Turkey’s recent provocative actions, in particular the display of neo-Ottoman objectives during the anniversary of the 1974 Turkish invasion, in Famagusta, have sparked a lively and controversial debate. I fear that behind this discourse are hidden two serious dangers which this article briefly comments on.
Firstly, the debate of the last few weeks has brought the issue of Cyprus back into the front-page news, giving many the opportunity to express opinions and make suggestions. Unfortunately, the discourse of many such individuals often gives the impression that they are not fully aware of the very matter they are discussing. For Greece, the Cyprus issue is not a peripheral problem which occasionally flares up, causing minor annoyances or distractions from our other more pressing concerns. On the contrary, it is a central issue. The recent bicentenary of the Greek Revolution, during which the Cypriots contributed with great sacrifice, should have reminded everyone that the Cyprus issue arose as early as 1821. Following the massacres of July 1821, survivors in Cyprus issued a statement that read, “In agreement with our Greek brothers we will strive for the freedom of our peaceful – formerly blissful but now wretched – island of Cyprus.”
That is what the Cyprus issue is: a demand for freedom of an island with ancient Greek heritage, which has managed to integrate foreign conquerors into the local linguistic structure and withstand time as the easternmost frontier of the Greek world. This demand was reiterated in August 1828 with the appeal of Cyprus’ hierarchs to Governor Ioannis Kapodistrias, an architect of Greek independence, to include the island in the free Greek state that was then being created. A demand for freedom and self-determination – this has been the Cyprus issue throughout the 19th and 20th centuries, and is still pending in the 21st century.
The management of the Cyprus issue and the pursuit of its goals by the Greeks of Cyprus remained considerably unsuccessful, due to failures and untimely moves which revealed inadequate political judgment. This however is not the whole story. The demand for self-determination was hugely successful and culminated in the creation of the Republic of Cyprus – an independent and sovereign state as well as a protector of Cypriot Hellenism. The Republic of Cyprus’ historical path can be characterized by an inadequate understanding of the dimensions of the Cyprus issue and poor handling of the issue, which allowed the tragic Turkish invasion of 1974 and the subsequent occupation of northern Cyprus.
Following 1974 successive attempts were made to resolve the Cyprus issue, most of which failed. The tide turned in 2004, however, with Cyprus’ accession to the European Union, a development which to this day represents the greatest guarantee of survival for the conflict-ridden republic. Membership of the EU has also presented the only legitimate opportunity for a reunified Cyprus. The security and prosperity offered by the EU have made European Cyprus increasingly attractive to Turkish Cypriots who are looking to secure the survival of their communities, which are currently under threat of extinction due to Turkish colonization. The Republic of Cyprus should take advantage of this unique opportunity in order to progress toward restoring the island’s unity and ensuring its existence as a sovereign political entity. The real test, which will be paramount in ensuring the survival of the Republic of Cyprus, will be its ability to convince Turkish Cypriots of its sincerity and honest intentions of coexistence, unity, respect and equality. This broader presentation of the Cyprus issue should not be ignored in debates concerning it, especially since it is a constant reminder of the urgent need for political know-how and responsibility when handling issues pertaining to nationality.
The second danger underlying the current debate is the emergence in political discourse and public opinion of the two-state solution. Although the Greek and Cypriot governments have unconditionally ruled out the Turkish proposal of a formal partition, the idea seems to be gaining traction among the public. This is perhaps explained by a shift toward political realism as a response to the island’s polarization. In fact, those who oppose the two-state solution already are, or will soon be, considered political romanticists with irredentist ideas. The prospect of two separate states, or perhaps a federation with two constituent states possessing equal sovereign rights, is far from guaranteeing a feasible and realistic solution to the Cyprus issue. On the contrary, it paves the way for Finlandization, to recall a Cold War-era expression. Through a Turkish-Cypriot state Turkey will not only be able to move a Greek-Cypriot state under its heavy shadow, but also use it in order to meddle in European Union affairs and even exert influence over its members – the first target of course being Greece.
I implore all those who flirt with the two-state solution for Cyprus to consider all these possibilities. Let them also consider, perhaps in private and with conscious introspection, whether our generation is entitled, after three millennia of Greek history in Cyprus, to cede the historical territories found in northern Cyprus and Famagusta as legal compensation to an invader. Who are we to dare to do such a thing?
Paschalis M. Kitromilidis is a full member of the Academy of Athens.