“Most people want change; really we want change. We really want a solution, we really want to go and be a member of the E.U. in May 2004. And we really want to have a real identity, because the Turkish Cypriots in Cyprus have been left without any identity for 30 years.” Said Oya Gurel, who represents the pro-unification group, Initiative for Peace and Democracy.
On July 15, 1974, supporters of the military junta of Greece staged a coup against the government of Cyprus and attempted to overthrow and assassinate its elected President, Makarios. Their aim was to force “enosis” (union) with Greece. Makarios survived and led Cypriot resistance to the coup. Turkey used this opportunity to launch an invasion on July 20. Turkey’s military had often threatened to annex at least part of Cyprus and used the coup as a pretext to do so. Turkish President Ecevit recalled, “The coup was the green light for our invasion.” The Greek military-backed coup was defeated five days later and the Greek junta overthrown the next day.
In violation of U.N. Security Council resolutions calling for a ceasefire Turkey pressed on with its military onslaught and by August 16, had occupied 37 % of northern Cyprus and forced the expulsion of over 200,000 Greek and other Cypriots, which was one third of the island’s population from their homes and land. They were never allowed to return and the few thousand who remained after the end of invasion were slowly forced through intimidation and threats to leave. Threats and coercion also forced most Turkish Cypriots to move to the north. Since then Cyprus has been divided along ethnic lines despite several U.N. efforts to reunite the island.
The latest proposed UN plan (called The Annan Plan) aims to overcome partition, calling for two component states joined within a united Cypriot federation. The plan gives the two communities a great deal of autonomy, sets up a rotating leadership and a number of checks and balances in the Cyprus central government. The plan also envisages territorial changes, as the Turkish Cypriot regimes presently occupies a far larger territory than the Turkish Cypriot percentage of the population, the Turkish Cypriot zone would be reduced to about 28% of the island, thus allowing the return of a large number of Greek Cypriot refugees.
The Cypriot government accepted the Annan Plan, as they have long accepted that the solution to the division of Cyprus will be based on a bi-zonal, bi-communal federation. This is the also basis of UN security Council Resolution 939, which Cyprus accepts. The Annan Plan gives Turkish Cypriots the recognition and protection they have sought. The peace talks broke down after Turkish Cypriot leader Rauf Denktash rejected it, saying he “had fundamental objections to the plan on basic points.” The U.N, opposition Turkish Cypriots, the EU among others blamed Denktash for the collapse of the talks.
After years of discord, there has been a sea change in northern Cyprus with the popular attitude of the vast majority of Turkish Cypriots now desiring unity with the rest of Cyprus and membership of the E.U. Denktash is out of touch with the Turkish Cypriots, his support is waning as Turkish Cypriots grow increasingly disenchanted with his rule and demonstrators openly challenge the government, taking their defiance to the streets. For the first time, Denktash faces a well-organized opposition to his corrupt and authoritarian rule. Fifteen trade unions and opposition political parties have joined in a movement called “This Nation is Ours,” in efforts to revive the stalled U.N. Plan and work towards reuniting Cyprus before the Cypriot Republic in the south joins the E.U. in May. Pressure for change is so great that polls put support for the Annan Plan at 70% of the Turkish Cypriot population.
Unlike the situation in the 1970’s the world situation has changed to Cyprus’ advantage. Most of the powerful reactionary military and political forces that interfered and impeded Cyprus’s political development and progress are weaker, the Colonel’s in Greece are no longer in power, the Generals in Turkey while still behind the scenes, are not as strong as they were, Turkey is preoccupied with other problems, unrest in Kurdistan, the war in Iraq, Islamic fundamentalism, and its E.U. aspirations hinge on a resolution of the Cyprus problem. Turkey also has an economic crisis to contend with and the occupation of northern Cyprus is a drain on its resources, the Denktash regime is reliant on Turkey’s economic assistance to survive, as well it is expensive keeping over 35,000 Turkish troops, 300 tanks and other military hardware stationed in Cyprus. The Turkish government wants a solution, but Denktash is relying on the Turkish army and Turkish settlers who were brought to Cyprus to provide a support base for his Turkish nationalist regime.
The circumstances of the Republic of Cyprus have also changed dramatically, as Cyprus is now economically, socially, politically and diplomatically in a stronger position and more able to resist the pressures of larger powers and determine its own fate than the early days of the infant republic.
Years of increasing grassroots contact between the two communities has been successful in restoring the bonds of affinity and trust and led to a massive change in mindsets, the desire of most Cypriots to live together in a united Cyprus. The most important dynamic driving the changes in Cyprus is the will of the Cypriot people, north and south for real change and for the reunification of the island. Since the easing of travel restrictions over 300,000 Greek and Turkish Cypriots, half the island’s population, have returned to visit their homes and friends, accepting each other with real affection and empathy. And over 20,000 Turkish Cypriots have so far visited offices around Cyprus to apply for passports, identity cards and birth certificates of the Republic of Cyprus.
Regardless of the outcome of the negotiations over the U.N.’s Annon Plan, enormous cracks have appeared in Denktashs’ regime. Such are the immense changes that have taken place over the past year, that the cracks are growing and cannot be covered up or repaired. Calls for a solution are getting stronger in the north as Denktashs’ regime is facing a growing tide of dissent and his hold on power is getting shaky, with the result that his Turkish military-backed statelet will eventually disintegrate and collapse. Decades of isolation, estrangement and hostility has given way to the two communities meeting and greeting each other with embraces, tears and flowers. Signs saying, “welcome brothers” have appeared on both sides of the island. There is an incredible urge on both sides to tear down the walls of division. The political breakthrough will come one way or another because the people on both sides want fundamental change and if the intransigence of Denktash continues to stand in the road of a just and permanent solution to the problem, he will be swept aside by the impetus for change. What was once almost unthinkable is becoming a looming reality, the prospect of a viable solution to the conflict and the reunification of Cyprus. “We, the people will solve the problems. We are all Cypriots,” said Marios Demetriou, a refugee from the Turkish-held town of Morphou.