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The UN mediation in Cyprus during this period is characterised by the complete absence of a clear idea of what the post-1974 political settlement should be. In other words, the UN did not manage to address questions like: should the Zurich-London Agreements be upheld? Did those agreements provide a viable solution to the Cyprus problem at the first place? If not, how could a new political settlement be justified and presented to the affected parties (Turkey and Turkish-Cypriots)? What guarantees could be given to the affected parties for future developments? How committed could the international community be in long-term in providing the necessary guarantees? If such commitments were not upheld by the guarantor powers and the rest of the international community during the events of 1974, why one could expect things to be different in the future?
Instead, the UN tried to bring the two communities of Cyprus together and let them find a solution themselves. But there were two problems that made the reaching of a settlement difficult. First, each of the two communities had different ‘ideal settlements’ in mind. While the Turkish-Cypriot side advocated a return to the Zurich-London principles, the Greek-Cypriot side maintained that a new arrangement should be found and that it should be based on the majority-minority divide. Second, if in the presence of a growing domestic upheaval the inter-communal had failed to produce any concrete results, the Turkish military intervention had, in fact, worsened the situation. Mistrust and hostility had grown to the point that it was impossible for the two sides to agree. Instead, encouraged by the UN stance, they sought to use different international fora to advance their cause and ‘ideal settlement’.
One of the developments that could assist the UN in its mediation efforts was that the idea of unification of Cyprus with Greece was abandoned by the Greek-Cypriot side. Two were the reasons for that. First, a rivalry arose between Athens and Nicosia due to the involvement of Greece in the coup d’ etat of July 1974 which led to the Turkish military intervention and the de facto division of the island. And second, abandoning of the unification idea was also seen as the only way for the Greek-Cypriot side to convince Turkey to withdraw its troops from the island and keep it outside the Cypriot internal affairs after a new settlement was reached.
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The first effort of the UN to address the Cyprus problem through mediation, following the Turkish military intervention of 1974 and the failure of the subsequent negotiations in Geneva the same year, was undertaken in 1975. Then the UN Secretary General was entrusted with a good-will mission to bring the Greek-Cypriot and Turkish-Cypriot leaders together under agreed procedures and to facilitate negotiations on equal footing. The same year a population exchange agreement was concluded and implemented under UN auspices.
In 1977 and 1979, two high level agreements were reached between the two sides for seeking a federal solution. The implementation of the Makarios-Denktash (1977) and Kyprianou-Denktash (1979) Agreements, however, was subject to the political calculations of both parties and especially the Greek-Cypriot one.
Specifically, those agreements were more to the favour of the Turkish-Cypriot side than to the Greek-Cypriot. The reason for which the Greek-Cypriot leadership signed those agreements was that under the then existing conditions appeared to be no alternative. However, the Greek-Cypriot side did not attempt to implement the agreements immediately but instead it sought to gain time with the hope that a more favourable settlement could be reached in the future.
From that moment on, a period of ‘missed opportunities’ for the resolution of the Cyprus problem began and which still goes on. This period is characterised by the unsuccessful efforts of the Greek-Cypriots to obtain a settlement that favours their ‘ideal settlement’ and the hardening of the Turkish-Cypriot position. The Greek-Cypriot side, however, denies the fact that there have been ‘missed opportunities’ and argues that those opportunities could not serve the interests of the Cypriot people. Nevertheless, the recent acceptance by the Greek-Cypriots of the creation of a bi-zonal, bi-communal federation showed that they had come to accept a settlement that is closer to the ‘ideal settlement’ of the Turkish-Cypriots rather than theirs. At the same time, this reality explains why the Greek-Cypriot side sought to transfer the Cyprus issue from the UN to the EU.
The Turkish-Cypriot side, on the other hand, wants to achieve a political settlement that could put the two communities on equal footing. To this end, it has supported the establishment of a bi-zonal, bi-communal federation based on the political equality of the two sides. But when the Greek-Cypriot leadership attempted to use different international fora to advance its cause and interests, in conjunction with the worsening of the relations between Athens and Ankara, the position of the Turkish-Cypriot side hardened. The significant difference between the ‘ideal settlements’ of the two sides led to the collapse of the negotiation process.
Particularly, when the Greek-Cypriot leadership presented its cause before the UN General Assembly in 1983, the Turkish-Cypriot side reacted arguing that this action was not fair since they could not be present and therefore have a fair hearing. As a result and in conjunction with the worsening of the Greek-Turkish relations Rauf Denktash, the leader of the Turkish-Cypriots, proclaimed the same year the establishment of the ‘Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus’.
In response, the UN with the Security Council Resolutions 541/1983 and 550/1984 condemned the unilateral declaration, declared it illegal and invalid and called for its immediate withdrawal. They also called upon states not to recognise the purported state and not in any way assist the secessionist entity. Finally, the UN General Assembly Resolution 37/253/1983 demanded the withdrawal of the Turkish army from northern Cyprus. Those resolutions were in favour of the Greek-Cypriot side, while non-recognition of the ‘Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus’ allowed the Greek-Cypriot Government to continue speaking on behalf of the whole population of Cyprus. This was unacceptable for the Turkish-Cypriots and relations between the two communities worsened as a consequence.
A series of UN Secretary General’s proposals, such as the Working Points (1984), the Integrated Documents (1985), the Draft Framework Agreement (1986), the Procedural Formula (1987), and the Outline of an Overall Agreement (1988), produced no results since each of the two parties had their own reasons for accepting them in word but not in practice.
Specifically, the Greek-Cypriot leadership adopted such a position for two reasons. First, in view of the determination of the international community not to recognise the ‘Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus’, the Greek-Cypriot leadership thought that under continuous international isolation the Turkish-Cypriot side would sooner or later give up and would come to accept more and more their proposals. And second, the proposals put forward by the UN were still advocating equal footing between the two communities. Therefore, they were considered to be still quite close to the Turkish-Cypriot positions. The principle of ‘wait and see’ appeared to guide the Greek-Cypriot policy of the era.
The Turkish-Cypriot side, on the other hand, saw that despite its international isolation, the Greek-Cypriot side was unable to convince the international community to accept its own version of ‘ideal settlement’. Thus, hardening of its bargaining position could lead to further extraction of concessions from the Greek-Cypriot side. Yet, the hardening of the Turkish-Cypriot position can be partly explained by the isolation in which the international community had placed the ‘Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus’. At the end of the day, the Turkish-Cypriot leadership could easily convince the Turkish-Cypriots that between isolation and security the latter was very much preferable.
At the end of the 1980s, the Greek-Cypriot side appeared frustrated by the approach of the UN and sought to transfer the issue to different international bodies. Various European fora were chosen to this end with the EU being one of them. Obviously, the Greek-Cypriots believed that those fora could serve better their interests than the UN. At the same time a rearmament campaign was undertaken by the Greek-Cypriots which further deepened the lack of confidence between the two sides and increased the mistrust between Athens and Ankara. Thus, the search for an agreed settlement was further complicated.
After viewing the situation, the Turkish-Cypriot leadership realised that the Greek-Cypriot side still wished to preserve the post-1963 status quo in Cyprus. They, therefore, began to stress that a federation could only be achieved between friendly units which wanted to come together on equal terms for their common benefit. Unlike what it had proposed previously, the Turkish-Cypriot leadership now suggested that this federation could only be established between two internationally recognised states. In other words, the Greek-Cypriots and the international community should first recognise the ‘Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus’ and then this state and the Republic of Cyprus could come together to create the Cyprus Federation. Moreover, the Turkish-Cypriot side argued that a fundamental change was required in the mentality and approach of the Greek-Cypriots before a new political partnership became a viable project.
The question, however, was, and still is, what guarantees can be given to the Greek-Cypriots that the ‘Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus’ would enter into a federation arrangement especially after having received international recognition and coming out from its current international isolation?
In October 1989, the Turkish-Cypriot side proposed a ‘Declaration of Intent’ whose purpose was to assist the two communities to give up the confrontation approach and begin to replace it with a non-adversarial relationship. This proposal was side-stepped by the Greek-Cypriot leadership but for the Turkish-Cypriot side continued to be the major requirement for giving any agreement on paper the chance to be implemented.
The New York Summit of 1990 began with the unsuccessful meeting between the leaders of the two communities with the UN Secretary General. From the Turkish-Cypriot point of view, this meeting was abortive because the Greek-Cypriot leader was unprepared to genuinely negotiate on the real issues which divided the two sides. Yet, the tensions which continued to rise in Cyprus during this period hardly promoted the right kind of atmosphere. The Turkish-Cypriot position remained clear: the two peoples of Cyprus have the unquestionable capacity to freely determine their political future. This required a freely negotiated and mutually accepted agreement to which the two communities will be in a position to express their consent through separate referenda on the two sides.
In his report to the UN Security Council on 8 March 1990, the UN Secretary General stated that “Cyprus is the common home of the Greek Cypriot community and of the Turkish Cypriot community. Their relationship is not one of the majority and minority”. 24 The UN Security Council Resolution 649 adopted on 12 March 1990 expressed some of the core interests and opinions of the Turkish-Cypriot side and was therefore welcomed by Rauf Denktash. It addressed the two leaders as political equals and it called on them to reach freely a mutually acceptable solution on equal footing. It defined the already agreed basis for the solution as a bi-communal and bi-zonal federation. It also called on the parties to refrain from any action that might aggravate the situation.
While accepting the resolution in principle, Greece and the Greek-Cypriot side took steps which contradicted the call for avoiding any action which could aggravate the situation. Particularly, the Government of the Republic of Cyprus applied for membership of the EU and Greece sought to provide the necessary political support to this end. Greece and the Greek-Cypriot side were not happy with the UN approach to the Cyprus problem but had to accept the UN resolution in principle in order to avoid to be termed as ‘inflexible’. The decision of the Greek-Cypriot leadership to apply for EU membership reflected its frustration with the political developments related to the UN mediation. Thus, it sought to find an indirect solution to the Cyprus problem with the EEC providing the necessary indirect channel.
Turkey and the Turkish-Cypriot side, on the other hand, reacted strongly to the Cyprus’ application for accession to the EEC and regarded the latter as not competent to act objectively because of the existence of Greece among its members. Thus, the Republic of Cyprus’ application for full membership in July 1990 brought all efforts for a negotiated settlement to the brink of total collapse.