Introduction

In June 2017, negotiations began anew between Turkey and Greece over the contested island of Cyprus. This update details the history of the conflict and analyses progress from the recent talks.

Background

The East Mediterranean island of Cyprus has a rich, yet turbulent, history. It has been occupied by a string of foreign empires, before being formally ceded to Britain in 1923 under the Treaty of Lausanne.

In 1960, following discussions between Britain, Turkey and Greece, Cyprus was granted independence, the terms of which were outlined in the Treaty of Guarantee, the Treaty of Alliance, and Treaty of Establishment. A constitution for the new Republic of Cyprus was established with elaborate checks and balances between the powers exercised by Greek and Turkish leaders, resulting in political deadlock as neither community was willing to co-operate with each other. In 1963, the Turkish Cypriots withdrew from the government and the security situation deteriorated rapidly. In 1964, the United Nations established the United Nations Peace-Keeping Force in Cyprus to monitor the situation.

In 1974, the Greek Cypriot coup d’etat, and attacks against Turkish Cypriot areas, prompted Turkey to invade Cyprus, occupying the northern third of the island and stopping operations near the current “Green Line” that traverses the island from East to West. The de facto partition continued until the Turkish Cypriot leader, Rauf Denktash, declared the north of the island the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus (“TRNC”) in 1983.

There have been numerous attempts to reach a settlement between the two communities, most notably the “Annan Plan”, presented by UN Secretary-General, Kofi Annan, to the leaders of the communities in 2002. While the plan was accepted by 65% of Turkish Cypriots at a 2004 referendum, 67% of Greek Cypriots rejected the plan.

Recent Events

On 28 June 2017, renewed negotiations on Cyprus between the Greek and Turkish communities began in Crans-Montana, Switzerland as to the terms of the Treaty of Guarantee (the “Treaty”). Under Article II of the Treaty, Greece, Turkey and the United Kingdom guarantee the independence, territorial integrity and security of the Republic, and the state of affairs established by the articles of the Cypriot Constitution.

Turkey asserts that the guaranteeing powers have provided security and should continue to be involved in relations between the states. The position of Greece is that the guarantees should be abolished, with Greek Foreign Minister Nikos Kotzias tabling a proposal for the abolition of the Treaty of Guarantee at the recent conference. He proposes a monitoring and agreement implementation mechanism instead.

Meanwhile, the Cypriot President Nicos Anastasiades proposes that a “transitional period” take place and a multinational police force is established, to monitor the security situation between the Greek and Turkish communities. He also advocates for a trilateral Pact of Friendship between Greece, Turkey, and Cyprus, to “form the basis of the solid foundations for the future relationship of the three countries”.

One matter that will require careful consideration is the delimitation of maritime boundaries between the Republic of Cyprus, TRNC and Turkey, such that the hydrocarbon resources off the southern coast of Cyprus may be exploited without igniting old tensions. Articles 56 and 57 of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (“UNCLOS”) provide that States have the right to declare an Exclusive Economic Zone (“EEZ”) of up to 200 nautical miles (“nm”). UNCLOS Articles 76 and 77 also entitles States to a continental shelf on the outer edge of the continental margin, or to a distance of 200 nm from the territorial sea baseline. Given that Cyprus and Turkey are less than 400 nm apart, the maritime boundaries claimed are overlapping. Finally, Article 74 of UNCLOS provides that if States are unable to agree on their boundaries within a “reasonable period of time”, the parties should consider taking the matter to an international tribunal, such as the International Court of Justice. Such a move is important a comprehensive settlement of the conflict.

Coming weeks and months will reveal whether the recent conference will prove to be another failed attempt at resolving the conflict, or whether the renewed hope for the reunification of Cyprus is well-founded.