Comment: Cyprus at the mercy of whoever calls the shots in the neigbourhood

By Robert Ellis

Cyprus is, and always has been, at the mercy of whoever calls the shots in the neigbourhood. As the Arab geographer Al-Muqaddasi noted in 985: “The island of Qubrus is in the power of whichever nation is overlord in these seas.” At present, that is Turkey.

It was a place d’armes for the Crusaders en route to the Holy Land, it protected Venetian trade until conquered by the Ottomans in 1571. When the Venetian governor surrendered against a promise of safe conduct, he was literally stuffed and paraded around town.

The British took over in 1878 and the island took on strategic importance to protect the Suez Canal.

In the 1950s the Greek Cypriot majority’s demand for independence and enosis (union with Greece) was met by a Turkish Cypriot demand for taksim (partition), which was backed by Turkey.

Independence in 1960 led to intercommunal strife and in 1964 the two communities were separated by Unficyp (United Nations Peacekeeping Force in Cyprus).

In 1974 this separation was cemented by Turkey’s invasion and occupation of northern Cyprus after a coup by Greek Cypriot extremists who, backed by the Greek junta, intended to declare enosis.

The unilateral declaration of the TRNC (Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus) in 1983 was the conclusion, and the recent election of Ersin Tatar as ‘president’ of the ‘TRNC’ could well lead to the creation of two separate states. In the event, as is likely, that a Turkish Cypriot state is not recognised, this could lead to annexation by Turkey.

The first Cypriot president, Archbishop Makarios, concluded, “It is in the name of enosis that Cyprus has been destroyed.” And by 1968 he had abandoned this dream and opted for the “feasible” rather than the “desirable”.

In 1975 an attempt to achieve a federal solution began in what the present UN Secretary-General António Guterres has called “a horizon of an endless process without result”. The last attempt ended in Crans-Montana in Switzerland in 2017.

The process has been a political graveyard, which has consumed the efforts of several UN Secretaries-General and countless envoys.

As visiting professor at the London School of Economics James Ker-Lindsay has noted, “There is clearly a sense of frustration and fatigue at the international level about Cyprus.” Further, “No one will want to invest considerable time, effort and even money into pursuing something that clearly has no hope of a successful conclusion. If the Turkish Cypriots elect someone who clearly has little interest in a settlement on realistic terms, then it will obviously affect perceptions.”

In defence of their rump state, the Greek Cypriots themselves bear a share of the blame for this state of affairs. Up against Turkey’s propaganda machine they are defenceless.

As Martin Packard, the British naval officer who in 1964 worked tirelessly to secure peace between the two communities, wrote, the Greek Cypriots were given solid reason to complain of a separatist insurrection. But “faced by the more powerful PR mechanisms of Britain and Turkey, the Greek Cypriot authorities failed to impress on the international community a convincing presentation in this light”.

As a respected Cyprus commentator, in 2012 I urged then Cypriot Foreign Minister Erato Kozakou-Marcoullis to adopt an effective communications strategy, and University of Nicosia Professor Andreas Theophanous wrote at the time, “It is of utmost importance that at last Cyprus has a ‘narrative’ and that it regains the moral high ground”. However, our views were ignored.

The following year the president of the National Federation of Cypriots in the UK Peter Droussiotis also urged for a co-ordinated communications strategy but without result.

After Cyprus blocked the adoption of sanctions against Belarus at the meeting of EU foreign ministers in September, the Republic of Cyprus was accused of holding the EU hostage. The leading Danish daily Berlingske called on Cyprus to stop playing primitive power games and stated: “The Greek Cypriots are now members of the EU, but do not enjoy much respect in wide circles in the EU.”

Cyprus has also expected US support but the end of the arms embargo has been limited to non-lethal weapons of defence. A lightening visit by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo resulted in the creation of a joint security training centre with the acronym Cyclops, named after the one-eyed monster.

Turkey’s President Erdogan, with one eye on Cyprus’ hydrocarbon resources, has expressed support for a two-state solution and declared his intention to have a picnic in the fenced-off town of Varosha. Under the circumstances, Greek Cypriots had better beware of the outcome, as it might not only be the Venetian governor that gets stuffed.

Robert Ellis is a member of the Advisory Board at Vocal Europe in Brussels and the International Advisory Board at RIEAS (Research Institute for European and American Studies) in Athens.