Rights of man, individual or national, are not gifts to be granted. They are won, typically by blood and violence, on the battlefield or by violent revolution. Magna Carta emerged from the Battle of Hastings. The French Revolution created the Rights of Man. Greeks in 1821-29 and Turks in 1919-22 won independence first with guns and sacrifice.
Cypriot independence in 1960 was no different, emerging from the armed conflicts in the 1950s. In Cyprus, however, the road to independence was far from as clear-cut as the Greek Cypriots wanted one thing, Turkish Cypriots quite another.
Independence in 1960 came as a bi-ethnic compromise. Without a single ethnic identity on the island, nation-building did not take root. Hence the CyProb emerged from day one. It has continued to this day and it cannot be resolved unless the fundamental rights of both Greek Cypriots and Turkish Cypriots are balanced out in peace and by mutual agreement.
The Turkish Cypriot case of UDI in 1983 was arguably premature. It was certainly an act of self-defence on the part of the Turkish Cypriot leader Rauf Denktash. Frustrated at the lack of progress with UN peace-making, he acted opportunistically, taking advantage of the crisis in the Turkish capital then under military rule. Denktash had always close relations with the Turkish military.
Denktash’s fait-accompli was first and foremost Cypriot-made. He wished to nullify the Makarios coup of 1963/4, when he had violently torn up the constitution, eliminating Turkish Cypriot constitutional rights and creating an all-Greek Cypriot state.
The UN adopted a mid-course, upholding the Republic of Cyprus based on the 1960 accords. In 1964, it launched a peace-keeping mission to stop intercommunal while the UN secretary-general took on a peace-making mission. The secretary-general sought to restore constitutionality, but these efforts failed. After 1974, when the Turkish army landed in Cyprus to prevent Enosis by force, the UN resumed its mediation, this time on a bi-zonal, bi-communal federal (BBF) power-sharing basis, again with no success.
The BBF model failed several times, notably in the referendum of 2004, and in the latest round in July 2017 in Crans-Montana. The Greek Cypriot maximalist demands of zero Turkish troops effectively amounted to no security for the Turkish Cypriots. This was proof, once more, that at its root, the CyProb is a zero-sum game with two, not one, ethnic identities.
What is the road ahead? Legitimacy for popular national/ethnic aspirations must be democratic, peaceful and emerge out of good-faith negotiations. But what if dialogue is impossible or negotiations are inconclusive? Sadly, negotiating in bad faith is possible. Neither can futile negotiations go on forever. The UN must, at some point, close the Cyprus chapter. To this end, after the elections in early 2018, the secretary-general might undertake one last attempt to settle the CyProb within an agreed terminal date and on an agreed agenda.
It is, however, virtually certain that the zero-sum game would lead to another failure. Then the UN must take the lead to end the isolation of the Turkish Cypriots and pass the ball to the EU with a clear guideline: Two-mini states, both within the EU, is the most sensible solution, border adjustment, basic freedoms and land claims all to be settled on EU principles. The future of Cyprus, as a bi-national island, is in the EU.
Ozay Mehmet is a senior fellow at the Centre in Modern Turkish Studies at Carleton University in Ottawa, Canada