Reflecting on the Conference on Cyprus: A unique opportunity jettisoned

“I am deeply sorry to inform you that, despite the very strong commitment and the engagement of all the delegations and the different parties, the Greek and Turkish Cypriot delegations, Greece, Turkey, the United Kingdom, and the European Union, as an observer, and, of course, the United Nations team, the Conference on Cyprus was closed without an agreement being reached.”

In this manner, the ninth Secretary General of the United Nations, Mr. Antonio Guterres, signaled the cease of negotiations taking place during the Cyprus Conference in Crans-Montana. Ambitiously, it was envisioned that this conference would finally yield a solution to the dispute that has been generating constant tension among Greek and Turkish Cypriot communities throughout the years. Additionally, disputes over the Cyprus issue have often deteriorated the diplomatic relations between Turkey and Greece, both allying members of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO). The implications of this mutual distrust emanating from the Cypriot dispute has even led the two states to the brink of armed conflict.

Lastly, the indefinite political situation that has existed in Cyprus was trumping Turkey’s ambition for accession in the European Union. Thus, a multitude of reasons and incentives were present in order to attain a political agreement that would regulate the open-ended issues that have emerged throughout the years between the two communities. Firstly and above all, in order to ensure the security and fundamental rights of local communities and individuals. However, the prospect of establishing a front of cooperation, stability, and peace in the broader region was of equal concern. Taking these into account, it is indeed regrettable that the Conference was closed without an agreement. It was the first time since 2004 that a positive ground was identified and the prospect of attaining an agreement was considered likely.

In 2004, Kofi Annan was Secretary General of the United Nations and his plan proposed initiating a complex political federation between the two communities.

However, the provisions of this plan were considered unacceptable by the Greek Cypriot Community. They felt that disproportionate authorities were being attributed to the Turkish minority and ended up rejected on a referendum. Back to 2017, despite the positive diplomatic ground, the conference could not be capitalized into a concrete agreement and the informal partition of the island between a Turkish North and a Greek South that occurred in 1974 remains. This partition occurred as a response by the Turkish state in order to protect the Turkish communities residing in the island when the Greek Military attempted to unify Cyprus with Greece. Since then, thousands of people have been internally displaced, property was lost and communities which had been living together in peace for decades were separated. Until today, United Nations Peacekeeping Forces continue to be present in the island in order to prevent any potential recurrence of conflicts among the divided communities.

In regards to the conference, the main source of contention that eventually led to the halt of negotiations is held to be the divergence of opinions on the presence of Turkish armed forces. According to Reuters, the Greek side entrenched as a prerequisite for any agreement the deportation of all Turkish armed forces. As a guarantee, a fraction of international forces that would incorporate an equal number of Turkish and Greek forces would remain on the island. However, the Turkish state asserted its duty to guarantee the security of Turkish communities, considering the idea of complete withdrawal implausible. Alternatively, Turkey claimed that the issue of demilitarization could be revisited in 15 years when the prospect of a peaceful outcome will be evident. Reportedly, Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu claimed that if the Greek Cypriot side demonstrates good will in the implementation of the agreement, the issue could be reviewed earlier.

Notwithstanding the divergences that actually led to the cease of negotiations, it is apparent that a historical opportunity for concluding a long-lasting dispute was lost. Despite the multiple turnarounds that characterized both sides during the negotiations, the convergence of opinions in a series of critical issues had been unique. From a personal point of view, a monotonous insistence of the Turkish state in ensuring the presence of its armed forces in the island instead of a neutral peacekeeping force raises doubts as to whether securing an agreement that would substantially ameliorate the lives of the Turkish communities was its first priority. It seems that as long as the Turkish state separates itself from the prospect of accessing the EU it grows more and more keen to hold onto any geopolitical and military control that would allow it to impose its interests in the region. Unfortunately, the consequences of not reaching an agreement will reproduce a status quo of insecurity and instability that neglects fundamental rights of individuals and condemns local communities to poverty. Injustices committed to internally displaced persons and loss of lawful properties will still not be addressed. In the end, an opportunity for establishing a peaceful, stable and mutually inclusive political community that will prompt local populations to thrive and cooperate in solidarity has been lost. And it is unfortunate that in lieu of prioritizing the human rights of local communities and individuals, external considerations of geostrategic nature prevailed.

Further conclusions will be drawn when the United Nations publishes the official report on the conference and the conversations that were upheld. Until then, mediasources and allegations of the opposing sides are the only sources available to assess the outcome of the conference.

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