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24 May, 2024
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The missing piece in Greek-Turkish diplomacy

Cyprus problem drowned out in Greek-Turkish relations

By Manos Karagiannis

The public discourse has been flooded with commentaries in favor or against the ongoing efforts for a Greek-Turkish rapprochement. There are, oddly, only few references to the Cyprus problem, which has been a key issue on the Greek foreign policy agenda since 1950, without pause. The rather crass view that tends to be put forward, when it is mentioned, is that a resolution to the Cyprus issue needs to be delinked from the Greek-Turkish dialogue because too many important opportunities have, ostensibly, already been missed.

The truth is that efforts to find a solution to the problem have come to a near-standstill since the negotiations in Crans-Montana in 2017, and Ankara has firmly established a situation that allows it to maintain the upper hand. It is very unlikely that the Turkish side will allow itself to lose this strategic advantage in the foreseeable future. Nevertheless, the regime of Recep Tayyip Erdogan continues to undermine the Republic of Cyprus: with illegal offshore drilling in Cyprus’ exclusive economic zone; with violations of Cyprus’ national airspace; with the opening of the fenced-off town of Famagusta; with the weaponization of migration; with unilateral actions in the buffer zone. The common denominator here is the well-armed Turkish military presence in the occupied north of the island.

If Turkey were to launch a large-scale, aggressive operation in Pyla, who, in truth, would try to stop it?

The recent events in Pyla against UN peacekeepers are cause for serious alarm. It is the only community that still has a mixed population of Greek and Turkish Cypriots. Ankara is trying to establish new precedents that will lead to an irreversible division. Moreover, the construction of a road linking Pyla to occupied Arsos has an obvious military rationale. Pyla is close to Larnaca airport and the Dhekelia power plant. In a future military crisis, having control over the broader area would cut off the free zone of Famagusta from the rest of the territory controlled by the Republic of Cyprus. Home to Protaras and Ayia Napa, this small corner of the island represents the heart of the tourism industry, with everything this entails for the Cypriot economy.

If Turkey were to launch a large-scale, aggressive operation in Pyla, who, in truth, would try to stop it? The European Union does not have an army, the United States often turns a blind eye in order to keep Turkey in the Western camp and Russia is already prepared to upgrade the status of the illegitimate administration by opening a consulate. Is there anyone who actually believes that a military crisis in Cyprus will not have a catalytic impact on Greek-Turkish relations, even if we do find a way to take recourse to the International Court at The Hague? The fact alone that Athens has a military presence on the island (ELDYK) means that our involvement is a given. It is often said that Greece and Turkey have not come to war since their entry into NATO in 1952. That is not true. In the summer of 1974, the invaders immediately targeted the Greek forces in Cyprus, with some very heavy battles following in Nicosia. Dozens of Greek soldiers were killed or captured and some are still missing.

Greece has certain responsibilities toward Cyprus that it cannot turn its back on. As one of the guarantor powers, Greece continues to be bound by its commitment to the security of the Republic of Cyprus. The despicable involvement of the colonels’ junta in the coup against the Cypriot government on July 15, 1974, means that Athens also has a moral responsibility that cannot be written off. But the main thing is that Cypriot Hellenism cannot survive without Greece’s steadfast diplomatic and military support.

The big question is whether the attempted improvement in Greek-Turkish relations will help toward a settlement for Cyprus. If the political dialogue with Ankara is carried out in a predetermined framework shaped by the UN Charter and international law, then yes, Cyprus will benefit. A new relationship between Athens and Ankara would reduce tension in the East Mediterranean and possibly lead to a just and sustainable settlement of the Cyprus issue. After all, the Turkish-Cypriot leadership is entirely controlled by Ankara.

In the unlikely case that Athens makes any significant concessions in terms of its sovereignty, however, Ankara would come to the conclusion that its strong-arm tactics in the Aegean worked and it would have no reason to adopt a more moderate stance on the Cyprus issue and to avoid provocations. It will inevitably continue to promote a two-state solution, until the circumstances allow certain other countries (like Azerbaijan and Pakistan, for example) to establish diplomatic ties with the administration in the Turkish-occupied north. No Greek government, however, can allow such an injustice to take place without doing something about it. Cyprus’ fate is inextricably linked to Greece – and this is something everyone needs to understand.

Manos Karagiannis is an associate professor in the Department of Defense Studies at King’s College London. He is also associate professor in the Department of Balkan, Slavic and Oriental Studies at the University of Macedonia.

Cyprus  |  Turkey  |  UN  |  Pyla

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