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Defusing Tensions in the Eastern Mediterranean
Defusing Tensions in the Eastern Mediterranean
Report 190 / Europe & Central Asia

Cyprus: Reversing the Drift to Partition

One more major effort, strongly encouraged by the UN and European Union (EU), should be made in 2008 to resolve the long-running dispute between ethnic Greeks and Turks on Cyprus and achieve a comprehensive settlement to reunify the island.

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Executive Summary

One more major effort, strongly encouraged by the UN and European Union (EU), should be made in 2008 to resolve the long-running dispute between ethnic Greeks and Turks on Cyprus and achieve a comprehensive settlement to reunify the island. All sides have much to gain from such a settlement. For the Greek Cypriots, it would end lingering insecurity, give them access to the Turkish economy, the most dynamic in the region, and increase their service industry’s value as an eastern Mediterranean hub. For Turkish Cypriots, it will mean being able to enjoy the benefits of EU citizenship of which they are presently largely deprived. For the EU, the unresolved Cyprus problem now hampers its functioning on issues as diverse as cooperation with NATO in Afghanistan and Chinese shoe imports. And for Turkey a settlement would overcome a major obstacle to its convergence with the EU.

If such an effort fails, the alternative is likely to be partition. Movement toward this has accelerated since 2004, when the UN’s Annan Plan, in an ironic reversal of long-held positions, was accepted by the Turkish Cypriots but collapsed due to Greek Cypriot rejection, and the Greek Cypriot government entered the EU as the sole representative of the divided island. While there has been almost no bloodshed since the Turkish invasion of 1974 and violent conflict remains highly unlikely, the events of 2004 have rendered obsolete the comfortable belief that the relatively tranquil status quo can be preserved indefinitely.

If no settlement is found, the process referred to locally as “Taiwanisation” will inevitably speed up, consolidating partition. All sides need to focus much more sharply than they have to date on the downsides of this. Greek Cypriots will experience growing international toleration of the self-declared Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus, loss of significant land that would have been returned by the north in any settlement, permanent stationing of Turkish troops, acceleration of a Turkish Cypriot building boom on Greek-owned properties, and the arrival on the island of more Turkish settlers. Turkish Cypriots will experience slower development; a tougher struggle against criminal elements taking advantage of their isolation; and indefinite suspension of many of their rights as EU citizens. Turkey will face a troubled atmosphere in a wide range of its dealings with the EU and in NATO, making it much harder for its leaders to pursue additional economic, legal and administrative reforms.

Any comprehensive reunification settlement will need to be based on the bizonal and bicommunal principles that have been long understood by the parties and are at the heart of past UN mediation efforts. Both sides can live with at least two thirds of the 9,500-page UN Annan plan, and solutions can readily be envisaged to the outstanding matters in dispute if only, as ever, the political will can be summoned to engage in serious negotiations. That will require a fresh start: since March 2006, when Crisis Group first reported on Cyprus, it has become apparent that the initially promising process based on the 8 July 2006 Agreement between the leaders of the island’s two communities is wholly stalemated.

The period following the Greek Cypriots’ February 2008 presidential election may offer both communities an opportunity to reestablish their will to engage in meaningful negotiations. While there is understandable scepticism now in many quarters as to whether any likely outcome of that election will be conducive to such negotiations, it is important that this issue not be pre-judged. In the weeks ahead maximum efforts should be made, internally and externally, to focus on the substantive matters at stake – the disadvantages of an accelerated move to partition and the advantages of a comprehensive reunification settlement – and the process by which negotiations might be advanced. This report is written in that spirit.

The ideal outcome would be for the leaders of both sides, as soon as possible after the election, to meet and signal to the UN a real commitment to restart talks, backing this up with unilateral confidence-building measures (CBMs). The UN should then send a mission to establish a framework for subsequent face-to-face talks between the leaders. At that point Turkey should unilaterally open its seaports and airports to Greek Cypriot traffic, followed quickly by action from the Greek Cypriots to remove the obstacles they have created to EU direct trade with the Turkish Cypriots. Difficult as they no doubt will be to achieve, such measures, taken together, would create an atmosphere in which negotiations would have a realistic chance of succeeding.

Nicosia/Istanbul/Brussels, 10 January 2008

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