In his 1918 essay, Max Weber defined a state as “a human community that successfully claims the monopoly of the legitimate use of physical force within a given territory”.. There is a state in the Eastern Mediterranean that has struggled for the past 46 years with exercising monopolistic political control and territory that, in the eyes of many, legitimately belongs to it. This state is the Republic of Cyprus, which has lost control of 36% of its rightful territory. Since 1974, the northern part of the country has been under Turkish occupation and administration as a disputed satellite state.
The Cyprus dispute is incontestably a tough nut to crack for anyone working in international affairs. Ingredients such as the British imperialism and their violent response to anti-colonial struggle, ethnic disputes between Greek and Turkish Cypriots, diplomatic “tragedies” unfolding on stages such as the UN and the EU have forced Cyprus to stand at the epicenter of international crisis for decades. First under Ottoman occupation and then as a British colonial claim after the 20th century, the island of Cyprus constituted a common space where the Greek and the Turkish Cypriot communities would co-exist and flourish. They would also form a fiery combination, raising questions about their ethnical identity and specifically the existence or not of a Cypriot nationality and their relations with their “patrons”, Greece and Turkey respectively.
The 1950s coincided with the Cyprus Emergency, a struggle against Britain’s colonial control. Britain’s attempt to factionalize resistance, together with different views on the future of Cyprus – union with Greece for the Greeks and partition of the island for the Turkish – led to clashes between the two ethical bodies. Cyprus independence came in 1960, but intercommunal violence soon hindered political stability. Armageddon took place in the summer of 1974. A coup led by Greek junta government gave a justification to Turkish troops to invade and occupy half of the island supposedly to protect Turkish Cypriots and to preserve the independence of the country. Since then, whenever someone refers to Cyprus’ monopoly of control, they will inevitably use the phrases “de jure” and “de facto”. The Republic of Cyprus “de jure” , legitimately, administers the entirety of the island but “de facto” ,in reality, a bit less than four tenths are under indirect control of the Turkish via their puppet state, the “Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus”.
The political situation of Cyprus has had moments of violence and expressions of hatred among the two communities alternating with diplomatic discussion and negotiation aiming at a sustainable solution. Nevertheless, October 2020 seems to mark the beginning of another escalation of the conflict, as the Turkish Cypriot administration announced the opening of Varosha: a city that Turkish troops occupied in August 1974, forcing Greek citizens to flee and fencing it off. Varosha, once one of the most lively and cosmopolitan resort towns of Europe, became a ghost town - a reminder of the atrocities of war and the pain of Cypriot refugees. The United Nations tried to clarify its disputed status through a 1984 resolution asking Turkish Cypriots to hand over control, but this was never effectively enforced. As a result, taking advantage of the inaction of international institutions and aiming at boosting Turkish nationalism to gain a political benefit, the Northern Cypriot and the Turkish government did not hesitate to infringe international law by opening up the beach of this locked and forgotten city.
This recent event could spark constructive discussion of the Cyprus dispute, which should undoubtedly begin by defining the problem, as a way to understand its dynamism and extensions and form a single but universal narrative.
Among the key actors of the international community, there are still difficulties in identifying the abusers and the victims to translate and simplify Turkey’s actions into illegal invasion, settlement and occupation of a territory which belongs to a free, independent and sovereign modern state. Cyprus is the epitome of a country hit by the scourge of war, counting 250,000 refugees and thousands of casualties and also having experienced one of the most blatant violations of international law. Certainly, it is essential to reflect on the problem within the international framework. The Cyprus dispute exemplifies the disastrous effect of colonialism on the political hypostasis of a nation. The end of British rule was accompanied by political instability in the form of fragmentation and polarization of the society, collapse of societal norms and traditional institutions of administration. Furthermore, it also saw continuous dependence on the colonial power, establishing the newborn’s position in the international order and balance of power. Paralyzed responses to escalation of conflict and recurrently failed attempts to resolve the problem can also raise questions on the effectiveness of international organizations to address issues that involve a clash in the interests of their members. How would the UN or NATO take effective action when this would lead to enraging Turkey, a member with enormous geopolitical importance? Throughout the last decades, Cyprus has become a victim of its limited size and share of power, being unable to find leverage to assert its rights. The international geopolitical context has not been favourable, either. The USA turned a blind eye to Turkey in the 1970s, in order to exploit it as a trustworthy partner during the Cold War.
The heart of every Cypriot citizen, both Greek and Turkish, impacted by violent war, sudden displacement and the ongoing division of the country, aches. Dreams for a unified and stable homeland should become the foundations of a viable solution to the Cyprus dispute, a solution that would simultaneously act as an ode to peace – ειρήνη – barış.
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BBC, 2020, Varosha: Turkey reopens deserted Cyprus resort but tourists will wait. [online] Available at: <https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-europe-54465684> [Accessed 13 October 2020].
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