The two negotiating sides in the current Cypriot unification talks left Switzerland for Cyprus with no result today.
The UN, who brokered the meeting, was unable to get both sides to come to an agreement. It is believed that the issue of territory has caused the current breakdown in negotiations.
“The two sides have decided to return to Cyprus and reflect on the way forward. Despite their best efforts they have not been able to achieve the necessary further convergences on criteria for territorial adjustment that would have paved the way for the last phase of the talks,” said UN spokesman Aleem Siddique.
A divided nation
Cyprus has been a divided state since 1974 when Turkish troops took control of the northern third of the island in response to an Athens-inspired coup seeking union with Greece. Since then, a UN patrolled buffer zone has existed between both regions of the island with Northern Cyprus currently recognised as a state only by Turkey. The Turkish invasion saw thousands of Greek and Turkish Cypriots displaced across the island. The invasion has also left a number of ‘ghost towns’ due to the buffer zone being enforced across areas, the most famous being Varosha in the regional town of Famagusta. The largest city Nicosia also remains the last divided city in Europe. It’s the towns and villages that have been in the disputed territory that seem to be one of the major root causes in the talks breaking down.
It looked as if both sides were close to a deal regarding the percentage of territory to be governed under Turkish Cypriot jurisdiction, with Turkish Cypriot leader Mustafa Akinci suggesting 29.2% and Greek Cypriot leader Nicos Anastasiades proposing 28%.
Sensing something was happening, on Monday evening thousands of people from both sides attended a peace rally in the UN controlled buffer zone to show support for the talks that were taking place in Mont Pelerin, Switzerland. It seems that there is a general consensus for unification, but the issue of people returning to the land they owned before 1974 is the major stumbling block. It is believed that the Greek Cypriot side wants around 80,000 refugees to have the chance of return, but the Turkish side wants this figure closer to 70,000. On paper the difference in the numbers of people being discussed seem small, nonetheless it is a serious issue for all those involved.
Lazy political agenda
I visited Cyprus back in 2001 and although it was on a package holiday, my friend and I made sure that we escaped the tacky resort of Ayia Napa and headed north to Nicosia. I was truly amazed at the sight of this wonderful and beautiful city split in two with some streets looking exactly as they did on the 20 July 1974. We did try to gain access to the northern section of the city, but we were politely refused at the border crossing. They did however advise us to try a more rural crossing and we managed to blag our way into a small northern town about 15 kilometres away on the promise to the border guards that we just wanted to sample the cuisine. While there, we got to chat to a few of the locals who were more than happy to tell us their side of the story. Being Irish, I have experienced a similar situation of division in my trips to the north of my country, but this was different. Many of the people we spoke to, who were of all ages, wanted the division to stop. And while some of them did state that they wanted to be Turkish, they also wanted to live in peace with their fellow Cypriots south of the border. I was pleasantly surprised and even though I may have only met with a snapshot of people, since then I have believed that unity is a strong possibility which seems to be held up by an almost lazy political agenda.
As with all agreements like this, both sides must be willing to compromise and they have to accept that in order to win, you need to lose some things as well. It’s a matter of what you are prepared to give up. The unique difficulty here though is that by giving up something, you are effectively giving up on people, which is the worst kind of decisions that any negotiating team has to make.
The clock is ticking
So what is next for Cyprus? This surely cannot be the end of talks and no doubt there are people on both sides and in the middle already talking to each other trying to arrange for the decision makers to return to the table. But all along, the shadow of Edrogan and the ever changing political climate in Turkey looms over the island and who knows what could happen in the next six to twelve months. One thing is for sure: that we will see if Northern Cyprus is allowed to operate on its own and make its own decisions on the future of the island. We will also see just how effective the UN team will be in ensuring that the deal is done before time runs out. Because the last thing the people of Cyprus need is another clampdown on freedom and another possible invasion. Personally, I hope that the outcome will see a united Cyprus and when I do return to this beautiful island, I will be able to see all of it and tell my children about its extraordinary but somewhat sad past.