Cyprus talks falter over divisive celebration

Turkish Cypriots fear the marking of "Enosis Day" celebrates the ethnic cleansing of Turks from Cyprus.

Photo by: Getty Images
Photo by: Getty Images

The ceasefire line that separates the Turkish Cypriot-controlled northern and Greek Cypriot-controlled southern sides of the island in the shared capital Nicosia. Nicosia is the only divided capital city in Europe.

UN-backed peace talks between the Turkish Cypriot and Greek Cypriot leaders broke up in acrimony on Thursday over a recent decision by Greek Cypriots to mark in schools the anniversary of a 1950 referendum that called for the annexation of Cyprus to Greece.

Greek Cypriots refer to the date as "Enosis Day." Many Turkish Cypriots consider it to be a celebration of the day that represents their ethnic cleansing from the eastern Mediterranean island.

They also see it as an impediment to ongoing peace talks to end over four decades of division in Cyprus.

Turkish Cypriot President Mustafa Akinci said that in a meeting with his Greek Cypriot counterpart Nicos Anastasiades, he had brought up the issue of cancelling the decision to mark the day, to which he said Anastasiades responded "I have nothing to say," and walked out of the meeting.

"At that point there was nothing more to do as this meeting needs to be conducted in an atmosphere of respect so we also left the meeting," Akinci added.

History of the referendum

​Anastasiades reportedly said that marking "Enosis Day" was "merely an historical reference" and in no way intended to sabotage the reunification talks.

Akinci later said his Greek Cypriot counterpart was free to return to the negotiating table.

In the 1950 referendum, 96 percent of Greek Cypriots voted for the island to be annexed to Greece. At the time the island was a British crown colony.

Despite gaining its independence in 1960 with the establishment of a joint government of Turkish Cypriots and Greek Cypriots, Turkish Cypriots boycotted the government in 1963, after Greek Cypriot parliamentarians failed to uphold rights handed to them in the constitution.

Greek Cypriot leader Nicos Anastasiades (L), UN envoy to Cyprus Espen Baarth Eide (C) and Turkish Cypriot leader Mustafa Akinci have been leading the peace process since it resumed in May 2015.

Division of Cyprus

Cyprus was divided in 1974, when a coup led by a Greek junta attempting to annex the island to Greece forced Turkey, one of three guarantor states as outlined by an international treaty, to militarily intervene.

Turkish forces created a safe haven for Turkish Cypriots in the north of the island, where in 1983 they declared the independence of the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus (TRNC). Yet, the breakaway state failed to gain international recognition.

Prior to the island’s accession to the European Union in 2004, Turkish Cypriots voted to reunify the island according to principles laid out by then-UN Secretary General Kofi Annan, but the Greek Cypriot side rejected the plan.

Despite this, the internationally recognised Republic of Cyprus, administered by Greek Cypriots in the south of the island, was granted EU membership as the sole representative authority of the whole island.