Despite a plethora of concerns about the successful resolution of the Cyprus Problem, the conflict has reached its ripeness and Cypriots are ready to open a new chapter in the island’s history.
A brief background on the Cyprus Problem
The island of Cyprus has been divided since 1974 after a Greek-staged coup and the following invasion of Turkish troops, which took control over the northern part of the country. The Turkish armed forces have expelled over 150,000 Greek Cypriots from their homes in the occupied northern part of the island, which enabled a large-scale expropriation of Greek Cypriot properties. With Turkish Cypriots dwelling in the north and Greek Cypriots in the south of the island, the partitioning of the island has led to immense emotional, cultural, economic and political hardships for both ethnic groups.
The 2004 UN-proposed Annan Plan for a federation of two constituent states was the closest Greek and Turkish Cypriots have ever come to a solution, but the majority of Greek Cypriots rejected the Plan in a referendum. After various attempts at resolving the frozen conflict, the Cyprus Problem remains unsettled due to the inability to reach an agreement on important issues and the meddling of primarily Turkey in the domestic affairs of the Mediterranean island. For instance, last year’s negotiations on reunification were suspended due to Turkey’s decision to explore oil and gas deposits off the coast of the island, which was seen as a clear act of aggression by Greek Cypriots. However, today with new leadership, favorable political developments and economic incentives there is a window of opportunity for the creation of a bicommunal, bizonal federation that will constitute of two states with equal status under a federal constitution; the Cypriot state will have single sovereignty and legal personality, and will be recognised as a member of the UN and the EU.
In leadership we trust
Cyprus’s solution can be reached only through supportive and committed leadership on part of both Greek and Turkish Cypriots. The current Greek and Turkish Cypriot leaders, Nicos Anastasiades and Mustafa Akinci respectively, have demonstrated determination and dedication for the resolution of the Cyprus Problem and this is a fortunate realignment of the political leadership that brings high hopes for success. Collaborating extensively with negotiators and UN representatives, both leaders have expressed strong commitment to the implementation of confidence building measures and continuous dialogue. Last month’s historic meeting of Akinci and Anastasiades in the old town of Nicosia was a clear sign of this resolve. Recently there was also an organised visit by the Slovak Embassy in Cyprus that brought together Greek and Turkish Cypriot political representatives in the ghost city of Famagusta, located in the Turkish-occupied part of the island. Such encounters are the diplomatic way of demonstrating the political will of both sides to preserve their common cultural heritage and work towards constructive peace.
With regards to Ankara’s interference in the future of the Mediterranean island, the result of the recent parliamentary elections in Turkey and the loss of President Erdogan’s Justice and Development Party majority would potentially limit the meddling of Ankara in the negotiations. Erdogan has followed an aggressive and paternalistic rhetoric towards the Turkish Cypriots, but with Akinci’s election last month as the pro-solution candidate in the leadership position, now there is optimism for change in the dynamics of this relationship. It is highly likely that Akinci will seek more independent course of action with regards to the negotiations of the Cyprus Problem, which in turn would increase the zone of possible agreement with Greek Cypriots.
The economic rationale
In these times of economic hardship, the Cyprus Problem presents an additional hurdle to the main parties involved in the conflict and a potential resolution would greatly benefit not only Greek and Turkish Cypriots, but also Turkey and Greece.
The Cyprus Centre of the Peace Research Institute in Oslo (PRIO) has published research on the potential economic gains for all parties involved in the Cyprus Problem in the event of a resolution of the frozen conflict. The authors find that Turkey is set to benefit from a settlement of the conflict with over EUR 17 billion per year, whilst Greece would add at least EUR 3 billion per annum to its budget. For Turkey a resolution would mean primarily a great reduction of costs relating to property litigation, military spending and subsidising the heavily dependent Turkish Cypriot economy. Moreover, a reunification of Cyprus would give Turkish banks and firms the ability to take advantage of Cyprus’s membership of the European Union, which in turn would provide new opportunities in the European market. Greece would also be able to reduce its military expenditure in the Mediterranean and in the Aegean with estimated military savings totalling EUR 2.2 billion per year.
Normalisation in the relations between Cyprus, Greece and Turkey as a result of a prospective settlement of the Cyprus Problem would have a tremendously positive impact on economic opportunities in the region. FDI is expected to increase substantially since the “risk factor” would be minimised; trade links would be boosted by the opening of the facilitated transport sector, primarily with regards to the export of goods; the energy sector could additionally enhance cooperation and economic returns with the recent hydrocarbon findings in the Cyprus’s exclusive economic zone; and certainly, tourism would be boosted with expected rise in dividends for all parties.
Considering the economic incentives, the pro-solution political leadership of both Greek and Turkish Cypriots and the encouraging regional and international dynamics, Cyprus can now embark on a journey towards peace and stability with the ultimate goal of agreeing an enduring solution to the Cyprus Problem.