On November 20, Cyprus President Nicos Anastasiades and Turkish Cypriot leader Mustafa Akinci met for a second time at Mont-Pelerin, Switzerland, to resume talks on the Cyprus issue. The talks, which lasted for two days, ended without an agreement and resulted in both sides blaming each other.
The country of Cyprus has been divided since 1974, following an invasion by Turkey prompted by the growing inter-ethnic tensions and a coup d’état in the island, which was supported by the military junta that ruled Greece at the time. After the invasion, Turkish troops remained in the island and the self-declared Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus (TRNC), an entity recognized only by Turkey, was established to administer the northern part of the island. Since then, little progress has been achieved with regards to the reunification of the Mediterranean island. The current negotiations have been described as the “last chance” for the successful resolution of the issue.
Prior to the meeting at Mont-Pelerin, both sides seemed cautiously optimistic about the result of the talks. Before departing for the initial talks, Akinci was hopeful on Twitter:
In Switzerland on 7-11 Nov our goal will be to solve #CyProb in 2016. Will discuss territory & all other outstanding issues interdependently
— Mustafa Akinci (@MustafaAkinci_1) 26 Οκτωβρίου 2016
Ahead of the most recent talks, the United Nations Special Adviser on Cyprus, Espen Barth Eide, also shared this optimism:
— Espen Barth Eide (@EspenBarthEide) 19 Νοεμβρίου 2016
Despite all hopes, however, the talks, which were meant to focus on the territory issue and create a new map of internal boundaries for a future federation of Cyprus, ended with no agreement.
Following their departure from Mont-Pelerin, a spokesperson for Akinci accused the Greek-Cypriot side of insisting on extreme demands on territory and other issues. Indeed, this view was echoed even before the talks by some members of the public and seen through comments on social media and responses to online articles.
Take this response to an article featured on the Cyprus Mail, a Cyprus daily newspaper. The user “Hasan Cypriot” referred to Morfou, the Karpass peninsula and Mesaoria — areas which are currently part of the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus — and asserted that Greek-Cypriot demands with regards to territory were “endless”:
No thanks. The endless demands of the Greek side is, did I say, “endless?”
Parts of Morfou, Parts of Karpaz. Parts of Mesaoria Plain. Parts of this parts of that!
Yes, yes, of course!
On the other hand, Greek-Cypriots are particularly concerned about Turkey being granted a right to militarily intervene as well as keep troops on the island, which the Turkish-Cypriot side demands under any type of deal. Greek-Cypriots say this would undermine the island’s sovereignty.
For some Greek-Cypriot critics of the talks, recent events justified their long held assumptions about the nature of the negotiations. For instance, user EntimosKritiss commented that:
Οι συνομιλίες ήταν πάντοτε μια λανθασμένη και προδοτική επιλογή που μοναδικό σκοπό είχε να διαιωνίσει την παραμονή του εχθρού στην κατεχόμενη πατρίδα χωρίς προβλήματα και χωρίς διαμαρτυρίες
The talks were always a wrong and traitorous choice whose only goal was to perpetuate the enemy’s occupation of the country [Cyprus] without problems or protests.
In addition, others claimed that the new proposed system of government will entail the creation of “various chambers, parliaments and senates, with a system of continuous vetos” which will make the new “state” dysfunctional from the outset. They said this would be particularly unfavorable for Greek-Cypriots and would lead to a large-scale exodus from the island. These concerns were voiced in an article by Aris Petasis featured on the website of Michalis Ignatiou, a Greek journalist:
οι 5,000+ νέων που πάνε για σπουδές, στην πλειονότητα τους δεν θα επιστρέφουν.
The majority of the 5,000+ students who leave to study abroad will not return [to Cyprus].
The article further stated that the people who would leave the country would be doctors, engineers and rich businessmen. These groups would supposedly prefer to live in places with relative stability rather than living in a perennial condition of uncertainty and political paralysis that would exist in Cyprus under the proposed system.
Another key concern for both sides is whether two communities who have lived apart for over 40 years will be able to peacefully co-exist in the island. In November 2015, two Turkish-Cypriots were attacked by a group of students during a protest against the anniversary of the unilateral declaration of the Turkish-Cypriot breakaway state, an incident that was condemned by Cyprus President Anastasiades. Moreover, in May 2016, three Turkish-Cypriots were reportedly attacked by a group of Greek-Cypriot motorcyclists. Most recently, there was an assault on a Turkish-Cypriot taxi driver on November 21 in Nicosia. While it is unclear whether this last attack was politically motivated, such violence has some people worried over potential tensions between the two groups once integrated.
Following the second round of talks in Mont-Pelerin, both sides agreed to attend a multilateral summit, which will be held in Geneva from January 9-12, 2017. The summit will also include the UK while “other relevant parties shall be invited as needed,” according to a Greek Reporter news report citing the UN's Special Envoy for Cyprus, Espen Barth Eide. The summit will be a crucial point in the negotiations in which all outstanding issues will be discussed.
Whether or not this will be a watershed year for the Cyprus issue remains unclear. The ongoing negotiations and set of circumstances all seem favourable to a solution. Perhaps one will be presented to both Greek and Turkish-Cypriots early next year. However, for a solution to be agreed on, two separate referendums will have to be held on both sides of the island. As referenda in Colombia, Italy and the United Kingdom have shown in recent times, an unexpected result can make things much more complicated than they were to begin with.