Cyprus Mail
CM Regular Columnist Opinion

The Cyprus problem is one of invasion and occupation. So what?

Comment Panayiotides, Web The Fall Of The Belin Wall In 1989
The Fall Of The Berlin Wall In 1989

By Christos P Panayiotides

We often hear the small opposition parties advocating that the Cyprus problem should be refocussed as one of invasion and occupation. This advice is directly linked to their assessment that this would lead to the resolution of the Cyprus problem in a manner to satisfy Greek Cypriot aspirations. This position suggests naivety or an intention to mislead the public.

You have the right to ask me to justify such an aphoristic condemnation of the small opposition parties which proclaim such views. My position is based on undeniable historical facts. In the last 100 years, since the end of WWI, the political map of the world has undergone extensive changes, most of which have come about by the force of arms and were the result of an invasion and an (purportedly temporary) occupation of land by another state.

As good as your knowledge of history may be, I consider it likely that you will be surprised by the numerous border adjustments in Europe in the last century. Both before and after the United Nations was established in 1945, redrawing national frontiers was a common phenomenon which naturally followed a war. The beneficiaries were of course the winners of the war. Similar extensive national border changes were observed in the remaining continents.

Thus, on November 11, 1918, at the end of WWI, the defeated powers (Germany, Austria-Hungary, Russia and the Ottoman Empire) were forced to agree to the reinstatement of Poland.  A week later, neighbouring Latvia declared its independence following the earlier examples of Lithuania and Estonia.

In the Balkans, a new state was created, the Kingdom of Serbia, Croatia and Slovenia, which in 1929 was renamed as Yugoslavia. Romania doubled its size by absorbing Transylvania and on January 10, 1920, with the implementation of the Treaty of Versailles, all German colonies were placed under the guardianship of the League of Nations (the precursor of the United Nations), Alsace and Lorraine were ceded to France, the regions of Eupen, Montjoie and Malmedy were ceded to Belgium, the region of Memel to Lithuania, the region of Hultschin to Czechoslovakia and a host of other border adjustments were swiftly made. Some believe that the Treaty of Versailles was so harsh against the losers that it paved the road for WWII.

The Balkan Wars followed, which resulted in sizeable former Bulgarian territories being taken over by Greece while the Treaty of Sevres provided for Eastern Thrace and the Anatolia region (in Asia Minor) to be ceded to Greece, although the treaty was never ratified. Poland grabbed a piece of Lithuania (in 1920) while the Polish borders were extended eastwards, occupying part of Belarus and the Ukraine (in 1921).

In 1922, the establishment of the Soviet Union was brought about, comprising Russia, the Ukraine, Belarus, Armenia, Azerbaijan and Georgia.

The years 1922 and 1923 saw the dissolution of the Ottoman Empire and the creation of the Turkish Republic which repossessed Eastern Thrace, Anatolia and parts of Georgia and Armenia. In 1923, the Treaty of Lausanne replaced the unratified Treaty of Sevres of 1920 and confirmed the repossession of Eastern Thrace and Anatolia.

In 1922, the Irish Free State was established by ceding from the United Kingdom, which 15 years later was renamed as the Republic of Ireland.

In 1933, the early signs of WWII were already visible. Austria (despite the explicit prohibition of Article 80 of the Treaty of Versailles), the Czech Republic and Slovakia were gradually incorporated into Germany. In 1939, Germany and Russia invaded Poland, through both its west and its east frontiers, while Russia also invaded the Baltic States.

These moves marked the beginning of WWII, at the end of which Germany lost much of its pre-war territory. Germany was divided into four regions “under the custody” of Britain, France, the US and Russia. A similar arrangement was made in respect of Austria.

In 1949, two separate German states (West Germany and East Germany) were set up. In 1955 (10 years after the end of the war), Austria became an independent country and the occupation by the Allied Forces came to an end.

In the ensuing 30 years there have been no substantial border changes in Europe, except in the case of Cyprus. Three years after the declaration of the independence of Cyprus in 1960, the so called “intercommunal strife” (which reached its climax in 1974 when Turkey invaded Cyprus) resulted in Cyprus being divided by force into a northern, self-governing part, inhabited almost exclusively by Turkish Cypriots and Turkish settlers and a southern part ruled and inhabited mainly by Greek Cypriots. To date, repeated efforts have failed to resolve this problem.

In 1989, the Berlin Wall fell and in 1990 Germany was reunited. In 1990, the three Baltic States declared their independence from the Soviet Union while, in the following year, the Soviet Union was completely dissolved into 15 new, independent states.

In 1991, came the dissolution of Yugoslavia with the creation of Croatia, Slovenia, North Macedonia, Bosnia (in 1992) and Serbia and Montenegro (in 2003). In 2008, Kosovo declared its independence, which has been recognised by certain countries but not by other countries. In 1992, Abkhazia and South Ossetia declared themselves independent of Georgia, with the support of Russia but without wider recognition. In 1993, Czechoslovakia split into Czechia and Slovakia. The last border adjustment in Europe was in 2014 with the annexation of Ukrainian Crimea by Russia.

Unfortunately, under these circumstances the strength of the argument that northern Cyprus is under the control of a foreign power, as a result of an invasion and occupation which took place 46 years ago is very limited and so is its international impact. If you have not been convinced that this conclusion is correct, I would beg you to read this article again, from the beginning. If you have been convinced, you may wish to consider the possibility of taking another approach in seeking to resolve the problem. The truth is invariably painful.

Christos Panayiotides is a regular columnist for the Cyprus Mail, Sunday Mail and Alithia

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