icon caret Arrow Down Arrow Left Arrow Right Arrow Up Line Camera icon set icon set Ellipsis icon set Facebook Favorite Globe Hamburger List Mail Map Marker Map Microphone Minus PDF Play Print RSS Search Share Trash Crisiswatch Alerts and Trends Box - 1080/761 Copy Twitter Video Camera  copyview Whatsapp Youtube
Cyprus: The Last and Best Chance for Peace
Cyprus: The Last and Best Chance for Peace
Defusing Tensions in the Eastern Mediterranean
Defusing Tensions in the Eastern Mediterranean

Cyprus: The Last and Best Chance for Peace

Originally published in Today's Zaman

It is tempting to see the results of the recent parliamentary elections in northern Cyprus as a blow for the peace process. Voters in the Turkish Cypriot north rejected the party of their leader, Mehmet Ali Talat, who has been meeting almost weekly for eight months with his Greek Cypriot counterpart, Dimitris Christofias, to work out the terms of a settlement to reunify the island.

But the election result has more to do with the dire state of the economy than it does with the peace process. Voters are feeling the pain of economic isolation, made worse by the global downturn. While he has lost his parliamentary majority, Talat is still head of the Turkish Cypriot administration and will continue to lead negotiations on behalf of the north. Both he and Christofias remain committed to finding a solution, despite the difficulties they face. 

The election result nonetheless underscores the fact that time is running out to find a solution to the Cyprus problem. Talat has set the presidential election in early 2010 as a deadline for agreement, while Christofias is not without political challenges within his own coalition.

Cyprus presents visitors with a deceptive image. The sunny climate of the eastern Mediterranean draws a steady stream of tourists, and European Union membership in the south has pushed income levels for Greek Cypriots higher than the EU average. The island might be divided, but life for many is comfortable. However, Cyprus remains a conflict zone: There are still fortified streets in Nicosia, a United Nations peacekeeping operation patrols the buffer zone and there is a substantial Turkish military force in the north.

This is all the more reason to make sure that the energy and courage of Talat and Christofias are not squandered. These two leaders have limited political capital, and they need more than their own goodwill to succeed.

First, they need their own people to join them in the peace process. An overwhelming majority of Cypriots are unhappy with the status quo, believe a settlement is possible and reject any return to violence, but are deeply distrustful of each other and of the peace process. They have seen too many previous efforts fail. A culture of cynicism and complacency seems to be the default position, especially among politicians and the media.

Opening up the debate about what peace could look like would help. When we visited Cyprus late last year, we noticed how few women and young people were engaged in politics. Old men (like us) dominate public debate, and we strongly urge Cyprus’s leaders to make more space for those whose voices are not so readily heard.

Second, strengthening links between the two communities is essential. The island has been split for so long that generations have grown up with no idea of life on the other side. It is very difficult for schools, law enforcement agencies, soccer clubs and telephone, electricity and water companies to cooperate across the Green Line. Teenagers can’t even send text messages across the divide. Trade between the communities is limited.

Lowering these barriers with respect and sensitivity would help to heal the wounds of the past and, importantly, to build trust. Researchers already estimate that reunification could raise annual incomes by about 1.8 billion euros -- more than 5,500 euros per household. Everyone needs to see that there are benefits to reunification that will simplify life, strengthen the economy and outweigh the compromises that any settlement will require.

Third, the major regional powers, whose presence hangs heavily over the island, need to play their part. Greece is urgently called upon to play a more constructive role in the peace process by explaining the benefits of its own normalization of relations with Turkey and its support for that country’s EU membership. And Turkey could give a tremendous boost to confidence in the peace process by announcing a symbolic withdrawal of some troops from northern Cyprus as a goodwill gesture -- a move that would also greatly assist Turkey’s convergence with Europe.

Finally, explicit international expressions of support for a settlement would help to persuade the leaders of both communities that success would bring proper recognition and reward. It would certainly help if the EU promised substantial development funds, including for resolution of property issues, once an agreement is in place.

This is the best chance in 30 years for a federal settlement in Cyprus, and it may be the last. If these talks fail, partition will probably be permanent, and, no matter how benign the environment today, geopolitics will catch up with the island over time.

Failure to resolve the Cyprus problem is a potentially serious threat to good relations between NATO, Turkey and the EU. Cypriots must seize this chance to build a healthy, reunited country that can make the most of its economic potential in the region, and play its part in world affairs with confidence and security.


Desmond Tutu
Jimmy Carter
39th President of the United States (1977 to 1981)
Profile Image
Lakhdar Brahimi
Former Foreign Minister, Algeria

Defusing Tensions in the Eastern Mediterranean

This week on War & Peace, Olga Oliker and Hugh Pope talk with Crisis Group’s Nigar Göksel about the nationalist tensions fuelling a maritime standoff between Turkey and Greece, and how coordinated efforts by regional powers can help de-escalate their dispute over the eastern Mediterranean.

Tensions flared in the eastern Mediterranean in mid-2020 when Turkey sent seismic research ships into waters contested with Greece and the Republic of Cyprus. While neither Turkey nor Greece seeks war with the other, competition over sovereignty and natural resources is reviving long-running geopolitical rivalries.

To discuss the various interests at play in their maritime standoff and how actors such as the EU and U.S. can help push the parties toward reconciliation, Olga Oliker and Hugh Pope are joined by Nigar Göksel, project director for Turkey. Together, they draw on key findings detailed in Crisis Group’s latest report on the issue – “Turkey-Greece: From Maritime Brinkmanship to Dialogue” – and assess whether recently restarted talks between President Erdogan and Prime Minister Mitsotakis signal a positive turn in strained relations and might lower the risks of regional conflict.

Click here to listen on Apple Podcasts or Spotify.

For more information, explore Crisis Group’s analysis on our Eastern Mediterranean Rivalries page.


Former Director of Communications & Outreach
Program Director, Europe and Central Asia
Project Director, Türkiye