Cyprus Mail
Divided Island

A chronology of events 1955 to April 2021

This is one of a series of articles from our new feature ‘Background briefing: The Divided Island‘. It is a comprehensive interactive information guide on the Cyprus problem.

1955 – 1959

A right-wing Greek Cypriot guerrilla organisation, the National Union of Cypriot Fighters, Eoka, fights an armed revolt against British colonial rule aimed at enosis (union with Greece).

The campaign has mass Greek Cypriot support and is backed by wide-scale civil disobedience. Many Greek Cypriots leave the police force, either in solidarity with Eoka or because of intimidation.

The British colonial authorities replace them with recruits from the smaller Turkish Cypriot community, which is opposed to enosis and prefers to stay under British rule. Britain also says Turkey should have a say in Cyprus’ future. There are periodic outbreaks of inter-communal violence and the Turkish Cypriots begin to pursue taksim (partition) and union with Turkey.

With Turkish support, they form an underground guerrilla organisation, the Turkish Resistance Movement (TMT), whose declared aim is to prevent union with Greece.

Cyprus’ geostrategic importance to Britain soars after the loss of Suez in 1956. But London comes to believe that its strategic interests can be met by having military bases on the island rather than having the island as a base. It veers towards a policy of independence for Cyprus while offloading the problem on the “motherlands” – Greece and Turkey, which draft the independence agreements.

Makarios inauguration, August 16, 1960

Cyprus gains independence from Britain on 16 August. Britain, Turkey and Greece become guarantor powers of the island’s independence, sovereignty and territorial integrity under the terms of Cyprus’ constitution. Britain retains sovereignty over two military bases covering 98 square miles. Archbishop Makarios is the first president of an independent Cyprus and Dr Fazil Kucuk, the Turkish Cypriot leader, is vice-president. Cyprus becomes a member of the United Nations.

Cyprus becomes a member of the British Commonwealth, joins the Council of Europe, and becomes a founding member of the Non-Aligned Movement.


In November, Makarios proposes major amendments to the power-sharing constitution, which he argues are necessary to make the state more functional after repeated deadlock in government. Turkey rejects the proposed changes, as do the Turkish Cypriots who see them as an attempt to undermine their political power in the Republic.

1963 - Greek Cypriot fighters in Limassol

There is an outbreak of inter-communal fighting on December 21, 1963. A precarious ceasefire is agreed on Christmas Day. A “green line” is drawn through Nicosia on 30 December to mark ceasefire lines. The Turkish Cypriots withdraw from the Cyprus Republic.

Thousands of Turkish Cypriots start moving into defended enclaves and establish their own

autonomous administration. The Greek Cypriots alone are now represented in the government, which is recognised internationally as the island’s only legitimate authority. Turkish Cypriots say they were forced out; Greek Cypriots say they left to set up their own administration. The Greek Cypriots re-introduce the demand for Enosis.

A multinational United Nations peacekeeping force, Unficyp, is established in March but struggles to contain inter-communal violence. Turkey has been preparing for a military invasion, which is averted in early June only by a robust warning from the US president, Lyndon Johnson. He fears such Turkish action would lead to war between Turkey and Greece – the US’s allies in Nato – and so weaken the alliance’s south-eastern flank.

The Greek Cypriots establish a National Guard, introducing compulsory military service in June. Makarios starts making overtures to the Soviet Union.

Greece sends an army division of some 10,000 troops to Cyprus on the grounds that it will protect the island, but Athens is also concerned that Cyprus is coming under the influence of the Soviet Union.

At US president Lyndon Johnson’s initiative, there are talks between Greece and Turkey for a Cyprus solution, with a former US secretary of state, Dean Acheson, serving as mediator. The “Acheson Plan” envisages the union of Cyprus and Greece, while up to three cantons would be established for the Turkish Cypriots, over which they would have full administrative control.

There is heavy fighting in August when the National Guard – now commanded by the former Eoka leader General George Grivas – attacks the fortified Turkish Cypriot enclave of Kokkina-Mansoura on the northwest coast, which is being used to smuggle in arms from Turkey.

In response, Turkish jets attack two Cypriot patrol boats and bomb National Guard positions and Greek Cypriot villages in the area. Fifty-three Greek Cypriots are killed, including 28 civilians. After these incidents, Acheson abandons his initiative.

Relations between Makarios’ government and Greece worsen after a group of colonels seize power in a military coup in Athens in April. Greece resumes consultations with Turkey to bring back the Acheson Plan, but Makarios voices strong opposition. The Cyprus House of Representatives unanimously approves a resolution for “unadulterated” union with Greece.
National Guard operations around Kofinou in 1967

The ‘Kofinou Crisis’ in mid-November brings Greece and Turkey to the brink of war. It erupts when a large National Guard force attacks Turkish Cypriot positions in and around the mixed village of Ayios Theodoros – where Turkish Cypriot fighters had prevented Greek Cypriot police patrols – and the nearby Turkish Cypriot village of Kofinou. These villages are considered strategically important because they are located at the junction of the main roads from Nicosia and Larnaca to Limassol.

The Greek Cypriots fear the Turkish Cypriots are trying to create a new enclave in the area. Twenty-seven Turkish Cypriots die in the fighting. Turkey threatens military intervention and its fighter jets fly over Nicosia. Greece is persuaded to withdraw several thousand troops from Cyprus along with Grivas, the National Guard commander.


Makarios announces in January that while enosis remains desirable it is no longer feasible in the prevailing circumstances: independence is the only practical solution. He is also concerned that Greece might be satisfied with some form of ‘double enosis’, whereby Turkey takes control of Turkish Cypriot areas. With the economy doing well out of independence, and Greece now ruled by a right-wing military dictatorship, most Greek Cypriots support Makarios’ new policy of independence – even if they still feel Greek. Makarios also has backing from the large communist party, Akel.

Seeking a fresh mandate, Makarios calls elections to be held in February 1968 and secures 95.45 per cent of the vote, trouncing his only rival who ran on a platform for enosis.

Makarios appoints Glafcos Clerides, president of the House of Representatives, to hold UN-sponsored talks with Turkish Cypriot leader Rauf Denktash which open in Beirut in June.

The junta in Athens begin a sustained covert campaign against Makarios. In March, he walks unscathed from the wreck of his helicopter when it is shot down in a junta-backed assassination attempt.
Its silver bullet solution having failed, the junta begins a wider armed and political campaign against Makarios. With the help of the Greek junta Grivas returns secretly to Cyprus in August to prevent Makarios’ “betrayal of enosis” and he founds Eoka B. Grivas, however, is no longer confronting a colonial power but challenging an elected and charismatic Greek Cypriot leader who has huge support as the spiritual and temporal head of his community.
Makarios establishes a loyal tactical police reserve that manages to arrest many members of Eoka B, which has been targeting his supporters and attacking police stations.


When Grivas dies of a heart attack in January, Eoka B comes more directly under the control of military junta in Greece which, following a change of leadership the previous November, is even more hostile to Makarios.

On July 3 Makarios publicly accuses the junta of using Greek officers in the National Guard to subvert his government and demands that Athens withdraw 650 of them immediately.

Nicos Sampson declaring himself president on July 15, 1974
Nicos Sampson declaring himself president on July 15, 1974

Instead, on 15 July, Greek officers in the National Guard, directed from Athens, launch a coup against Makarios aimed at enosis. He escapes to London. Nicos Sampson, a notorious ex-Eoka gunman feared by Turkish Cypriots, is installed as president. Makarios accuses Greece at the UN Security Council of invading Cyprus.

On July 20 Turkey invades, invoking the 1960 Treaty of Guarantee.

The coup collapses on 23 July. The military junta in Greece falls; civilian rule returns. Sampson is forced to step down and Glafcos Clerides becomes acting president.

Turkey launches the second phase of its invasion on August 14 with its forces advancing rapidly to seize 36.2 per cent of Cyprus. Ceasefire lines established on August 16 have not since changed. Between them marks the UN-controlled buffer zone.

165,000 Greek Cypriots are displaced from northern Cyprus while 45,000 Turkish Cypriots move north within a year.

Makarios returns from London in December.

In response to the Turkish invasion, the US Congress imposes an embargo on arms sales to Turkey. In retaliation, Turkey closes US bases on its territory, including those that were monitoring the Soviet Union’s arms programme.

Turkish Cypriots declare the “Turkish Federated State of Cyprus” with Denktash as its leader.

Makarios and Denktash reach a first High Level Agreement in February setting the goal of a bi-communal federal republic as a basis for negotiations.

Makarios dies in August and is succeeded by Spyros Kyprianou.

After two years of consultations, President Jimmy Carter’s special envoy for Cyprus, Clark Clifford, submits the first comprehensive plan for a Cyprus settlement on behalf of the US, Canada and Britain. The proposals are based on the Makarios-Denktash agreement.
Kyprianou and Denktash reach a second High Level Agreement in May.


Denktash issues a unilateral declaration of independence (UDI) in November, proclaiming northern Cyprus as the “Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus”. The UN Security Council condemns the move and calls it legally invalid. Only Turkey recognises the breakaway state.
Despite Denktash’s UDI, peace talks resume less than a year later and a ‘Draft Agreement’ is reached to reunite Cyprus as a bi-zonal, bi-communal, non-aligned federation. But in a final January 1985 meeting with Denktash, Kyprianou insists on further negotiations and the process soon collapses.
George Vassiliou is elected president in February and starts negotiations with Denktash under the auspices of the UN Secretary-General Boutros Boutros-Ghali.


Turkish forces and the National Guard de-man positions on the narrowest parts of the buffer zone in Nicosia in an Unficyp-brokered arrangement to reduce tensions.
Cyprus in July applies for membership of the EU (the then EEC).


In August, Boutros-Ghali submits a ‘Set of Ideas’, which constitute a detailed framework for a bizonal, bi-communal federation.
Vassiliou loses presidential elections in February and is replaced by Clerides. His talks with Denktash until mid-1994 focus on a major package of confidence-building measures. They agree to the package in principle but fail to agree on the practical arrangements needed to implement a deal.

Clerides and Greece’s prime minister, Andreas Papandreou, declare a ‘Unified Defence Dogma’. Joint military exercises begin.

The European Council says Cyprus and Malta will be involved in the next phase of EU enlargement.


The EU accepts Cyprus’ application for membership as valid.


In August two Greek Cypriot civilians are killed in separate demonstrations along the UN-controlled buffer zone in the worst violence since 1974.


Clerides orders a S-300 missile air defence system from Russia.

Clerides orders a S-300 missile air defence system from Russia

Boosted by the missile order, Clerides is re-elected president in February. But following Turkish threats of pre-emptive military action, Clerides decides in November not to take delivery of the missiles and re-directs them to Crete.

The European Court of Human Rights, reinforcing its decision in 1996, orders Turkey to pay compensation to a Greek Cypriot refugee, Titina Loizidou, for barring her access to her property in Kyrenia. Turkey fears the landmark ruling – which does not forfeit her rights to the property – will open the floodgates for countless refugees to file lawsuits. In December 2003, Turkey pays Loizidou more than $1m compensation.
Clerides appoints Vassiliou as chief negotiator for EU accession negotiations, which are initiated in April. Turkish Cypriots reject an offer by Clerides that they join the negotiating team.

The European Council decides that Cyprus can join the EU without a settlement of the Cyprus problem. At the same time, it informs Turkey that it can commence accession negotiations if it satisfies the Copenhagen criteria.

Proximity talks begin between Clerides and Denktash. The aim is that Cyprus will be reunited before it joins the EU.

2002 Clerides and Denktash begin UN-sponsored talks in January.

Kofi Annan, the UN secretary general, presents a comprehensive peace plan in November to reunite Cyprus as a bi-zonal, bi-communal federal republic with a single sovereignty.
A December EU summit in Copenhagen invites Cyprus to join the bloc in 2004.

Concerned they could miss out on EU entry, Turkish Cypriots demonstrate in huge numbers in late 2002 and early 2003, demanding that Denktash must either accept the Annan Plan or resign.

Clerides loses the presidential elections in February and is succeeded by Tassos Papadopoulos, who has the backing of Akel.

Annan invites Papadopoulos and Denktash to the Hague in March to ask whether they accept his reunification plan. Papadopoulos says he does but under certain conditions, while Denktash rejects it in its entirety and the talks collapse.

Denktash unexpectedly allows access to ordinary Cypriots across the “green line” for first time in 29 years. Tens of thousands of Greek and Turkish Cypriots cross: there are scenes of high emotion and remarkable goodwill.

Papadopoulos and Denktash agree at a February meeting in New York to a new procedure aimed at putting the Annan Plan to twin referendums before Cyprus joins the EU on May 1.

No and Yes on display in the lead up to the 2004 referendum
No and Yes on display in the lead up to the 2004 referendum

Turkey begins accession negotiations with the EU in October.


The EU partially suspends Ankara’s accession negotiations over Turkey’s refusal to open its ports and airports to traffic from Cyprus, freezing talks on eight of 35 negotiation chapters (policy areas).


Cyprus adopts the euro in January.

Tassos Papadopoulos loses presidential elections in February and is replaced by Demetris Christofias, the Akel leader.

Talks begin between Christofias and Turkish Cypriot leader Mehmet Ali Talat, who succeeded Denktash in April 2005. Talat’s CTP party has close links with Akel. It is the first time that leaders who are ideologically close are negotiating an end to the Cyprus problem.

The crossing on Ledra Street, a symbol of the island’s division, re-opens in April for the first time since 1964.

Encouraged by progress in talks between Christofias and Talat, the UN Secretary-General, Ban Ki-moon, visits Cyprus at the end of January. The two leaders assure him of “their shared commitment to a comprehensive solution as early as possible”.

Talat is ousted in Turkish Cypriot ‘presidential’ elections by Dervis Eroglu, a hardliner.

Cyprus starts exploratory offshore drilling for oil and gas in September. Turkey responds by sending an oil research vessel with a military escort into Cyprus’ exclusive economic zone (EEZ).


President Anastasiades celebrating election victory in 2013
Anastasiades and Eroglu issue a “Joint Declaration” setting the basis for new, UN-facilitated negotiations. It states the goal is to establish a bi-communal, bi-zonal federation with political equality, a single citizenship and a single sovereignty.

Anastasiades suspends reunification talks with Eroglu in October after Turkey sends a research vessel and warships into Cyprus’ EEZ.


Mustafa Akinci wins Turkish Cypriot ‘presidential’ elections on a pro-reunification platform in April, leading to a resumption of Cyprus peace negotiations in May.
Cyprus exits its EU-IMF bailout programme in March. UN-facilitated negotiations to reunify Cyprus intensify and make good progress throughout the year. Anastasiades and Akinci fail to agree on territorial adjustments during November talks in Mont Pelerin, Switzerland. But both commit to continue negotiating.

On Dec 1 Anastasiades and Akinci agree to resume negotiations in Nicosia and to meet in Geneva on January 9. Two days later they are to present maps on their respective proposals for the internal boundaries of a future federation.

January 2017: The historic Geneva Conference on Cyprus on January 12 to discuss security and guarantees, ended without a deal but with a decision to continue discussions at a technical level before re-convening at a political level again.

The call had come out of the blue from Greece’s Foreign Minister Nicos Kotzias who requested a break of 10 days so that a technical group with representatives of the guarantor powers could address the issues relating to security and guarantees.

In its wake, the already wobbly talks broke off in mid-February, when parliament in the south voted to introduce an annual commemoration in public schools of the January 1950 ‘Enosis’ (union with Greece) referendum. An angered Turkish Cypriot leader Mustafa Akinci said he would not resume negotiations until Greek Cypriots took “corrective action”.
Around the same time, Anastasiades, who rejected Akinci’s demand, also drew a new line in the sand – the issue of the four freedoms in Cyprus for Turkish nationals, which was raised publicly by a Turkish government official.

Cut to April, and Ankara issued the first stinging warning on Cyprus’ upcoming hydrocarbons activities. In the same month Turkey reserved parts of the Cyprus Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) for seismic surveys.

On April 2 the two leaders came together for a dinner for the first time since the process stalled in mid-February. They were to subsequently hold four meetings.
In the meantime, one report after another surfaced blaming UN special adviser Espen Barth Eide for siding with the Turkish side – with commentators speculating that this information was being fed to the media directly from Anastasiades’ circles.

All this against a backdrop of whispers that the UN had set July as the cut-off for a breakthrough in the talks. The pressure was on.

In May, Anastasiades unveiled a proposal on discussing security and guarantees first at a new Geneva conference as a means to avoid deadlock. Eide then sprung his manoeuvre, bringing the two leaders together in New York for a meeting with the UN chief Antonio Guterres, on June 4.

There, it was agreed that the Conference on Cyprus would reconvene in Switzerland on June 28 at the political level. Eide would meantime engage with all participants in the preparation of a common document to guide the discussions in Crans-Montana, Switzerland. The document was delivered to the two sides but before the conference even began, issues arose as to its content.

June 2017: Speculation early in June ahead of the proposed June 28 talks, centered on a text prepared by the United Nations that was to set the tone in Crans-Montana for which the Greek Cypriot side submitted to the UN a significant number of comments and suggestions.

Both sides appeared uncompromising even before the conference began. A common document that President Nicos Anastasiades had made a condition to attend was prepared by UN Special Advisor Espen Barth Eide and included what was recorded at the meetings of technocrats, the positions of each side, as well as the proposal of the UN mainly with regard to the discussion of the chapter of security and guarantees.

The UN had to dismiss as “groundless” reports that it was proposing a new treaty of establishment that would abolish the Republic of Cyprus, while Turkey insisted its guarantee could not be abolished. The ‘common document’ was in the end scrapped by the UN the day before the conference.

Still, with hopes high, the conference began, little knowing that this pre-talks hiccup was just the bog-standard for what was to come over the next ten days and the gigantic failure that lay ahead on the night of July 6, 2017 at the now infamous ‘last supper’ which ended in the early hours of July 7 with UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres calling it a day during a 3.5-minute news conference at the Swiss resort.

After ten days in Crans-Montana and around 15 hours of non-stop negotiations on ‘Day 9’  involving bilateral, trilateral and group meetings in the presence Guterres, the Conference on Cyprus ended when the tired and downcast UN chief finally called a halt at 2am Swiss time after a four-hour dinner that was marred by yelling and drama. The talks had broken down on the issue of security and guarantees despite the high-level attendance by not only the UN but the guarantor powers Turkey, Greece and Britain, plus the participation during the last day of the EU’s High Representative for Security, Federica Mogherini. Guterres in his brief words said the sides needed time to reflect, signalling the end of any process for the foreseeable future.

The day after the talks ended, Cavusoglu said the failure showed the impossibility of reaching a settlement within the parameters of the UN’s Good Offices Mission and there was “No use in insisting on them”.

At home, man opposition Akel and Diko both criticised the president, the former saying he seemed to have failed to capitalise on the opportunities in Switzerland, while the latter said Anastasiades had made a “huge mistake” by revealing the Greek Cypriot side’s hand and allowing Turkey to gain everything while conceding nothing.

A week later, Anastasiades criticised Eide for lack of preparation and said the envoy, although acting in good faith was “living in an illusion that almost everything was solved”, and was not clearly conveying the messages being received from Ankara.

Two days later, Eide sent a stern message to all sides to quit the blame game, saying Crans-Montana had been a collective failure. “There’s more than enough of that going around, it seems that everybody has the view that everybody but themselves did everything wrong and they were the only one doing it right,” Eide said.

Eide’s view was subsequently reflected in Guterres’ report on September 30, 2017 where he said that despite a positive mood and constructive statements made during the opening day of the Cyprus Conference, real progress quickly became hampered by the reluctance of parties at one table to make compromises unless demonstrated progress had been made at the other table, and vice versa.

He said the potential of the agreed upon engagement and the high level of support available in Crans-Montana “was not always utilised to the fullest and, on several occasions, was hampered by internally created delays and other challenges”.

“Upon closing the Conference on Cyprus, I encouraged the sides to reflect on the way forward. Even if all the core enablers are in place, as they appeared to be in Crans-Montana in late June, I am convinced that the prospects of finally pushing this process ‘over the finishing line’ will remain elusive without the strongest of political will, courage and determination, mutual trust and a readiness on the part of all parties to take calculated risks in the last and most difficult mile of the negotiations,” Guterres concluded.


One of the most interesting aspects of 2018 was watching the creeping u-turns made by President Nicos Anastasiades on the Cyprus issue over the 12-month period but more so in the second half of the year.

When Anastasiades was re-elected in February, the Cyprob was on ice in the wake of the Crans-Montana failure in 2017, but there was no whiff during the presidential election campaign of what might have been going on behind the scenes.

Post-election analysis appeared to show that voters wanted continuity and entrusted Anastasiades for the second time to carry on Cyprus talks on the agreed basis of a bizonal bicommunal federation.

The president spent the best part of the first six months of the year engaging in doublespeak and confusing the issue over who said what to whom in Switzerland, and obfuscating on timelines until the whole issue faded back into oblivion for another while, despite his obvious disingenuity that was contradicted by UN accounts.

Nevertheless, the UN managed to cajole the leaders back… to the dinner table at least… on April 16 which aimed at seeing how Cyprus talks could be resumed. Afterwards, Akinci said there had been no change in the stance of either side since Crans-Montana. He said  the days of talking, debating and going endlessly around in circles had ended. Akinci’s comments echoed those of Anastasiades when he returned to the presidential palace after the dinner saying the positions of both sides were still the same. Both leaders said however that they would not object to the appointment of a UN envoy to see how they could move forward.

Enter UN envoy Jane Holl Lute, who came to the island in July and there was no longer any excuse to carry on as if the talks would be in the deep freeze indefinitely on the grounds of the fall-back ‘Turkish intransigence’ as true as that might be for the most part.  Lute’s mandate was to help the leaders come up with “terms of reference” for new talks.

The UN wanted to know if there were prospects and Lute was sent to find out.

Before she filed her assessment at HQ, the two leaders met separately with UN chief Antonio Guterres in September in New York prior to his October report on Cyprus where he reached the conclusion that prospects remained alive.

The report appeared to nudge the leaders into a meeting on October 26 where they agreed to open two new crossings in November at Dherynia and Lefka, which happened on November 12.

After that, Anastasiades suddenly started talking of a ‘decentralised’ or ‘loose’ federation but seemed to be unable to say exactly what that meant. Despite this, he was insisting he wanted the talks to go ahead where they left off although there was mounting pressure on him to come clean and be honest with people on what he was really seeking.

He did address the nation in mid-November saying that he had pitched his proposal of a decentralised federation to address the concerns of both communities and push for a functional and viable solution to the Cyprus problem.


With zero progress on the resumption of talks, the first half of 2019 was marked by infighting and an ongoing feud between Anastasiades and opposition Akel, which continuously accused the president of not wanting a solution. An added concern for the Greek Cypriot side was the worry that due to a new US policy, there was a danger of Unficyp being withdrawn given the lack of political movement. The government had to lobby quite hard before the UN Security Council extended the mandate of the peacekeeping force for another six months at the end of January.

Any prospect for a resumption of talks before June was also put on ice early in the year due to the European elections slated for the end of May, and elections in Turkey.

President Nicos Anastasiades and Turkish Cypriot leader Mustafa Akinci met at the residence of UN Special Representative Elizabeth Spehar on February 26 to discuss the terms of reference but nothing substantial came from the meeting other than a feeble attempt to make it look like they were achieving something. They managed to dig up a confidence-building measure they agreed in 2015 but never implemented related to linking mobile telephony across the divide. Other than that it was clear both sides were sticking to their entrenched positions as regards security and guarantees, and in relation to hydrocarbons.

A couple of weeks prior to the meeting, Anastasiades had tried to explain away an issue that had dogged him since Crans-Montana that involved some obfuscation over whether the Guterres framework for a resumption of talks was based on a June 30 document submitted by the UN chief or as the president claimed, a mysterious ‘document’ allegedly submitted by Guterres on July 4, which Anastasiades’ detractors say did not exist, and which became a running joke.

During an event in Nicosia on February 13, Anastasiades explained away the document and downgraded it to ‘minutes’. “There is no document for the 4th of July but there are clarifications on the ambiguities or the omissions the informal document Eide gave us contained.” He added that there were “definitely minutes” kept. However the minutes have yet to show up even though he has asked Jane Holl Lute to look for them.

The rhetoric between the leaders also worsened in April just two days after a visit by Lute.

This was just prior to the latest Good Offices Mission report by the UN Secretary-General, which clearly noted the negative situation. “During the reporting period, public debate on substantive issues related to the negotiations and on the ongoing consultations took place, shaped to a large degree by the duelling narratives of official statements from the two sides.

As a result, the debate did not improve the climate surrounding the political process, capitalise on the continued desire in both communities for a settlement, or counter the apprehension regarding the implications of a prolonged status quo,” Antonio Guterres noted. In May the UN Security Council underlined the “urgent need for a settlement in Cyprus” after being briefed by Secretary-General Antonio Guterres on his latest report.

Since then, most of the back and forth has focused on Turkish activities in Cyprus’ exclusive economic zone (EEZ) where Ankara sent its drillship in May to a non-licensed maritime area off the west coast of the island. Cyprus managed to secure the public support of the EU and US  in backing its sovereignty within the EEZ. Anastasiades has insisted talks cannot go head as long as Turkey continues its activities.  On the Turkish Cypriot side, a new element regarding the possible lifting of the decades-old US arms embargo on Cyprus prompted Akinci in June to state that it would hamper any peace process if the US Congress lifted the embargo.

2020 till April 2021

The road to Geneva – by Jean Christou

With the Covid-19 pandemic as a backdrop, the Cyprus issue in 2020 was characterised by an interlocking set of relations between multiple conflicting parties that finally cleared a rocky path towards an informal meeting in Geneva from April 27 to 29, 2021.

It took four years since the failure at Crans-Montana to get there, that is everyone sitting in the same room.

Throughout 2020, apart from the major events involving the closing of the crossing points, the election of a new Turkish Cypriot leader and moves to open the closed-off town of Varosha in Famagusta, the stars had to align again between Turkey and Greece, Turkey and the EU, Turkey and the north, Cyprus and Greece, Cyprus, Greece and the EU, and the two Cypriot communities themselves.

The UN mainly sat on the sidelines waiting for everyone else to make up their minds, and when the Secretary-General thought the time might be right, In February 2021, finally called the meeting in Geneva. Naturally that was not without its hiccups either especially when Antonio Guterres suggested at one point that the UN was open to hearing alternative visions for the future of Cyprus if the same vision was shared by the parties involved.

president anastasiades with antonio guterres and former turkish cypriot leader mustafa akinci
President Anastasiades with Antonio Guterres and former Turkish Cypriot leader Mustafa Akinci

Guterres’ statement was an allusion to a move away from the long-standing agreed basis for talks of a bizonal, bicommunal federation (BBF). President Nicos Anastasiades on several occasions talked about a loose federation since Crans-Montana in 2017 and Turkey has consistently said he brought up the possibility of a two-state solution even then but he denies this, although opposition Akel has called him out on it a number of times since.

The president’s dilemma going forward was resolved when Turkey and the new Turkish Cypriot leader Ersin Tatar began insisting the only way ahead was a two-state solution. Off the hook, Anastasiades reverted to the BBF and the blame game was pre-set. Because the EU will not hear of a two-state solution, Ankara was lined up to take the fall for any new failure if it kept insisting on its position.  But some agree it might be a tactic to start from such an extreme position as it leaves room to walk back if necessary.

turkish drilling issues took up the first part of the year
Turkish drilling took up the first part of the year

But let’s rewind to the first half of 2020 when the Cyprus issue was taken up entirely by Turkey’s illegal drilling in the island’s exclusive economic zone.  By June tensions were high, not only because of Turkey and Cyprus. Ankara was also poking at Greece. France’ Emmanuel Macron also dipped his toes in the Med waters to support Athens and Nicosia, causing a headache for the EU, which prefers to view Turkey as its entirely redeemable wayward child. Like any spoiled offspring, Ankara could have a tantrum at any moment but instead of just stomping its feet it could easily flood Europe with millions of refugees.

In a move that had nothing much to to with Cyprus and everything to do with Brussels not wanting to see Turkey and its sibling Greece going at it, Mommy Germany did its best to bring them together. Cyprus, for all it’s hobnobbing with Big Brother Macron, was not a factor for the EU and ultimately all Ankara got was a finger-wagging in June and threat of punishment if it did not behave into the second half of the year when a new family meeting was scheduled.

In the meantime low-key talks opened up between Athens and Ankara to resolve their differences. Turkey pulled out its drillships from disputed areas and Cyprus’ hopes of sanctions against Ankara fell by the wayside even though Turkey and the Turkish Cypriot side continued their provocations in the north of the island by making a big show about opening Varosha in the latter half of the summer. Brussels could not care less.

In September, Cyprus found a new way to stick it to the EU and threatened to veto sanctions on Belarus if none were imposed on Turkey at an upcoming council meeting, causing a near-crisis in the corridors of power.

At a foreign ministers’ meeting ahead of the council summit  all the countries – including Greece and France that were supposedly close to Nicosia – backed sanctions on Belarus, with Cyprus the only country holding out. And although Cyprus did not cast a veto on the Belarus sanctions per se, its stance telegraphed exactly that.

But Nicosia’s brinkmanship tactics backfired. The EU’s foreign policy chief, Josep Borrell, evidently taking a dig at Cyprus, said later that the bloc’s failure to act fast on Belarus hurt the EU’s credibility. Reuters cited an unnamed Cypriot diplomat as saying: “I’m afraid that, as things stand right now, we will have to insist on Belarus. It’s the only weapon that we have. The Turks are playing a clever game. Being more engaging towards Greece, they are trying to drive a wedge between the other members and us. We seem to have been left by the wayside.”

Indeed, the summit did not sanction Turkey and the Belarus action went ahead. EU diplomats had warned the best Cyprus could hope for from the summit would be a promise for tough sanctions on Turkey “in the future”. And thus, the can was kicked down the road one more time and Nicosia had no choice but to say it was  yet again “satisfied” with the outcome.

Just a couple of weeks later the government pulled off a thrilling coup of one-upmanship when then a dutifully-masked US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo arrived at the door of the presidential palace on a dark Saturday night two hours late, seriously upsetting the Turkish Cypriot side which had been offered a mere phone call with The Donald’s sidekick.

They need not have worried, there were “no major developments in the Cyprus issue” because Pompeo’s visit had much more to do with trying to wrest Cyprus from Moscow’s grasp and muscling in on the region’s energy plans.  Pompeo was briefed on Varosha, the president said but didn’t specify whether he had to pull out a map to help in that respect.

The next hurdle for the Cyprus issue came with the (delayed) election in October of new leadership in the north, ousting Mustafa Akinci, the most BBF friendly Turkish Cypriot leader in a decade. Akinci, who felt betrayed by Anastasiades, no doubt repeatedly since 2015, had offended Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan one time too many. In that sense, there are worse things than being ousted, but it was not a promising development for the Cyprus issue unless somehow both sides want a two-state solution, one openly and one secretly.

tatar 960x558
Ersin Tatar

Two-State Tatar did not waste any time and went full-steam ahead with plans to open Varosha, creating a new front for the Cyprus government to fight. Other than a few platitudes from the UN and EU and a repetition of UN resolutions on the issue, the message seemed to be “solving the Cyprus issue will solve the Varosha problem”.

Although true, these are weasel words because based on actual history and experience, both the EU and the UN know that the pace of resolving the Cyprus issue is not conducive to saving Varosha from resettlement, and that Turkey listens to no one. Meanwhile, Tatar milked it for all it was worth, being interviewed in an armchair in the middle of a street among the abandoned and ruined buildings belonging to Greek Cypriots. Not a good look for reconciliation.

the leaders met on november 3
The two leaders met on November 3

The two leaders did deign to meet in November 2020. They went in with opposing opinions and came out the same way. They did agree to one thing, that both would be open to “exploring the possibility to convene an informal five-plus-United Nations meeting, in a conducive climate, at an appropriate stage”.

Four months later, Guterres called the Geneva meeting. The intervening period consisted of the usual back and forth between the two sides and the Secretary-General’s special envoy Jane Holl Lute paid a few visits, most recently April. But Lute, the Great Silent One, never gives the game way though some reports, possibly based on the use of body-language experts, suggest she did not have high hopes for Geneva. So business as usual then.

president nicos anastasiades at the last eu summit with greece's kyriakos mitsotakis
President Anastasiades at the last EU summit with Greece’s Prime Minister Kyriacos Mitsotakis

But wait, there was still some excitement to come in early 2021 with a new EU summit slated in March and the hype was ramped up to the nth degree. It was another chance to put Ankara in its place.

In his intervention at the Council meeting that was determined to focus on the EU’s “positive agenda”  with Turkey, Anastasiades quite rightly stressed that Ankara’s de-escalation of its illegal activities in Cyprus’ EEZ should have consistency and continuity but no one can guarantee that, not even the almighty EU or even the Almighty himself.

The aim this time was to have the EU summit conclusions reflect the link between the bloc’s relations with Turkey and developments on the Cyprus issue, which the foreign minister Nikos Christodoulides tried to tell everyone it was a “mission accomplished”.

In its conclusions, the bloc agreed to make good on a 2016 promise to deepen trade ties with Turkey, but also warned Ankara to expect sanctions if it restarted exploration over disputed hydrocarbons in the eastern Mediterranean.

“We call on Turkey to abstain from renewed provocations or unilateral actions in breach of international law,” EU leaders said in a statement following a discussion by video conference, saying they would review progress in June. Can, road, kick, again.

Clearly EU leaders were hedging their bets that the Geneva conference would kickstart a new peace process and remove the Cyprus issue from their working agenda for  a while at least.


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