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Healing the divide

Turkey and Greece are meeting to unite the island nation of Cyprus

Turkey and Greece are meeting to unite the island nation of Cyprus

Talks are happening in Geneva this week between the Greek and Turkish leaders of Cyprus in what is seen as the last real hope for securing a unified island.

What’s happening?

Cyprus President Nicos Anastasiades and Turkish-Cypriot leader Mustafa Akinci are holding talks to find a compromise to reunify the island, which has been divided for the past 40 years. If the discussion progresses well, the leaders will be joined by those from Greece, Turkey, and the U.K. — the three parties that guarantee Cypriot independence and security. This would mark the first direct talks since 1974.

After the multiple previous unsuccessful reunification efforts, many believe these negotiations to be the final shot at a unified Cyprus. As he arrived at the United Nations European headquarters, Anastasiades was asked if he was optimistic, to which he replied: “Ask me when we are finished.”

What’s the background?

In 1974, a failed Greek coup led to a Turkish invasion and the establishment of a U.N.-patroled buffer zone. This split the island in two — in the north, the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus and in the south, the Republic of Cyprus — though only the south is recognized internationally. The U.K. remains a participant in the talks as it retains two military bases on the island, and has offered to give up some of this territory to sweeten any deal.

In light of all the past reunification efforts, the 18 months of careful groundwork laid down for these discussions signal just how important this attempt is. U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres described the talks as an historic opportunity, while U.K. Prime Minister Theresa May spoke to Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan over the weekend, agreeing that this was “a real opportunity to secure a better future for Cyprus and to guarantee stability in the wider region.”

What are the sticking points?

Numerous issues need to be addressed in Geneva this week, with key points to include:

  • What happens to the estimated 30,000 Turkish troops stationed on the island today. If they are forced to leave, who would protect the Turkish-Cypriot population?
  • Should the Greek-Cypriots be allowed retake possession of the homes they lost when they were displaced in 1974 or should they simply be compensated as has been ordered in the past — and if so, by how much?
  • Where would the lines on the map be drawn regarding Greek-Cypriot and Turkish-Cypriot regions, and how much more territory should Greek-Cypriots gain to reflect the fact they make up the majority (77 percent) of the island’s population?

What happens next?

Should all sides manage to agree on a plan to unify, it would then have to be put to both sides in separate votes. In 2004, the Turkish-Cypriot community backed a proposal led by then United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan, but the Greek-Cypriot community rejected it in a vote. The key difference this time around: While that plan was created by the U.N., these negotiations are being initiated by the leaders of the communities involved.

Why are these negotiation so important?

For the people of Cyprus, it could lead to huge economic growth, given that oil and gas fields have been discovered in the eastern Mediterranean.

Reunification would also bring some much-needed stability to the region – and to Europe. It would allow the European Union to fully recognize Cyprus, and would help improve security in the eastern Mediterranean, where the rise of the Islamic State group, the Syrian conflict, and unrest in Turkey have caused so much instability lately. The current situation in Cyprus has been one of the main sticking points as Turkey attempts to join the EU.

A reunification would also be seen as a coup for the departing Obama administration as it has consistently pushed for a solution, with both Vice President Joseph Biden and Secretary of State John Kerry visiting Cyprus to aid in the negotiations.

Cover: ASSOCIATED PRESS

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