyprus Judgement, application on. 69949/01, Strasbourg, June 22, 2004.
[ii] The Court found Turkey guilty of denying Loizidou “access to and interference with property rights in northern Cyprus,” ECHR, Case of Loizidou v. Turkey (Merits) Judgement 40/1993/435/514, Strasbourg, December 18, 1996. Furthermore the Court found the applicant entitled to compensation and “still the legal owner of the property [and] no issue of expropriation arise[d]”, Case of Loizidou v. Turkey (Article 50) Judgement, Strasbourg, July 1998. Faced with non-compliance sanctions in November 2003 Turkey agreed to pay Loizidou £CYP 450,000 in compensation.
[iii] Ozger Ozgur, “Rejection provokes no solution and no solution partition”, Philelefteros, January 16, 2005.

This is an excerpt from Michalis S. Michael’s forthcoming book Resolving the Cyprus Conflict: Negotiating History(Palgrave Macmillan, 2009).

Dr Michael is Research Fellow at La Trobe University’s Centre for Dialogue in Melbourne, Australia.