Athens has long harboured ambitions to make Cyprus part of the Greek territory like Crete and other islands in the Aegean Sea, causing obstacles to resolving old territorial issues with Ankara, according to experts.
After the Turkish military intervention in 1974 prevented Greece's takeover of Cyprus through a military coup, the Mediterranean island’s Turkish and Greek populations have been divided, ruling their own territories.
In the past four decades, despite the fact that both Turkish and Greek Cypriots engaged in several negotiations, the two sides could not find a common ground to resolve the dispute.
Greece has often resorted to mudslinging and blaming Türkiye for complicating the Cyprus issue. But at a closer look, regional experts see Athens as the main culprit.
Ismail Bozkurt, who was the president of Turkish Cypriot community’s assembly between 1973 and 1975, a crucial period for the disputed island’s history, believes that Greece and Greek Cypriots are keeping the conflict unresolved and working in tandem to put political pressure over Türkiye and Turkish Cypriots.
“Even though they know that Türkiye and Turkish Cypriots will not give in to Greek and Greek Cypriot pressure, they continue to do so hoping to rally world public opinion behind their political maneuvering,” Bozkurt tells TRT World.
Another obstacle is how Greek leaders misrepresent both the Aegean Islands issue and the Cyprus conflict when they interact with global powers like the US. “They want to create an anti-Turkish perception in the Western world using the Cyprus dispute and Aegean Islands tensions,” Bozkurt says.
“As long as the Cyprus issue remains unresolved, EU member countries, Greece and the Greek Cypriot administration exploit the issue against Türkiye,” says Mustafa Lakadamyali, Turkish Cypriot Ambassador, representing the Turkish Republic of North Cyprus (TRNC) in Washington, DC.
After the failure to address the Cyprus issue following Türkiye’s 1974 military intervention, Turkish Cypriots in the north declared their own state, TRNC, in 1983, recognised only by Ankara. The Greek Cypriot Administration (GCA) is another political entity in the south led by Greek Cypriots.
Since then, the disagreement between Western states, primarily Greece, which have opposed Turkish intervention and military presence in the island, and Türkiye, which firmly defends its presence in the island to protect Turkish Cypriots against Greek aggression, has created a deadlock known as the Cyprus Issue.
“The Greek Cypriot side aims to impose its terms of solution by garnering support from the EU member countries. Greece also uses the issue as a means to exert pressure on Türkiye,” Lakadamyali tells TRT World.
Why Greeks keep the issue locked
The Greek side also prefers the current status-quo, which is to keep the issue unresolved. While Greek Cypriots and Greece claim that they still support bi-zonal bi-communal union model, also called the Republic of Cyprus established in 1960 under the guarantorship of Ankara, Athens and London, they still harbour the old policy of marginalising the Turkish Cypriots and snatching away their rights, according to Lakadamyali.
“The Greek Cypriots are comfortable with the current status quo on the island. The current status quo provides international recognition to the Greek Cypriots who exploit this unlawful and unjust status against the Turkish Cypriots,” says Lakadamyali.
Therefore, the Greek Cypriots prefer the status quo for a comprehensive settlement where they would no longer be able to represent and pretend to act on behalf of the whole of the island, according to Lakadamyali.
This Greek political agenda has long been the primary reason for why negotiations between Turkish and Greek Cypriots failed from time to time. Most recently, in 2017, in Crans-Montana, Switzerland, Cyprus negotiations failed due to the lack of political will on the Greek Cypriot leadership, Lakadamyali notes.
“All efforts to resolve the Cyprus issue on the basis of bi-zonal bi-communal federation has failed over the 50-year-long negotiations, because of the reluctance of the Greek Cypriot side to share power and wealth of the island with the Turkish Cypriots,” says the Turkish Cypriot diplomat.
Greece’s and Greek Cypriots’ concerted efforts to block a comprehensive deal has also increased calls for the two-state solution in both Lefkosa (Nicosia) and Ankara.
As a result, in April 2021, the Turkish Cypriot side proposed the two-state solution in Cyprus during the informal Cyprus conference in Geneva, where the island’s two sides, the guarantor countries and the UN were present, according to Lakadamyali.
Toward the two-state solution?
After decades-long failure of Cyprus talks, both Turkish Cypriots and Türkiye ran out of patience in the face of Greece’s and Greek Cypriots’ uncompromising political nature. But also, regional tensions between Türkiye and Greece from the Aegean Islands to Eastern Mediterranean make the dispute more complicated.
“The Cyprus conflict has its own idiosyncratic parameters and complications to solve the conflict. On the one hand, it is also very related to the general Greek-Turkish tensions and balance of power in the Eastern Mediterranean and the Aegean Sea,” says Zeliha Khashman, a professor of international relations at Near Eastern University in the TRNC.
Both Greece and the Greek Cypriot administration in southern Cyprus have excessive maritime claims both in the Aegean Sea and Mediterranean Sea. “Unilateral activities in the region in total disregard of the rights of Türkiye and TRNC evidently raise tensions,” says Lakadamyali, who called Athens and their Cypriot ally “to stop unlawful unilateral actions” in the region.
Under escalating tensions, Türkiye and Turkish Cypriots now increasingly believe that the two-state solution could be the only path to address the long-running dispute.
“The two-state solution is now well settled in Ankara,” says Bozkurt, the prominent Turkish Cypriot politician. Bozkurt also draws attention to the fact that recent parliamentary and presidential elections in the TRNC favoured political parties that advocate the two-state solution.
“When you look at recent election results, It is understood that this new policy has also been adopted in the Turkish Cypriot community,” says Bozkurt. “I don't think after this point there could be any return to the one-state solution. I also believe there should be no return to it,” Bozkurt adds, referring to the Turkish Cypriots’ new two-state solution position.
Bozkurt, who was also once a member of the TRNC presidential advisory council responsible for negotiations with the GCA, does not envision any real possibility that Greek Cypriots could accept an equal status with Turkish Cypriots under a one-state solution.
“They do not want an equal status with Turkish Cypriots. But they want to show themselves to the world public as right by pretending to want equality,” says Bozkurt. With this fake stance, they try to portray Türkiye and Turkish Cypriots as unjust sides, who do not want to accept a resolution on the dispute, according to Bozkurt.
As a result, under these conditions, to reach an agreement with Greeks on the one-state solution is “impossible”, says Bozkurt. While the one-state solution has increasingly become an unworkable bid, Lakadamyali, Turkish Cypriot diplomat, strongly believes that the TRNC will not be alone.
“Türkiye has always supported the Turkish Cypriot position and this is valid for the current Turkish Cypriot position of the two-state solution,” he says.