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Cyprus - Referendum on the reunification

Referendum on the reunification of the Island, 24th april 2004

Referendum on the reunification of the Island, 24th april 2004

24/04/2004 - Analysis

On 24th April next, that is seven days before the island joins the European Union, Greek and Turkish Cypriots are being called to vote on the peace plan suggested by the United Nations, that aims to reunify the country after thirty years of division and fruitless negotiations between the Greek and Turkish communities on the island.

Thirty years of division

Since July 1974, Cyprus has been separated in two by a "green line" that is controlled by the UN. The UN has been on the island since 1963, the year in which the first community conflicts occurred. On 15th July the National Guard overthrew the President of the Republic, archbishop Monseigneur Makarios and replaced him by Nikos Sampson. On 20th July Turkish troops landed in Kyrenia in the North of the country - officially to protect the Turkish Cypriot minority. On 30th July of the same year Turkey, Greece and UK established a security zone controlled by the UN and acknowledged the existence of two autonomous administrations. On 13th February 1975 Rauf Denktash, the Turkish Cypriot leader announced the autonomous, secular and federal state of Cyprus, of which he was elected President the following year. In January 1977 Rauf Denktash and Monseigneur Makarios agreed on the principle of a bi-community federal state but Monseigneur Makarios's death on 3rd August put an end to negotiations. The Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus was declared in 1983, an entity that only Turkey recognises internationally.

625,000 Greek Cypriots, a third of whom are refugees from the North live in the Southern part of the island and 200,000 Turkish Cypriots in the North. On 11th November 2002, a year and a half before Cyprus's entry into the European Union, the United Nations suggested a peace and reunification plan to both parts. Although the European Union has not made the settlement of the conflict a condition of Cyprus's accession in 2004 the perspective of the island's integration comprises a real chance finally to solve a thirty year-old problem. The first UN plan has been revised four times.

On 21st April 2003, the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus allowed its citizens to travel freely to the South of the island. In the space of ten days 130.000 people had crossed the "green line". On 29th December Mehmet Ali Talat (Turkish Republican Party, CTP) was appointed Prime Minister of the North of the island. "1st May is a our main objective", declared this enthusiastic supporter of reunification.

The United Nations Plan

The final version of the peace plan comprises no more than 9000 pages defined by Kofi Annan, Secretary General of the United Nations after eight days of negotiations between the representatives of Greece, Turkey, the Republic of Cyprus and the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus in Bürgenstock in Switzerland. Cypriot leaders committed themselves in February in New York to a timetable according to which an agreement had to be found before the end of March, failing which the Secretary General of the UN would finalise and define the text himself that would then be subject to referendum.

The UN plan suggests the creation of a United Republic of Cyprus, along the lines of the Helvetic Confederation; two States that are mainly autonomous, one Greek in the South and one Turkish in the North. The Turkish Cypriot territory would comprise 29% of the island (as opposed to 36% at present). 120,000 Greek Cypriots would be able to return to live in their old houses in the North of the island. In order to avoid a flood of Greek Cypriots, feared by the Turkish community, their proportion would be limited to 18% of the population in the Turkish Cypriot zone. Compensation has been planned for the refugees who would not be able to return to the North. A maximum of four hundred Turkish settlers would be allowed to remain in the Northern part of the island.

The federal government that would bear the name of collegial presidency would comprise a college of nine ministers within which each community would have a number of seats proportional to its demographic weight, six Greeks and three Turks, elected for five years. The president of the college, alternately Greek, (for a forty month period) and then Turk (twenty months) would be the head of State. He would be assisted by a vice president (Turkish if the latter were Greek and Greek if the latter were Turkish). The two men would represent Cyprus together in the international institutions. A Supreme Court comprising three Greek Cypriots and three Turkish Cypriots and three foreigners would be responsible for settling any possible conflict. Both Greece and Turkey would maintain a military presence on the island, with the numbers of soldiers being reducing progressively to reach a maximum of nine hundred Greek and 650 Turkish soldiers by 2011.

Reactions to the peace plan

The UN Secretary General called on Tassos Papadopoulos, President of the Republic of Cyprus and Rauf Denktash, his counterpart from the North, to "inform and advise" their populations. "There have been too many missed opportunities in the past. For the good of your people I am asking you not to repeat the same errors", declared Kofi Annan in his address to the Cypriot leaders. "The choice is between this solution or none at all", the Secretary General also pointed out. The special UN envoy for Cyprus, Alvaro de Soto has said that if the peace plan were rejected the international organisation would not take up negotiations again "within the foreseeable future". For its part the European Commission said that the peace plan suggested by Kofi Annan was perfectly compatible with community law. The Commissioner for Enlargement, Günter Verheugen, called on "the leaders of the two Cypriot communities to do everything possible to convince the island's population that this plan represents the best and most balanced solution that might be hoped for".

The UN plan has only been approved by Turkey. The Republic of Cyprus and the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus say they are opposed to it.

Tassos Papadopoulos (Democratic Party, Diko), President of the Republic of Cyprus was disappointed that the UN had not taken on board his suggestions to improve the peace plan. The Cypriot leader notably requested, without being heard, that four villages in the Karpas peninsula, one of which harbours an historic orthodox site, be placed under Greek control. He also protested against the reduction from 22% to 18% the number of Greek Cypriots allowed to return to live in their old houses in the Northern part of the island; he was also against maintaining six thousand Turkish soldiers there and finally against the restrictions imposed on Greek Cypriots who would not freely be able to take ownership of the land in the North as long as the Turkish part of the island demonstrated a major economic disadvantage in comparison with the South.

The President of Northern Cyprus, Rauf Denktash, also rejected the most recent peace plan but nevertheless admitted that progress had been made in comparison with previous versions. "As it stands I cannot see anything to say 'yes' to", he maintained. He also warned that the organisation of a referendum, that has been disapproved of by both parties involved seemed to him the best way of rekindling differences. The Turkish Cypriot leader is about to campaign for the "no" to the referendum.

Turkish Prime Minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, for his part, implicitly called on the population of Cyprus to approve the peace plan. Turkey is reassured at having received guarantees from the European Union on the freedom of movement and the limitation of the number of Greek Cypriots allowed to settle in the North. Recep Tayyip Erdogan also knows how important the reunification Cyprus is for Turkey's accession to the European Union and how the lack of a solution to the division of Cyprus might impede Ankara's candidature. In addition to this if reunification does not take place Turkey's situation will be a difficult one - in effect it will be that of a country occupying a Member State of the Union, since, legally if only the Greek part of the island joins Brussels, it is the whole of Cyprus that becomes a member.

The UN peace plan also has the support of the USA that is about to make a "substantial contribution" to Cyprus under the aegis of the European Union.

According to an opinion poll published on 30th March last by the TV channel Antenna 74% of the Greek Cypriots intended to vote against Kofi Annan's plan versus 4% who said they were in favour, 22% remained undecided. However in the North of the island more than 5000 people demonstrated to show their desire to see Cyprus reunited soon and for it to be a member of the EU. Of the Greek Cypriot parties, the Democratic Party (Diko) that is in power at present, is opposed to the UN peace plan and is to appeal for a "no" vote to the referendum. Those in favour of reunification hope that the progressive Labour Party (Akel), member of the government coalition led by Tassos Papadopoulos, will say that it is in favour of Kofi Annan's plan, the only chance for the island to enter united into the European Union. The head of the Greek Orthodox Church in Cyprus, Bishop Chrysostomos, for his part condemned the UN plan that "violates Human Rights and turns Greek Cypriots into second rate citizens". In the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus three parties are openly pro-European and in favour of reunification - these are Prime Minister, Mehmet Ali Talat's Turkish Republican Party, the Movement of Democracy and Peace (BDH) and the Solution and European Union Party (CABP). These three parties won 50% of the vote during the last general elections on 14th December 2003.
Publishing Director: Pascale JOANNIN
The authors
Corinne Deloy
Author of the European Elections Monitor (EEM) for the Robert Schuman Foundation and project manager at the Institute for Political Studies (Sciences Po).
Fondation Robert Schuman
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