Vassilios Damiras, Ph.D.

International Relations Expert

Cyprus has faced severe ethnic disputes throughout its history and missed political opportunities. It achieved independence from Britain in 1960. The Kingdom of Greece, the Turkish Republic, and Great Britain negotiated the various treaties creating the Republic of Cyprus. Based on the 1960 and 1973 censuses, the population is now 80 percent Greek-Cypriots and 18 percent Turkish-Cypriots, with the rest being Maronites, Latins, and Armenians.

Cyprus has played a vital part in Greek culture since ancient times. The inhabitants of this island have experienced a long and arduous struggle with establishing democratic values and beliefs. Since ancient times, Greece has viewed Cyprus as an extension of Hellenic ideas and values; furthermore, it viewed Cyprus as a bastion of Greek democratic values in the region. These ideas remain pronounced through the centuries. Various Greek foreign policy decision-makers viewed Cyprus as an integral part of the fight for democracy in the area.

In 1963, ethnic fighting erupted between the Greek Cypriots and the Turkish Cypriots over control of the island. At the request of the Cypriot government, the UN sent a peace-keeping force in 1964. Following a coup in 1974 initiated by the military junta that ruled Greece, Turkey dispatched troops to Cyprus to protect Turkish-Cypriot ethnic rights.
The UN has tried many times to solve the crisis but has failed. All of them failed due to ethnic intransigence. Even UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan’s plan could not bring ethnic unity to the island. The Greek-Cypriot side believed it created permanent insecurity for them because it ignored security concerns and allowed the indefinite presence of foreign troops on the territory of an independent and sovereign nation-state with specific military intervention rights. This issue was the focal point for more than forty years.

Finally, the plan would have established a servant state out of Cyprus since it would have permitted foreign nation-states the right of unilateral military intervention in their domestic political affairs. In April 2004, the citizens of Cyprus went to the polls to decide the political destiny of the Annan plan. The Greek Cypriots voted down the plan in a referendum because the plan did not guarantee security. The Turkish Cypriots voted for the plan in a gesture of goodwill. Once more, the Greek Cypriots appeared to prefer partition over unification.

In May 2004, Cyprus joined the European Union (EU). Politically and geographically, it was the most significant event in Cyprus’ history. This political event marked a new era for a unified Cyprus. Membership means economic and political freedom and promotes new challenges and opportunities for the island of Cyprus and the region. Nonetheless, the current Greek-Cypriot administration has introduced a new proposal for a peaceful solution. Under this proposal, Cyprus would be demilitarized but remain part of the Western security system provided by the European Union. It would end the Turkish military occupation as well as the illegal colonization encouraged by Ankara since 1974. Finally, the plan offers international guarantees for the national security of the island nation-state, including membership in the United Nations. Security remains one of the main issues for both communities. Despite Cyprus’s membership in the European Union, the Union needs the mechanisms to press for a Cyprus solution. The United States could press Athens and Ankara via NATO and various military treaties with them for a Cyprus solution.

An American plan needs to safeguard the human rights of both ethnic groups and secure the island’s reunification under a robust federal system that will guarantee a stable bi-zonal and bi-communal socio-political system. Finally, it must promote a robust Greece and maintain an intense dialogue with Turkey to press for a Cyprus solution. In addition, the Greek government must have close diplomatic relations with the United States. The various American governments have played a significant role in helping stabilize the Balkans since the end of the Cold War. Finally, Greece could assist the EU in adopting a coherent foreign policy regarding Cyprus. A new Cyprus must guarantee the natural rights of Greek, Turkish, Armenian, Maronite, and Latin ethnic groups. It is imperative to pacify and unify Cyprus because the island is in a very geostrategic and geopolitical position.

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