This year three anniversaries in Cyprus have coincidentally come together: The sixtieth anniversary of the UN Security Council Resolution 186 adopted on 4 March 1964, which did more to perpetuate injustice than to extinguish the fire in the island and which still binds the hands of the Turkish Cypriots; the fiftieth anniversary of Turkey’s military intervention on 20 July 1974 as a Guarantor power, which changed the fate of the island in a indelible way; and the twentieth anniversary of the failed Annan Plan referendum held on 24 April 2004 to find a solution to the Cyprus conflict with a federal formula. All three of these anniversaries give important clues to those who wish to have a closer look at Cyprus and what might happen in the future.

The Statesman who best realised the importance of Cyprus for Turkey was undoubtedly the strategic genius, founder of Turkey, Atatürk. In 1937 Atatürk summarised Turkey’s view of Cyprus as follows: “As long as Cyprus is in the hands of the enemy, the supply routes of this region are blocked. Pay attention to Cyprus, this island is important for us.”

Looking back in historical perspective, the State of the “Republic of Cyprus”, established in 1960 with the Treaties of London and Zurich, relied on the delicate balance between Turkey and Greece established by the Treaty of Lausanne of 1923. Constitutionally, it was a functional federation in which Turks and Greeks shared sovereignty and, unlike other states, its independence was guaranteed by three countries (Turkey, Britain and Greece). As a requirement of joint sovereignty, the Vice-President, elected from among the Turks, had veto power. Perhaps the most striking feature of the state of affairs established in 1960 was the return of  the Turkish troops after 1878 when they had left the island.

Unfortunately, this fragile partnership between the two peoples, which started with fresh hopes, lasted only three years. In December 1963, the Greek Cypriot side brutally attacked the Turkish Cypriots and expelled them from the organs of the partnership State, massacring hundreds with acts of ethnic cleansing that went down in history as Bloody Christmas. This is how the chain of mistakes and injustices committed by the international community against the Turks in Cyprus began. The perpetrators of the murders and crimes committed against the Turks, to which the international community turned a blind eye, were never brought to justice.

How was the international reaction?

Early 1964 the issue was brought to the agenda of the United Nations Security Council with the pressure of the Greek Cypriot side, whose basic intention was to free itself from the constitutional rights granted to the Turks, to draw the issue to the international arena where they felt safer and to connect the island of Cyprus to Greece, an aim long-cherished by them. Under those circumstances, Turkey wanted to use its right to intervene under the Treaty of Guarantee to stop the attacks, but it encountered opposition basically from the United Kingdom and the United States of America.

Consequently, the draft resolution 186 prepared by the two powers to end the conflict envisaged the establishment of an international “peacekeeping force” to work, not with the two equal founding peoples of the Republic, but under the new “Cyprus Government”, now consisting only of Greek Cypriots, from which the Turks were excluded at gunpoint. Rauf Denktaş, who represented the Turkish Cypriots at the Council, resisted 186 together with Turkey, arguing that the security provisions in the Treaty of Guarantee were sufficient to provide peace. However, the resolution was passed as the US and the UK, which had veto power, wanted. Thus, a “Peace Keeping Force” was formed that would fulfil its mandate of “maintaining law and order in Cyprus” by being accredited to the new Greek Cypriot government, which was actually the violator of the 1960 constitution. This clearly meant a flagrant and grave historical mistake committed by the  United Nations Security Council, since literally the fox was now entrusted to safeguard the henhouse.

In the ensuing years, Resolution 186 served as a basis for the Greek Cypriots to refuse any proposals to find a settlement on the island. More important of all, it placed the Cyprus issue at a wrong perspective: Its harmful effect has continued for many years by both squeezing the Turks to establish a federation with their involuntary neighbors and by opening the way for their neighbors’ unlawful administration to becoming a member of the European Union in contradiction to the 1960 balance.

Meanwhile, the situation of the United Kingdom, the former colonial power, whose part in the adoption of Resolution 186 was beyond doubt,  deserves special mention. When we look at the past, the United Kingdom had offered to give the island of Cyprus to Greece in 1915 in return for entering the war on its side in the First World War.  Although having a substantial military capability on the island with two military bases extending to 254 square kilometres, which is around 3 percent of the island, the United Kingdom remained uncooperative and silent while the Turkish Cypriots were attacked and killed in the painful years from 1963 up until 1974. The United Kingdom also left Turkey alone by not using its Guarantor authority during the 20 July 1974 Military Operation of Turkey against the Sampson coup, which was staged by the Greek Junta in order to hand over the island to Greece.

Hence, after so many years, it becomes indisputably clear that, had it not been for Turkey’s military operation in 1974, the 50th anniversary of which will be celebrated on 20 July this year, no stumbling block would unfortunately have been left for the Greek side to completely eradicate the Turkish Cypriots from the island.

Turkey’s Peace Operation

This is actually the reason why the name of this life saving operation goes with  “Peace”. The decision then whether or not to carry out this operation, which has an important place in the history of Turkish diplomacy and military service, was not easy for Ankara, which was experiencing the difficulties of being governed by a coalition government. It was for the most part Prime Minister Bülent Ecevit’s statesmanship and his clear vision of Turkey’s interests in Cyprus and the Eastern Mediterranean, as well as his integrity, that were decisive factors through the decision making process to intervene militarily. Ecevit’s ability to use the necessary initiative with diplomatic skills at critical stages of the operation and his working in harmony with the General Staff deserves special mention in the context of the success achieved.

After the Operation, the division of the island into two as Northern and Southern Cyprus, followed by the population exchange deal of 7 August 1975 enabled the settlement of the Turks in the North and the Greeks in the South. As a consequence, the Turkish Operation significantly paved the way for a permanent change in the fate of the island, after which a period of uninterrupted peace began to reign in Cyprus.

Obviously it would be useless to ask what happened after 1974 to the United Nations Peace Keeping Force on the island, which too, like the United Kingdom, had remained indifferent when the Turks were being attacked: Unsurprisingly, since Resolution 186 remained the same, their enterprise continued to be unlawfully accredited to the Greek Cypriot Administration. The “Force” kept on with its attitude of favoring Greek Cypriot interests in the buffer zone as well as in the South where it was basically assigned and active. Could anything favorable be expected otherwise for the well being of the Turkish Cypriots from a weak and biased military unit, while 33 per cent of its budget is funded by the Greek Cypriots and 11 per cent by Greece?

Is Cyprus an issue of “Invasion and Occupation”?

For 50 years now, the Greek Cypriot side has been trying to draw the issue into the international arena by claiming that the Cyprus issue is a matter of invasion and occupation. On the contrary, the two best answers to this claim were given by the former Greek Cypriot leader Archbishop Makarios himself, who directly accused Greece of invading Cyprus in his speech at the United Nations on 19 July 1974, and by the Athens Court of Appeals in 1979. In the case numbered 2658/79, filed by the family of a Greek corporal who lost his life in Cyprus on 22 July 1974, the Court in question, with its decision dated 21 March 1979, decided that as Guarantor, Turkey was justified in its 1974 intervention, that it acted in accordance with the London-Zurich Treaties in doing so, and that the real culprits should be sought among the Greek officers who prepared the ground for the intervention by organising a coup in Cyprus.

How did the referendum on the Annan Plan come about?

After 1974, negotiations started within the framework of the United Nations Secretary General’s mission of good offices to forge a federation between the two sides. The Greek Cypriot side participated in the negotiations as the “Government”, claiming to represent the whole of Cyprus, while the status of the  Turkish side was reduced to that of a “community”. Over the years, many federal solution plans were put forward. The “bi-communal arrangement” in 1975, the Anglo-American-Canadian Plan in 1978, the Waldheim Report in 1981, the Cuellar Plans in 1985 and 1986, the Boutros-Ghali Set of Ideas in 1992 and finally the famous Annan Plan in 2004 came to the agenda. All through these talks the Greek Cypriot side constantly demanded the abolition of the Guarantee system, withdrawal of the Turkish troops from the island and settlement of Greek Cypriots people at Northern Cyprus territory. They also refused to accept the solution of the property issue through compensation and exchange.

As former Greek Foreign Minister Nicos Rolandis admitted later in an article published in the Sunday Mail on 3 February 2008, it was in fact the Greek Cypriot side which rejected all federal solution proposals indicated above, including the Annan Plan. This brings us to the core of the question: was a federal solution on the island really viable? Indeed, in order for Turks and Greeks to live under a federal umbrella, first and foremost, there needed to be strong common interests, mutual trust, respect and above all, interdependence on vital issues with a culture of joint decision-making and sharing.

However, lacking any such favorable approach or culture and, having literally lost the means to attack militarily, the Greek Cypriot side started to impose a ruthless embargo against the Turks, which continues to this day. Today, citizens of the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus are unable to participate in international sports competitions, cannot fly or trade directly, cannot benefit from foreign aid, face restrictions in communication and are subjected to racist physical attacks when they cross into Southern Cyprus. Could a federation be established in such an environment? The answer to this question was given by the then UN Secretary General Kofi Annan in his report dated 28 May 2004, after the Greek Cypriots rejected the 8000-page solution plan bearing his name, which was put to referendum in both parts of Cyprus on 24 April 2004: “Greeks do not want to share authority and prosperity with Turks on an equal footing.”

Today, it is understood as a fact of the island that the Greek Cypriot side is not in favour of giving up the administration it has.

Would it be any better today if the Annan Plan had been accepted? The Turks living in the parts of Northern Cyprus envisaged to be ceded to the South would then become migrants for a third time since 1963. Furthermore, one third of the Greek Cypriot population would be allowed to enter and settle in Northern Cyprus, which would dilute the bi-zonality and disrupt the demographic structure of the North, undoubtedly causing frictions between the two peoples again. Worse, since the plan did not resolve the property issue comprehensively, tensions would then arise again. A Greek canton would be established in the Turkish Karpaz region of the island, which would jeopardize the territorial integrity of the North. Above all, the guarantee system would have been watered down and the deterrent, balancing and protective influence of the Turkish troops on the island would have disappeared.

What kind of a future awaits the island Turks?

Although the Greek Cypriot side has so far rejected all proposals on a federal solution, it still insists on vague federal models that would allow them to keep their rule and would open the way for them to reduce the Turks to the level of a minority. It is also  not surprising that such ventures are backed by Greece and the European Union. Assuming that such federal models continue to be put on the table and negotiated, would that amount to any better situation other than chaining the Turkish Cypriots to an endless negotiation process?

Like every country, the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus may have problems and difficulties. However, it needs to be duly acknowledged that Turkish Cypriots are governed with an advanced understanding of democracy, freedom and the rule of law. Therefore, it can undeniably be said that the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus has an international democratic legitimacy. Keeping such characteristics in mind, there is probably no other example in the world where a country is both fully democratic and also is living under inhuman embargoes and restrictions.

So what kind of a future will the Turkish Cypriots draw for themselves under such circumstances? Before making any prediction, it is most useful to recall the words of the late leader of the Turkish Cypriots, Rauf Denktaş from October 29, 2003: “I will not even enter paradise without Turkey.” His words reflect not only the true nature of his people’s connection with the Motherland, but also shows his dedication to Atatürk, whose understanding of Cyprus was quoted above.

Bülent Ecevit, the Prime Minister of Turkey during the 1974 Peace Operation, had made a similar statement in his speech at the Turkish Grand National Assembly on 21 January 1997: “As much as Turkey is a guarantee for the TRNC, the TRNC is also a guarantee for Turkey. The security of our Mersin and Iskenderun harbours, natural gas and oil pipelines in the Eastern Mediterranean depend on it; therefore, Turkish troops must remain in Northern Cyprus forever.” It is noteworthy that Ecevit’s remarks are also in striking congruity with the words of Atatürk.

It might therefore be said that the future of the Turkish Cypriots is closely related to Turkey and to living in peace and stability in the Eastern Mediterranean, under the roof of the state they have established, with the assurance provided by Turkey’s effective guarantee. The peace and tranquillity that came to Cyprus 50 years ago will be consolidated when a compromise is reached with their southern neighbours on the basis of sovereign equality and equal international status.

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