Cyprus Turns 50 — But Turkish Troops Still Hold Northern Sector     Print Email


(October 12)  One of Europe’s most intractable conundrum—the island Republic of Cyprus—is celebrating its 50th year as an independent nation.  The celebration is muted, however, by another anniversary—the 36th year since Turkish troops (now numbering 43,000) took control of nearly 40 percent of the island and effectively displaced 180,000 Greek Cypriot refugees.


The situation is  troubling for Europe, since Cyprus has been  a full member of the European Union since  2004 and a member of the Eurozone  since 2008.  At the time of Cyprus accession to the EU, it was hoped that Turkey’s interest in also entering the EU would provide leverage to induce Ankara to remove its troops and work constructively for some form of bi-zonal confederation under a single sovereignty.  But as the years have ticked by,  resolution has remained elusive.

In recent years, Turkey has become disillusioned with the EU candidacy process.  See European Institute article on Turkish shift. Moreover it has become clear that getting unanimous consent of the 27 EU members  on Turkish admission is going to be difficult indeed. Accordingly, the possibility of EU membership  has become a much less potent lever to a Cyprus solution. This has become even more apparent as Turkey “turns east” and is moving strongly to become a regional power in the Middle East. Just last month, Turkey announced a Free Trade Zone with Syria, Lebanon and Jordan.  At a recent conference organized by the American Hellenic Institute Foundation, geopolitical analyst Gregory Copley asserted that this free trade zone could have the impact of making Syria, Lebanon and Jordan de facto members of the EU, “something  even Ankara would be aware was unacceptable to the EU.”

Assuming that for now  EU membership is not a near term reality, does this mean the Cyprus problem remains unsolvable?  Probably yes.  But, Cato Institute analyst Ted Galen Carpenter noted at the American Hellenic Institute meeting that recent events in Ankara just might offer a separate  opportunity for settlement.  The civilian government in Ankara has increased its power, vis-à-vis the Turkish army.  And it has been the Turkish army that has been the strongest proponent for maintaining troops in Cyprus.   It is possible, suggested Carpenter,   that the civilian government may want to diffuse the Cyprus situation as Turkey assumes  a more prominent mid-eastern role and, for the first time, could well have the internal political clout to overrule the military on this point.

With Cyprus, the question about an US role always emerges.  When Ankara dispatched troops to the island in 1974, Turkey was an important US ally in the cold war and listening posts in Turkey were a vital strategic security asset.  Moreover, the Cypriot  crisis took place at the same time Nixon was in the process of forced resignation  and Sec. of State Henry Kissinger, preoccupied with the transition from Nixon to Ford, was unwilling or unable to listen to state department staffers, including then Ambassador to Greece Henry Tasca, who were calling for US firmness against the Turks.  Today, some in the Greek Cypriot community argue that Turkey is becoming a less reliable partner for the US and therefore, the US should be more willing to use its remaining clout to encourage a Turkish troop withdrawal. The smarter money however, would bet that because the US has larger and more compelling issues with which to deal, Cyprus is not likely to rise to the top of America’s current foreign policy priorities.

By all rights, the Cyprus issue should be a European matter, because Cyprus is a full member of the EU.  As Angelos Pangratis, Deputy Head of the European Union Delegation to the US, made clear recently, the European Union will be relying on “soft” power, not “hard” power,  to find a resolution. The strategy will be to encourage Ankara to recognize that it has genuine interests in working towards a comprehensive Cyprus solution. Not only would such an accord enhance Turkey’s Eastern Mediterranean strategies, but it would also enhance the country’s standing as a European country with important social and economic interests in the West and respect for rule of law.


By Patrizio Finicelli