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    Copyright: All those wishing to use or publish the following text are welcome to do so, provided that they indicate the source and inform the AIM office in Paris which is interested to receive comments and reactions on the information it provides. AIM, 17 rue Rebeval, F-75019 Paris, France

    THU, 25 JAN 2001 19:32:36 GMT

    Probing the Cyprus Impasse

    AIM Athens, January 25, 2001

    The Cyprus problem remains unresolved and in a state of limbo for over a quarter of a century. This is in many respects unique for in those twenty-seven years there have been no military clashes or armed violence and the two sides hardly seem poised to get at each other's throat. Furthermore, there have been numerous talks between the two sides at the highest level and several sustained UN and other mediation attempts, several of which have gone to considerable lengths regarding a sensible solution which could be acceptable to both sides. Under the circumstances one is tempted to argue that the existing state of non-resolution, which many regard as a de facto solution (notably Ankara and Washington in the 1970s under Kissinger's legacy), is perhaps the final or only available solution for the foreseeable future. However such a solution is certainly very far from the ideal outcome which is more than obvious: namely some form of binational (bicommunal) loose federation. This would constitute a "positive-sum" (win-win) result and hardly a "zero-sum" outcome as perceived by the diehards on either side of the fence (the UN "Green Line" to be more exact).

    De facto partition has rendered Cyprus the most militarized island in the Mediterranean and one of the few militarized island world-wide; it has become a powder-keg awaiting ignition. De jure partition if at all possible (by way of a velvet divorce which would not permit union with either mother country) is almost equally precarious. Even if it could come about at a historical juncture, as a result of the will of the two parties, it could be upset by succeeding governments which would condemn the agreement, call it null and void and seek union with the respective motherland or, alternatively, initiate a struggle in order to take charge of the whole island. As for a Greek-Turkish frontier in Cyprus, as a result of the incorporation of either side to Greece and Turkey respectively, it could only succeed with the greatest of difficulty if (a) relations between Greece and Turkey are not only relatively non-conflictual but very cordial, which is hardly the case today and (b) if it is warmly supported and in fact originates from the two communities themselves, again something highly improbable and not sustainable for it more likely to come about as a result of the threat of the other side.

    The Cyprus conflict has become the minefield of the most gifted, well-meaning and energetic politician, diplomat and mediator. Why is this the case? We would limit ourselves to five plausible reasons for this state of affairs.

    One reason is that the aims of the two main protagonists (the Greek-Cypriots and the Turkish-Cypriots) remain as wide apart as ever, even though they do not state it clearly (something which is more applicable in the case of the Greek-Cypriots). Put differently and in conflict resolution jargon, their goals are mutually incompatible. As in the 1950s and 1960s the Cypriot conflict remains decidedly, until this very day, an objective "zero-sum" conflict of interest, where only a winner and a loser (or perhaps two losers) are conceivable and not two satisfied winners. Furthermore, splitting the difference or sharing is out of the question for both parties. It is regarded unpalatable and among many a Cypriot it is even deemed an act of treason.

    Linked to the above is the view that any conceivable solution, however meticulously spelled-out, just or comprehensive, is regarded as worse that the non-solution, worse than the present state of affairs, however tricky, dangerous and insecure it may be. As it has been said more than once in whispers on the Greek-Cypriot side, "the non-solution is a solution", at least for the time being. This brings us to a related item.

    The Cyprus problem has a tradition not only of unreality - being unable to face the facts of life, e.g. the nearness of Turkey, the vulnerability and smallness of the island, its strategic importance, the deepness of the other side's attachment to the national identity of the motherland, etc. - but has had difficult coping with time as well. To begin with the Greek-Cypriots cried out for "Enossis [union with Greece] and Only Enossis" (to which the Turkish-Cypriot retorted with "Taksim [Partition] or Death") and were unable and unwilling to go about their objective by stages, piecemeal, on the basis of what was on offer by the British (that is self-government). They felt that time was against them; waiting and awaiting would be tantamount to suicide, time was their enemy. Later on, notably in the period 1964-1974 the Greek-Cypriots were convinced that there was no need for earnest, that they had all the time in the world to forge out a solution to their liking. Now time was on their side, as they strove to make Cyprus an exclusively Greek-Cypriot state. At the now famous inter-communal talks of 1968-1974 (perhaps the greatest ever missed opportunity), at a time when both the Turkish-Cypriots and Turkey were malleable and moderate, President Makarios was not in hurry to pocket the concessions but told his negotiator Glafkos Clerides, that more time was necessary to "soften the Turks even more", there was no need for a rush! Today both sides (and more realistically the Turkish-Cypriots) believe that time is on their side and that in the future they would be able to end up with a better deal.

    Another reason for the impasse is the fact that even after 1974, nationalism, initially on the defensive particularly on the Greek-Cypriots (as a result of the mess it had brought about in 1974 with the Turkish military intervention and related suffering), sprang back with a vengeance by the 1980s and 1990s, to such an extent that the ultra-nationalists had the audacity to even discredit (in part successfully) the supporters of rapprochement with the Turkish-Cypriots, among other for "daring" to place great emphasis on Cypriot (rather than Greek) identification. To the extent that both sides regard themselves as wholly or mainly Greek or Turkish respectively, and not Greek or Turkish and equally Cypriot, there can be no solution within a united Cyprus.

    A related reason for the stalemate is of course the extent of lack of mutual lack of confidence, suspicion and mutual demonization, which is reinforced by most of the media, by official propaganda and not least by political socialization in the schools. The two sides and notably the younger generations have no living experience of members of the other community, other than that of the image of the devil impersonated who is out to get them if they are not on their guard. Put differently, Cyprus is "an unimaginable community", the very opposite of an "imagined community" which is the stuff of nationhood and national integration.

    As regards a viable solution, any solution should be the outcome of the free will and the agreement of the Greek-Cypriots and the Turkish-Cypriots. This implies both their political leadership and the great majority of the people, the agreement needs to be a highly popular decision, not a caving-in due to external pressure, a sale-out or a ploy. Furthermore, there is no scope for an imposed solution (along the Dayton or Kosovo model) by the UN, the EU or as in 1959 (the Zurich-London Agreements) as a result of an agreement by Greece and Turkey. Experience has shown that in the Cyprus case as well as in most other ethnonational conflicts such an approach is counter-productive and at best only a respite for worse to come.

    In Cyprus the most appropriate solution is some form of loose federation of the two ethnic communities, a federated "consociational democracy". This would amount to a mid-solution between the tight federation approach officially put forward by the Greek-Cypriots and the confederation approach maintained in the last years by the Turkish-Cypriot leadership (two states in close collaboration, economic and otherwise). The loose federation formula is probably the only way to avoid the splitting into two of such as small geographical region. Cyprus, an island and one placed geographically in an important location between three continents, could do much better as a whole entity rather than as two fortresses. However if such a solution is not possible and in order to avoid the two fortresses eyeing each other apprehensively from the balustrade, a velvet divorce would be the second best, provided there is no prospect for future annexation by Greece or Turkey or both. _____________________

    (i) Alexis Heraclides is Associate Professor of International Relations at the Panteion University in Athens

    Alexis Heraclides (i)