The Cyprus Problem Revisited

by George Hatjoullis

The reunification negotiations continue. There is a degree of frustration and anxiety amongst the (Greek) Cypriots that I know (I don’t know any Turkish Cypriots). There is much talk of a ‘solution‘ being close. This is a poor choice of language and quite dangerous talk. At best. there is a possibility of an agreement that will go some way to normalizing relations between the two communities (Greek) and (Turkish). It may even be enshrined in a political settlement that will link the two communities constitutionally under the auspices of the EU. From such an agreement a solution might emerge over time. But it might not. The possibility of a stable political agreement is quite remote.

The Cyprus Problem is about nationalism. The Greek Cypriots see themselves as Greeks and the Turkish Cypriots as Turks. I understand that there is a growing, but still small, constituency on both sides that are happy to see themselves as Cypriots of different ethnic origins. It would require this constituency to become the vast majority of both communities to achieve a solution and even then I would be cautious. It only takes one or two to start a riot and rekindle old enmities. It would take a stable political agreement and decades of peaceful co-existence to even approach a solution. Can anyone really envisage this at the moment?

The prospect of a (relatively) stable peaceful solution are still remote. One serious sticking point is property ownership. The Turkish Cypriot side are reluctant to allow ethnic Greek Cypriots to own property in the occupied territory. I raise this point because it seems to affect me as well. I have never been a Cypriot citizen. I was born British to a mother born British, and a British father. I have no automatic right to Cypriot citizenship. But I am ethnically Greek Cypriot and thus potentially disqualified from owning property in the occupied territory under the type of agreement the Turkish Cypriot side seeks. You can see why this is not going well. However, I am not despondent.

The talks continue and long may they continue. As Churchill is reported to have said’ better jaw jaw than war war’. The talking ensures peace between the two communities. Peace is good. During the talks small steps at normalisation are possible and have taken place. If the talks stop there is the possibility of tension, misunderstanding, and conflict. Even more dangerous would be an agreement. Optimism might prevail and both communities might then lower their guard. But as no agreement will satisfy all, and certainly not the nationalists, this would be a dangerous time. It only takes one match to light a bonfire and there are thousands of matches already lit. Those that yearn for an end to the talks should be careful what they wish for. I hope they continue until no one can remember why they ever started.