Exactly seven years ago, in March 2008, in an article titled “Greek and Turkish Leaders Have Just Revived the Peace Process” I reported on the meeting between the then newly elected Cypriot President Demetris Christofias and the Turkish leader Mehmet Ali Talat. That was four years after the failed Annan Plan in 2004. Many of the commentators and others interested in this otherwise forgotten conflict had given up on a solution that would unify the island. This meeting, however, reinvigorated the negotiating parties and the international community. The experts concluded that the timing was great and that the political will was there.
At the time, the BBC reported that when asked by a reporter whether he would be drinking Greek or Turkish coffee during the discussions, Christofias replied: “Cypriot coffee, we will both be having Cypriot coffee.”
Alas, it was not to be. The meeting changed the mood on the island only temporarily. And Cyprus went back to business as usual. The conflict between the Republic of Cyprus in the South and the so-called Turkish Republic of Cyprus in the North—recognized only by Turkey—has the dubious distinction of being the UN’s longest peacekeeping mission. And although there has been no large-scale violence since 1974, it remains an island in turmoil.
The negotiations have centered around truly intractable issues, such as control of territories, the return of refugees, and the presence of the Turkish army and Turkish settlers in the north of the island.
We embarked on this story with Alexcia Chambers when she joined Diplomatic Courier as a correspondent last summer. When she decided to do a story on the discovery of hydrocarbons in Cyprus, I realized we had not discussed Cyprus in a while, mainly because no real news on the advancement of the peace process had come out of the island in recent years. But this discovery seemed pivotal.
A decade ago, as a student of peace and conflict resolution I saw the island as the key to solving other bigger conflicts. I believed that if Cyprus could do it—if it could overcome its tragic past—then others could follow the example. But I lost optimism when the Annan Plan failed. While my hopes were revived in 2008 with Christofias in power, they were soon crushed again when those talks did not lead anywhere new. I believed if the European Union accession did not do the trick then nothing would. An entire generation of Cypriots had learned to live separately and last time I was in Cyprus (2006) I didn’t meet many young people that could point definitively to what the issues were or ones that did not believe the conflict was “ancient history”.
Now Cyprus has newfound wealth to look forward to. An estimated 50 to 60 trillion cubic feet of gas and 1.7 billion barrels of crude oil have been found off Cyprus’ southeastern coast. At a time of renewed discord with Russia and unreliable allies in the Middle East, the European Union consumers may find in Cyprus a viable and sustainable alternative energy source. If political will cannot bring the parties to resolve their issues, gas may do the trick. If shared prosperity does not bring about some resolution, what else can?
Chambers gives a thorough refresher on the Cyprus conflict, the history, the issues, and what could fuel a resolution. For those who have followed the issues, they will find a refreshing take on what matters now to move the negotiations forward. For those newly acquainted with the conflict and the divided island, they will find this book to be a fascinating primer. As for the editors of Diplomatic Courier, we felt there may never be a better time to speculate on a positive outcome for Cyprus’ conflict.
Ana Rold, Editor