Amid the burning problems of Iraq, Syria, Gaza, Ukraine, and others, surrounding Turkey, not many people noticed that this year marked the 40th anniversary of the Cyprus Peace Operation of July 20, 1974. Once described as the “national issue” in Turkey, it no longer occupies the center stage in public discussions. Even the press coverage is scant and far between, starkly contrasted with the period between the 1960s and 1990s when almost 60 percent of all the international news in Turkish newspapers was about Cyprus. For the international community, too, the “Cyprus problem” has become one of the many nuisances that was inherited from the 20th century and remembered from time to time.
One of the milestones in the 60-year-old problem, the Cyprus Peace Operation was conducted by the Turkish Armed Forces in response to a coup d’état by Nikos Sampson against the legitimate government of the Cypriot Republic. In time, it became one of the diverging points between the two communities on the island: While Turkish Cypriots consider it as their salvation, Greek Cypriots perceive it as an occupation.
Let us remember: In 1974, Turkey exercised its right “to take action with the sole aim of re-establishing the state of affairs” under the fourth article of the Treaty of Guarantee, signed between the Republic of Cyprus, Turkey, Greece and the United Kingdom in August 1960. The power-sharing deal, envisioned in the original Zurich and London agreements, had already broken down in 1963 when inter-communal violence erupted. Two previous threats of intervention by Turkey in 1964 and 1967 were frustrated by the lack of Turkish military capacity to conduct an overseas operation and U.S. involvement, but were enough to deter hostilities briefly. By 1974, however, Turkey was ready for an amphibious landing and the international environment was more conducive.
The two communities on the island have been trying to find a comprehensive solution to their division since the outbreak of hostilities in 1950s. Despite the countless initiatives, round of talks, joint-statements, negotiations, agreements, plans and last-minute interventions from international actors, all have failed so far. The latest talks started on Feb. 11, 2014 with a Joint Declaration of the Greek and Turkish Cypriot leaders that provided an outline and principles for the negotiations. The U.S. encouragement was there from the beginning. The international dynamics seemed apt for a solution and a new game-changer in terms of hydrocarbon discoveries in the eastern Mediterranean was added to the mix.
Yet, the age-old thorny issues of security, property rights, and power-sharing are still on the table and the prospects are looking less optimistic on both sides. According to a recent Al-Jazeera survey, 74 percent of Greek Cypriots think that the talks would fail, while 60 percent of Turkish Cypriots agree.
In addition to the tricky problems in the negotiations, misperceptions, mistrust and fears between the two communities still create barriers for a negotiated solution. Thus, confidence-building among communities is as important as the negotiations. Yet, while more of civil society involved in the latest attempt for solution, the negotiations are still conducted strictly between the official teams, which are tainted by their own domestic political pressures and expectations.
Although generally supportive of the process, the civil societies on both sides were not allowed to influence the process more. As the real beneficiaries of a viable solution, the Turkish and Greek Cypriots on the streets should be allowed more say in the process. Arrangements in favor of grassroots involvement need to be made urgently. Otherwise, we will waste another precious opportunity on the island of lost final opportunities.