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25 May, 2024
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A closer look at the Greek-Turkish dynamic

Greek-Turkish relations and the unresolved Cyprus problem



By Manos Karayiannis

The public discourse is inundated with discussions for and against the evolving Greek-Turkish rapprochement. Strangely, there are few references to the Cyprus issue, which has continuously occupied Greek foreign policy since the 1950s. Some assert, at times bluntly, that Greek-Turkish relations should be disentangled from the resolution of the Cyprus problem, claiming that significant opportunities have allegedly been missed.

The truth is that efforts to find a solution to the problem have nearly come to a standstill since the 2017 negotiations in Crans-Montana. Ankara has established a situation that allows it to maintain the upper hand. It is highly unlikely that the Turkish side will relinquish this strategic advantage in the foreseeable future. Nevertheless, the Erdogan regime continues to undermine the Republic of Cyprus: illegal drilling in Cypriot EEZ waters, violations of Cypriot airspace, the opening of the closed city of Famagusta, instrumentalization of migration, and unilateral actions in the buffer zone. The common denominator of these actions is the military presence of the occupying forces on the island.

Recent incidents in Pyla against UN forces are a cause for great concern. This specific community is the only one with a mixed population, consisting of both Greek Cypriots and Turkish Cypriots. Ankara is laying the groundwork for achieving the definitive partition of the island. Furthermore, the construction of the illegal road connecting Pyla with the occupied Aksaray region has an overt military rationale. Pyla is close to Larnaca Airport and the Dhekelia power station. In a future military crisis, control of the broader Pyla area would cut off the free area of Famagusta from the rest of the territory controlled by the Republic of Cyprus. This "frontier" part of the island is the heart of the tourist industry (Ayia Napa, Protaras), with all the implications for the Cypriot economy.

If Turkey ever dares to launch a large-scale military operation in Pyla, who will genuinely attempt to stop it? The EU lacks its own military, the US often turns a blind eye to keep Turkey in the Western camp, and Russia is preparing to upgrade its pseudo-statelet with the opening of a consulate. Is there anyone who truly believes that a military crisis in Cyprus won't profoundly affect Greek-Turkish relations, even if it ends up in The Hague? The mere fact that Athens maintains military forces on the island (ELDYK and ELDYK 3/1) practically means our military involvement is a given. It's often stated that Greece and Turkey haven't fought since they joined NATO in 1952. This is not entirely accurate. In the summer of 1974, the invaders immediately attacked Greek forces in Cyprus, leading to fierce battles in Nicosia. Dozens of Greek soldiers were killed or captured, and some sadly remain missing.

Greece has specific obligations towards Cyprus that it cannot renounce. As one of the three guarantor powers, Greece continues to be committed to the security of the Republic of Cyprus. The unfortunate involvement of the Greek military junta in the coup against the Cypriot government on July 15, 1974, means that Athens has a moral debt that cannot be erased. Most importantly, the Greek Cypriot community cannot survive without Greece's unwavering diplomatic and military support.

The big question is whether the attempted improvement of Greek-Turkish relations will help resolve the Cyprus issue. If political dialogue with Ankara is conducted within a predetermined framework based on the UN Charter and international law, then Cyprus will benefit. A new relationship between Athens and Ankara could reduce tensions in the Eastern Mediterranean and possibly lead to a fair and sustainable solution for Cyprus. In any case, the Turkish Cypriot leadership is entirely controlled by Ankara.

In the highly unlikely event that Athens makes significant "concessions" on "sovereignty adjustment," Ankara will conclude that its coercive strategy in the Aegean has yielded the desired results. Thus, the Turkish side will have no serious reason to adopt a moderate stance on Cyprus and avoid provocations. Inevitably, it will continue to promote the two-state solution until conditions allow some countries (e.g., Azerbaijan, Pakistan) to diplomatically recognize the pseudo-state. However, no Greek government can remain passive in the face of such injustice. Cyprus's fate is closely intertwined with that of Greece. This should be understood by all.

Mr. Manos Karayiannis is a Professor of International Relations at the University of Macedonia and a Reader in International Security at King's College London. His book, "Deterrence and Defense," is published by Papadopoulos Publishers.

[This article was translated from its Greek original]

Cyprus  |  Turkey  |  UN  |  Greece  |  military  |  government

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