VOLUME 17 ISSUE 6 December 2020
Professor of Economics and Public Policy
President, Cyprus Center for European and International Affairs
Head, Department of Politics and Governance
University of Nicosia
Senior Fellow, Cyprus Center for European and International Affairs
A CRITICAL ASSESSMENT OF CYPRUS FOREIGN POLICY AND THE WAY FORWARD
This Special Issue entitled “Cyprus Foreign Policy – The Way Forward” is indeed timely as it comes at a period of critical changes in the broader region and the international environment. It also comes at a time when Turkey’s assertiveness and revisionist policies are manifested in Cyprus and beyond. Ankara, which does not recognize the right of the Republic of Cyprus to exist, occupies since 1974 37% of the territory of Cyprus.
While the Cyprus problem to remains the major focus of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Republic of Cyprus is attempting to position itself on other important issues as well. Cyprus has to play a constructive and creative role in the EU, looking far beyond the immediate scope of the Cyprus problem and positively contributing to the general discourse on a number of other issues of European concern. It is also important to further cultivate bilateral relations with other member states especially those with which there are common goals to pursue. Within this framework we see the enhanced relationship with France. At the same time it has to enhance its role in the Eastern Mediterranean and the broader area. The objective should be to have a contribution in regional and European affairs much bigger than its size.
In relation to the Cyprus problem the policy pursued has at best not given the expected results and at worse failed. It should be noted that the accepted basis of negotiations – bizonal bicommunal federation – never acquired a precise meaning. Greek Cypriots and Turkish Cypriots gave a different interpretation as to what was agreed. Furthermore, a pronounced confusion exists within the two communities on different aspects of the issue. The precise meaning of political equality is indeed indicative.
This discussion brings us to another important issue; the lack of a narrative by the Republic of Cyprus. It is indeed unfortunate that Cyprus, as a victim of Turkish aggression, has not managed to keep the pressure on Ankara. Turkey’s actions in Cyprus can be compared with those of Nazi Germany in Czechoslovakia before the outbreak of World War II. Turkey has been utilizing the Turkish Cypriot minority in Cyprus to advance its expansionist objectives. There are many similarities with Nazi Germany’s policy of exploiting the German minority in Sudetenland to eventually occupy Czechoslovakia. This analogy, albeit not identical, has never come out. The Cyprus question is instead viewed by the UN as a biethnic bicommunal problem. It is essential to see issues in historical perspective.
On 15 July 1974, the Greek Junta, which was set up with US involvement, overthrew President Makarios and reversed the course of history. Five days later, on 20 July 1974, Turkey invaded Cyprus. Ankara stated that “its peaceful intervention was intended to reestablish the constitutional order and to protect the Turkish Cypriot community.” On 23 July 1974 the Greek Junta and the putschist regime in Nicosia collapsed. Thereafter, Glafkos Clerides, the Acting President, suggested to the Turkish Cypriot leader Rauf Denktash the return to the 1960 constitution; both Denktash and Ankara declined.
Turkey continued its military operations, despite the cease-fire and the ongoing negotiations for a peaceful resolution. On 14 August, Turkey launched a second massive attack against Cyprus after the rejection of its ultimatum to the Republic of Cyprus to surrender about 34% of its territory. Greek Cypriot civilians were expected to evacuate this territory and allow the Turkish army to deploy accordingly. By 16 August 1974, Turkey had, as already noted, occupied 37% of the territory of Cyprus, having committed atrocities and numerous violations of human rights.
Had Turkey stopped its military operations on 23 July 1974 and contributed to the reestablishment of the constitutional order based on the 1960 agreements, few would have questioned its stated reasons for “intervening”, despite the unilateralism of its approach. Instead, Turkey committed ethnic cleansing, set up a puppet regime, and pursued an ambitious policy of colonization. Furthermore, there has been systematic destruction of the cultural heritage and massive exploitation and usurpation of Greek Cypriot properties.
Despite the initial outcry and numerous resolutions by the UN and other international organizations no action has been taken against Turkey. Not surprisingly, successive years of bicommunal negotiations under the UN auspices did not lead to any positive results. It is also unfortunate that the weaker side, the Greek Cypriots and the Republic of Cyprus, were repeatedly pressured by external mediators to accommodate the Turkish requests. Indicatively, the Annan Plan which was rejected in 2004 by 76% of Greek Cypriots and approved by 65% Turkish Cypriots and settlers was an extremely uneven and unbalanced plan. The Greek Cypriots were blamed for that in various circles and attempts to reinstate the building blocks of the Annan Plan, albeit under different mantles, ensued, in complete defiance of any semblance of adherence to the democratic principle of the popular vote. The Turkish narrative has even been since then that “the Greek Cypriots do not want to share wealth, power and the benefits of EU membership with the Turkish Cypriots”. This narrative should not have remained unanswered.
Cyprus cannot accept a solution that will turn the island into a Turkish protectorate. In this regard we recall Makarios statements in relation to the Turkish Cypriot demands a few months after the Turkish invasion in 1974:
“it is indeed amazing: while in other countries minorities are struggling for equal rights, in Cyprus the Turkish Cypriot minority community wants to determine the fate of the entire country.”
While Cyprus has accepted a federal arrangement, at the same time it is imperative to ensure that Turkey will not take control of Cyprus by utilizing the Turkish Cypriot community and the settlers on the island, under the principle of ‘effective participation’ (which can easily turn into effective obstruction of policy-making, in a newly-established state of affairs). Furthermore, it is essential for Cyprus to convey the message that it aspires to have a viable federal arrangement, balancing individual and collective rights. This will turn the island into a place of peaceful coexistence, cooperation and creativity among people of different ethnic and religious backgrounds.
Turning to another issue, we note that many analysts have indicated that the policy of non-alignment pursued by Cyprus since independence was erroneous and that it is to an extent responsible for the disaster of 1974. This is a controversial issue. The 1974 disaster was an outcome of a complex set of factors. In this regard, the Greek Junta, set up with US involvement, was used to stage a coup against President Makarios. It was this fatal act that provided Turkey with a unique opportunity to invade Cyprus.
While this debate is of great historical interest there are similar policy dilemmas today in relation to Cyprus’ foreign policy. It has been argued repeatedly that since Cyprus is located in a region within the sphere of influence of the West, this should be reflected in its foreign policy. Nevertheless, the picture is much more complex. As a member of the EU, Cyprus has to pursue a foreign policy in line with its conventional obligations, while at the same time maintaining cordial relations with all the permanent members of the Security Council of the UN.
Furthermore, Cyprus should enhance its relations with Britain and try to promote common objectives. Cyprus has also the legitimate right to request from Britain, to work in its capacity as a guarantor power, in ways that will lead to the reestablishment of its territorial integrity. After all, in addition to the benefits which accrue to Britain from the bases in Cyprus, there are also obligations arising from the Treaty of Guarantee. Britain and Greece have failed or have not been able to carry out these obligations so far. In relation to Turkey, Cyprus should insist on the withdrawal of its occupation troops and settlers and for the normalization of relations in accordance with international law.
Cyprus is located at the heart of the Eastern Mediterranean which constitutes an important geopolitical region for various reasons: it is a meeting place of three continents, of the West and the East, of the economic north and south, of energy and trade routes and the birthplace of three major religions. Cyprus has to work in ways that will make its presence and continuity indispensable to regional and international players. It is also necessary to turn itself into a model state and to become a regional business, academic and medical centre. Furthermore, the emphasis on economic and cultural diplomacy remains imperative.
In order to achieve these goals it is essential to invest the necessary resources and also have policy continuity, building on the creation and utilization of institutional memory. As this year marks the anniversary of 60 years of diplomatic activity by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, expectations remain high while tasks immense.