The project of reunifying Cyprus, an island divided since 1974, long in stasis, has become dramatically more difficult in recent years. Amid broader regional tensions and increasing militarisation of the eastern Mediterranean, relations between Greek and Turkish Cypriots have soure, and prospects for a comprehensive settlement have dimmed. Through its field research, analytical reports and advocacy, Crisis Group aims to identify ways to mitigate the damage of a hardening divide, inform policymakers on both sides of the island and regional actors about shared concerns, recommend ways to stop frictions from heightening further, and create mutual benefits.
UN diplomacy aimed at reunifying Cyprus has been drifting since talks broke down in 2017. The Secretary-General should appoint an envoy to draft a roadmap with sufficient incentives to bring both Greek and Turkish Cypriots back to the table.
UN appointed new personal envoy, which could mark possible step toward eventual return to formal talks although sides clung to long-held positions.
UN Sec Gen filled “personal envoy” role. UN Sec Gen António Guterres 5 Jan announced former Colombian FM Maria Angela Holguin Cuellar would fill UN “personal envoy” position, last appointed in 2017 and vacant since Oct 2021, after relevant parties gave their consent to appointment. Republic of Cyprus President Christodoulides same day welcomed appointment and said he was determined to resume formal talks based on UN resolutions. Turkish Cypriot leader Ersin Tatar cautioned that new negotiations could only begin if de facto Turkish Cypriot administration in north was given same international status as Republic of Cyprus, while both Ankara and “Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus” (“TRNC”) clarified they approved appointment on condition that mandate does not exceed six months and focuses solely on exploring if there exists “common ground” for talks. Turkish Cypriot “FM” Tahsin Ertuğruloğlu 11 Jan rejected possibility of continuing negotiations from where they left off in failed 2017 summit, calling for new process based on rectifying unequal status of two sides. Cuellar 29-30 Jan visited Cyprus and met with various political and civil society actors, including leaders of two communities. Meanwhile, Christodoulides 27 Jan unveiled fourteen-point plan of measures and benefits for Turkish Cypriots; “TRNC’s” “PM” Ünal Üstel denounced plan as attempt to “fool Turkish Cypriots”. UN Security Council 30 Jan voted unanimously to renew mandate of UN Peacekeeping Force in Cyprus (UNFICYP) for another twelve months.
Arrest of Turkish Cypriot lawyer stoked controversy. Tatar 11 Jan said that late Dec arrest of lawyer Akan Kürşat in Italy, prompted by Republic of Cyprus police filing complaint over money laundering and embezzlement, was attempt to disrupt Cuellar’s work; Christodoulides 13 Jan denied any link between case and recent attempts at putting negotiations back on track.
Greek and Turkish Cypriots have moved farther apart since a failed summit in 2017, hampering cooperation in several important matters and increasing tensions in the eastern Mediterranean. Hopes for reunifying Cyprus are faint at present, but the parties can still work toward more modest goals.
In mid-2020, Turkey and Greece put their Mediterranean fleets on high alert, dramatically raising tensions in their long-running dispute over air, water, rock and now seabed gas deposits as well. Talks have been frustrating but remain the best way to contain the risk of conflict.
Greece and Turkey have stepped back from the brink of military confrontation over gas exploration in disputed waters in the Mediterranean Sea. But trouble still looms. European leaders should welcome signs of conciliation from Athens and Ankara and nudge them toward talks.
To avoid another failed effort at federal reunification in the new round of Cyprus negotiations, all sides should break old taboos and discuss all possible options, including independence for Turkish Cypriots within the European Union.
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