The question of Cyprus is a very complicated one. To understand it, one must focus on the origins of the current situation as well as the development of the events during 1974 that led to the Turkish invasion. At its current state, the island of Cyprus is divided horizontally, with the north being occupied by the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus, a puppet state of Turkey, and the south being occupied by the Republic of Cyprus. It is important to note that the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus is not officially recognized by any state (apart from Turkey itself), nor the United Nations, but many countries host diplomats of Northern Cyprus, like the United Kingdom.
There have been efforts of reunification of Cyprus, facilitated by many parties (mainly the UN) with the most prominent one being the Annan Plan, a plan by the then United Nations Secretary General Kofi Annan, aimed at creating a unified Cyprus with a power sharing agreement. The effort started in 1999 but collapsed in 2004, after a multiple times revised peace deal was declined by the Cypriot side with only 24% of Cypriots voting in favor, while it was accepted by the Northern Cyprus side with 65%. After that, efforts of reunification have remained only in the dialogue level, with no real action or negotiations taking place. Unfortunately for the Cypriot side, Northern Cyprus has steadily become more involved in foreign affairs and gained unofficial recognition by great powers such as the United States of America and the United Kingdom. Thus, if an peace deal is to be reached today at the Geneva Conference, it will be much less favorable to the south side of Cyprus than it was before.
First, a bit of history… Since Cyprus was under British rule, there was an idea created of achieving a so-called “enosis” (ένωση in Greek) with Greece. However, when the then government went to the British to ask for a referendum on the matter, the British rejected it. Thus, the church decided to conduct a “referendum” by collecting signatures on the matter and presenting them to the United Nations. After the British left Cyprus and the Cyprus republic was formed, the requests for enosis increased by the Greek government. For obvious reasons, the UN rejected the unofficial referendum.
In 1973, Greece, Cyprus’ most important and closest ally, was under the Junta, a dictatorship of three military colonels that assumed power via a coup d’état in 1967. The Junta was very favorable to uniting with Cyprus and achieving the so-called “enosis”. In the midst of opposition to enosis by the international community, the Greek Junta decided to force the unification and staged a coup d’état in order to overthrow the Cypriot government of Makarios III. He was replaced with Nikos Sampson, a pro enosis Greek, sent in by the Junta. Five days later, Turkey invaded Cyprus, citing the protection of Turkish Cypriots and the violation of the 1960 Treaty of Guarantee, an agreement between Greece, Cyprus, Turkey, and the UK that states in its first article that Cyprus is banned from uniting politically or economically with any other state. This justification has been rejected from the International Community and the United Nations.
The invasion that followed led to many deaths from all sides and the partitioning of the island into two parts with a close to 70%-30% division of land to the south and north, respectively. The UN Peacekeepers are currently in place enforcing this border with the famous Green Line.
To solve the problem, the UN has had only one real attempt, the Annan Plan of 2002-2004, named after the then UN Secretary General Kofi Annan. The plan included a power sharing agreement to govern a new (united) country with a rotating presidency. The plan also included a close to 10% increase of the land of the south, at the expense of the north to match the ratios of the populations. Finally, the plan included clauses depriving some Greek Cypriots the opportunity to return to their own homes, which was one of the reasons the plan was rejected by the south.
What do we do today?
One of the most prominent ways to solve the Cyprus problem, is to try to reach a power-sharing agreement, much like what the Annan Plan tried to achieve. For this to happen, a coordinated effort must be made by all parties, in order to transform words into action. The nations of Cyprus, Greece, and Turkey have to be present in the table, but not the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus, as it is not an officially recognized country. The United Nations also should have an essential role and be present in the negotiations. However, if the proposed plan is a copy of the Annan plan, this will be much less likely to be accepted by the Turkish side, as it was shown with the collapse of the Switzerland talks of June-July 2017. As mentioned previously, the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus is in a much better position than before, and will have a stronger hand in negotiations. The public of Northern Cyprus will also be less likely to accept an Annan plan 2.0. However, if a more favorable to the north solution is put up for a referendum, the Republic of Cyprus people will be much less likely to vote in favor for it, since this essentially shows a second defeat as a nation to the Turks. At the end of the day, though, such a solution is the only one feasible to reach a long-lasting peace. Attempts will have to be made in order to educate the public of the Republic of Cyprus to vote in favor of such a plan. This solution is, in my opinion, much more benefitial that no deal at all.
In case the above plan isn’t inclined toward by the Republic of Cyprus and Turkey, another solution can be to agree on a permanent division of the country to end the current state of war and remove the Green Line buffer between the two countries. Such a solution, however, ultimately results in the acceptance of the loss of the northern part of the island for the Cypriots, something which would make them unlikely to vote in favor of in a possible referendum. For Turkey, this is the best solution possible, as it solidifies its conquest of land.
Essentially, the UN has had just one substantial attempt to solve the Cyprus problem. However, a lack of open-mindedness of the southern Cypriot leadership led to the continuation of the current situation. The belief at the time was that when Cypris enters the EU, it will have one more power on its side to reach a more favorable deal. That did not evolve as planned. Now, however, due to the fact that the north is now in a more powerful position than before, having turned its back on the atrocities committed during the assault and the effective short-term war that occurred, Turkey is now realizing the new position it is in. Greece and Cyprus are left in a deadlock, even though they are proposing sort of what the Annan plan proposed. Turkey remains strong in its own opinion, using the increased power of its Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus puppet state. At the time of writing this piece, the discussions in Geneva ended abruptly with no solution to be found. Greece is stuck with part of the clauses of the Annan plan in an ever more powerful Northern Cyprus that just simply wants more. Nobody can blame it, however, as times have now changed.
If a solution is to be found, if any, it will not be close to what Secretary General Kofi Annan proposed in his famous plan. The golden opportunity presented by the Annan plan, 30 years after the invasion, was not grasped by the Cypriot side, and now the events have turned against it. In any case, however, the populations of both south and north are pushing heavily for an agreement to be made. They have just had enough. Now is the time for diplomacy to shine and the right concessions from both sides to be made.
P.S. This post is not aimed to portray the Republic of Turkey as the one proposing correct solutions. Some of the proposals go completely against international law (as the guarantor powers) and Turkey itself has been violating international treaties with its actions in the Aegean Sea. However, when talking purely about the Cyprus issue, a lack of open-mindedness in the past will lead Greece to unfortunately make concessions it does not want to make.