On March 18, Turkish Cypriot President Mehmet Ali Talat and Greek Cypriot President Demetris Christofias agreed to resume talks on reunifying the Mediterranean island of Cyprus. The deal was struck at a meeting between in Nicosia—the first such high-profile talks since 2006. The two leaders also agreed to reopen a key crossing in the divided capital.
“This is a new era we are starting for the solution of the Cyprus problem,” The Turkish Cypriot President said after the meeting, which took place at Ledra Palace located in the UN buffer zone in divided capital of Nicosia. “We shall try our utmost in order to come to an agreed solution for the interest of the Cypriot people, both communities, as soon as possible,” Mr Christofias said. In a joint statement read out by the UN representative to Cyprus, Michael Moller, the two leaders said they agreed that advisers from both sides would meet “this week to set up groups to work out detailed agendas for the peace talks.”
Mr Christofias and Mr Talat said they would meet in three months’ time to “review the work of the working groups and technical committees and using their results to start fully fledged negotiations.” The talks would be held under the UN auspices, the statement added. Mr Talat said that the Nicosia talks “didn't mention anything about the basis or the parameters of the [Cyprus] solution.”
In a show of goodwill, the Cypriot leaders agreed to reopen a landmark street that runs across divided Nicosia to kick start the peace drive, according to the joint statement. The Ledra Street crossing in the centre of Nicosia, “will as soon as technically possible open and function in accordance with the established practices at other crossings," Mr Moller said. The said crossing opens on March 31.
Turkish and Greek Cypriots have been living separately since early 1960s when the Greek Cypriot leaders usurped power unilaterally, throwing their Turkish Cypriots counterparts out of the government of the partnership state of Cyprus created after the end of British colonialism in the island in 1960. The division further sharpened in 1974, when Turkey undertook a peace operation in Cyprus under the Treaty of Guarantees after a coup by Greek Cypriots who wanted union with Greece.
The principal problem since the breakup of the Cyprus republic has been that the international community recognizes only the Greek Cypriot side as the legitimate government of the whole of island. This unfair policy, grounded in a March 1964 resolution of the UN Security Council, has become more unfair due to European Union’s decision to grant membership to the Greek Cypriot side in 2004.
The Turkish Cypriots have remained out of the EU since then, despite the fact that they had voted for the Peace Plan for Cyprus offered by the former UN Secretary General Kofi Annan. In the said referendum, the Greek Cypriots had voted no. Despite this, they were granted membership of the EU. Consequently, the fate of the Turkish Cypriots remains the same as it has been for the past over four decades.
The emergence of Mehmet Ali Talat on the horizon of Turkish Cypriot politics in the past four years has been a good omen. A liberal politician, Talat became the prime minister of the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus in 2003 and then was elected its President next year. During his presidency, he has struggled hard to realize peace in the island but has been recurrently disappointed by the Greek Cypriot leadership, especially by his former Greek Cypriot counterpart, the nationalist-conservative Tasos Papadopolous.
Greek Cypriot President Christofias, who recently defeated Papadopolous in the presidential elections on the Greek side, has a socialist-liberal background like Mr Talat. No surprise that soon after Mr Christofias’s accession to Greek Cypriot Presidency, a glimmer of hope has risen on the political horizon of Cyprus.
This augurs well for the Turkish Cypriots, who have suffered so much and so long that they really deserve to benefit from the fruits of peace. A just and fair reunification of the island, with a little modification of the Annan Plan, will benefit all the people of Cyprus. The Turkish Cypriot future, just as that of Turkey, lies in the European Union. For now, we can hope that the two Cypriot leaders will succeed in overcoming all the daunting challenges that come their way insofar as the realization of a mutually acceptable and long lasting political settlement in Cyprus is concerned.
Access column at weeklypulse.org