A week after the Greek Cypriots signed the European Union accession treaty, paving the way for EU membership next year, the Greek-Cyprus authorities announced a series of moves to end the isolation of the Turkish half of the island. Cyprus has been divided since the Turkish invasion in 1974, occupying half of the island after a bloody war. The Turkish-held area declared itself the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus and has been recognized only by Turkey. On the 23 of April this week, Turkish and Greek Cypriots crossed the island’s dividing ‘green line’ controlled by the United Nations troops -dividing the two parts from Morphou through Nicosia to Famagusta- for the first time in 30 years. Within three days 17,000 people made the crossing.
These current developments have been awaited for a long time. The European Union has pressed the two parties to start negotiating but peace talks failed till now. The United States did not want to see relations worsen between two neighbouring Nato countries (Greece and Turkey) and so there has been no shortage of incentives to find a solution for the Cyprus problem. And though the quiet crisis (Butt, 2001, www.news.bbc.co.uk/) has not been resolved in the last couple of years, there are a lot of signs that in the near future, a unification might be possible, something that few would have expected. This leads to the central question of this essay, namely what are the socio-economic fault lines between Greek and Turkish Cyprus that will make it hard for the two parts to be reunited and that have kept peace-talks from succeeding in these 30-years of division?
First of all this essay will provide a more thorough background on the historical reasons for the Turkish invasion and then it will focus on the socio- and economic dividing lines between Northern and southern Cyprus that arose after the partition. Then in the last part the focus will be on trying to answer the question why it might be possible for the countries to come closer now and summarize why it has been so hard in the last 30 years.
II) Historical background of partition
Cyprus has never been a stable independent, sovereign state; this sovereignty had to be guaranteed internationally before the partition, because there was a fear that the Cyprus’ population might not wish to be independent and sovereign. The Greek community, which forms the majority of the island, has to a large extent always wanted to join ‘the Hellenic mother country’ and also the Turkish community has always kept close ties with Turkey and never excluded the possibility of becoming independent (Visser, 1975, pg.5). Historically the island has almost always been part of some empire.
In the Antiquity Cyprus was part of the Greek culture, shown by the remnants of the classical monuments. From the year 431 religion played an important role in defining the Greek heritage for from that date there has also been an autonomous Greek-orthodox church, which exists till today (Visser, 1975, pg. 35). But this Greek heritage is just a small part of Cyprus’ history: from the third century before Christ it has been part of the Empire of Ptolemaeus (294-58 BC), the Roman Empire (58-330 AC), Byzantium (330-1191), the Empire of the Lusignans (1192-1489), the Venetian Empire (1489-1571), the Ottoman Empire (1571-1878) and the British Empire (1878-1960) (Visser, 1975, pg 35). This timeline shows that in the first place Cyprus has not been independent for more than two decades and that both Turkey and Greece have played an important role in Cyprus’ history.
In 1960 Cyprus gained independence after Greek and Turkish communities reached agreement on a constitution. Britain retained sovereignty over two military bases but already in 1964 the United Nations had to set up a peacekeeping force because of inter-communal violence after the proposal of constitutional changes (www.news.bbc.co.uk/). Then in 1974 the military junta in Greece backed a coup against the president at that time, Archbishop Makarios, and within days Turkish troops landed in the north to protect the Turkish community. The Coup collapsed and the Turkish forces then occupied a third of the island which forced the partition between north and south.
III) Socio-economic fault lines after the partition
The partition of the island caused an enormous dislocation. The Turkish part contained about 80 per cent of the citrus groves, 65 per cent of the wheat fields, 45 per cent of industry and 67 per cent of tourist installations (McDonald, 1988/9, pg.49). But even though the Greek-Cypriots lost all this and more in materials, equipment, consumer goods and cash, the Greek-Cypriot government decided to focus on rebuilding, establishing houses for the refugees that were displaced from the north and investing in medium industry and agriculture with export potential (McDonald, 1988/9, pg 49).
Consequently the southern part of Cyprus experienced high growth rates, the adverse effects of the Turkish invasion were overcome and full employment conditions were re-established, already by 1978 (www.kypros.org). The impressive growth performance was based on a number of factors. Exogenous factors, such as the booming Arab markets, the Lebanese crisis of 1975, favourable weather and high international market prices for some of the major Cyprus agricultural products lifted the economy. Foreign aid helped bridge the financing gap. Success had its price though since the increased dependence of the country on foreign financial resources caused a relatively large and growing foreign debt and inflationary pressures (www.kypros.org).
Turkish Cyprus has not been internationally recognized, so even though the Turkish part contains a lot of the important resources, it is still underdeveloped compared to the Greek part. This is mainly due to the fact that the only country it can trade with is Turkey and it has been a struggle to compete in the mainland Turkish market (Morgan, www.news.bbc.co.uk). Per capita income in 1989 was US$25l3. GDP grew at an average annual rate of 6.4 percent between 1977 and 1988 and the growth rate in 1988 was 7.1 percent. This is much lower than the per capita gross national product (GNP) of US$7,200 in 1988 and a GDP growth with an average annual rate of 8.4 percent between 1976 and 1986, with slight downturn in late 1980s.
Turkish and Greek-Cypriots have always been part of two very distinct communities. ‘There are hardly any inter-marriages between the two groups, there has never been an incentive to have a national Cyprus anthem and there is no such thing as Cypriotism’, according to Vedat Celik, a retired senior diplomat (www.news.bbc.co.uk). The Greek Orthodox Church also plays an important role in opposing reunification plans and since virtually all Greek Cypriots are Greek Orthodox Christians, the church does not have a small influence.
Another aspect of the division is that the aims of both groups have always been totally different; the Greek-Cypriots seeked to rid the country of the Turkish troops and settlers, to return the refugees to their homes and to reunite the Republic under a strong federal government while the Turkish-Cypriots wanted to sustain ethnic segregation and pursue separate development under the security afforded by a Turkish troop presence (McDonald, 1988/9, pg. 32). What should not be underestimated either is the impact of the Turkish invasion and the consequent numerous casualties on both sides, the destructions and expropriation and all the missing persons that are making it very difficult for both communities to find a common understanding and develop a mutual trust.
In the current light of developments, it is hard not to ask the question whether reunification is indeed a possibility. The latest developments will allow Turkish Cypriots to trade in the south, and gain access to healthcare and other state benefits available to Greek Cypriots. The Nicosia government will also start accepting official documents – such as car registration plates – issued by the breakaway north, which were only recognised by Turkey (www.news.bbc.co.uk). The confidence-building measures are being taken just a year before the planned admission of Cyprus to the European Union.
Only the southern part of Cyprus was invited to join the EU while the northern Turkish part could join later if it agreed to end the island’s division, according to the Times (Middle East Business Intelligence, 2003). Thousands of people demonstrated in Nicosia to urge their leaders to accept a plan to reunite the island before Cyprus enters the European Union. The European Council has also urged the island to reunite before accession. It seems as if internal as well as external pressures are pushing the process of reunification in the right direction and this is not strange since the European Union is luring and will be a huge growth incentive for the economy, which is desperately needed especially in Northern-Cyprus (Emerging Europe Financial Alert, 2002).
Cyprus is an island with a long history of occupation and has been independent for only two decades. The Greek and Turkish communities living on the island have strong ties with their mother country and there does not exist a Cypriotic feeling. Social ties between the groups are far to find and there is no such thing as a mutual trust. War has caused the two parties to grow apart even further and the killings, destructions and expropriations are hard to forget. The two parts are economically unequally developed. A shared perspective on the future, presented by the possible accession to the European Union, have made way for a relaxation on both sides and the implementation of confidence-building measures.
Turkish-Cypriots, unhappy about the current state of economy, feel the need to reconsider a possible reunification and Greeks have always wanted the island to become one under a bilateral federal rule. The international pressures are helping the process and it seems as if there might be in the future a mutual understanding and possibly a joint-government and reunification. The fortuitous beginning of the end of the Cyprus’ problem seems to have come in the prospect of an EU-membership, with all the economic advantages that this brings with it. The will to deal with the economic fault lines between Greek- and Turkish Cyprus, will then have proved to be stronger than the social differences that will most probably remain an important issue.