Cyprus Reunification talks: Rivals reject proposed new borders
Rival Cypriot delegations have failed to agree on maps for new borders on the divided island state, each slamming the other’s proposals as “unacceptable”, Turkey’s foreign minister said on Saturday after peace talks stalled. A week of UN-brokered talks in Geneva between Greek Cypriot president Nicos Anastasiades and Turkish Cypriot leader Mustafa Akıncı had sparked optimism that an agreement to reunify the island could be at hand.
Each side unveiled their vision on Wednesday of how they saw the borders of a reunified Cyprus. But hopes stalled on Friday, with the rival sides in the decades-old dispute at loggerheads over the future of Turkish troops on the divided island – and its boundaries.
The thorny issue centres on how the boundaries are redrawn, including around the once Greek Cypriot town of Morphou on the northern coast. Anastasiades has warned that there can be no deal without a full return of Morphou, while some in the Turkish Cypriot camp have declared its return a non-starter.
The maps swapped on Wednesday will not be disclosed publicly, with the UN hoping that both sides eventually agree on a compromise version. But Turkey has cast a shadow over the peace talks, with President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan saying Friday that Greek Cypriots still have “different expectations”.
What is the history of the dispute?
- Britain occupied Cyprus in 1878, largely for strategic reasons, although it remained nominally under Ottoman sovereignty. The British formally annexed Cyprus in 1914.
- In the 1950s, Greek Cypriots engaged in a guerrilla war against the British, calling for unification with Greece.
- In 1960, London granted independence to the island, instituting a power-sharing arrangement between Greek and Turkish Cypriots.
When and why was Cyprus split in two?
- In 1974 Greece’s military junta government backed a coup against Cyprus’s president, Archbishop Makarios, with Athens demanding a greater say in Cypriot affairs and pushing for union with the island.
- In response to the coup, Turkey launched a military invasion, occupying the northern third. Greek Cypriots were forced to flee from the north to the south, while Turkish Cypriots fled in the opposite direction.
- In 1983 the northern part of the island was declared as the breakaway state of the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus but the only country to recognise it was Turkey.
- There is a large military presence – around 30,000 Turkish troops.
What are the main obstacles?
- Land and property are two of the main sticking points – whether Turkish Cypriots displaced from the southern part of the island should be allowed to return to their old homes, and vice versa with Greek Cypriots who were forced to leave the north.
- That would mean turfing some families out of homes that they have lived in for decades.
- The town of Morphou (known in Turkish as Guzelyurt) in the northwest of the island, for instance, is home to around 18,000 Turkish Cypriots. But before the 1974 invasion it was almost entirely Greek. The Greek Cypriots want it back but many Turkish Cypriots refuse to leave.
- It’s envisaged that the disputes could be addressed through a combination of land swaps and financial compensation, although it is not clear who would foot the bill.
- Territorial boundaries between the Turkish and Cypriot parts of the island also need to be worked out.
- Security is a big issue – the Greek Cypriots want the removal of the 30,000 Turkish troops in the north. If an agreement can be reached, it will be voted on in two separate referendums, one for the Greek Cypriots and the other for the Turkish Cypriots. The votes could be held sometime in the summer.
Why is it important?
- In the past, the Cyprus issue has brought Turkey and Greece – both members of NATO – close to war.
- It is also an impediment to Turkey’s hopes of joining the EU.
- And it would provide a rare good news story for a Europe that has been battered in the past year by terrorist attacks, political discord and the refugee crisis.