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By Christina Georgaki
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Global Britain must lead in resolving the Cyprus issue

4 min read

It is more than 60 years since Cyprus became an independent nation under the power-sharing terms of the 1960 Zurich agreements.

However, after only three years, that hope broke down when the Greek president tried to amend the constitution and some Greek Cypriots began attacking their Turkish Cypriot compatriots. Despite the presence of UK peacekeepers, the conflict spread and many Cypriots were forced out of their homes to retreat to fortified enclaves and thousands fled the country – with many coming here to the UK.

Ten years later, the situation worsened as Greece backed an coup d’état that aimed to make Cyprus a part of Greece. That uprising was led by EOKA – a successor to an organisation of the same name from the 1950s  – that had been responsible for violence against Turkish Cypriots since its formation. During this period, many Cypriots feared for their lives, their futures, and the loss of historic communities.

In 1974, Turkey intervened and, since then, the division between the two groups has solidified along the UN-monitored ‘Green Line’. In 1983, the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus decided that the only way forward was to declare independence. Subsequently, the only UN-backed reunification plan for the island, the Annan Plan of 2004, was supported by most Turkish Cypriots but rejected by Greek Cypriots. Since then, various initiatives have been attempted but the current political stalemate continues.

Cyprus has much in common with the UK due to its time under British jurisdiction. Indeed, Britain oversaw Cyprus and its peoples for the overwhelming part of the immediate 100 years prior to Cypriot independence. Everywhere you look, you can see the history that is shared with Britain. The UK still maintains sovereign territory on the island with its sovereign base areas at Akrotiri and Dhekelia. British influence is palpable on the island, and it was British withdrawal that led to Cypriot independence.

As someone who grew up during the Troubles, I understand the importance of securing lasting peace

However, that independence is clearly not yet fully complete. Consequently, I believe that Britain has a responsibility to help resolve the Cyprus issue and thus create a fair outcome for both Turkish and Greek Cypriots. It is an unfair and untenable situation faced by Northern Cypriots to live in a mostly unrecognised state, given that they are not the ones that rejected a fair unification proposal. They should not be perpetually punished for the inability of their counterparts to reach an agreement. Every effort must be made to achieve a consensus on the island that works for each community.

Cyprus and its peoples have a great history to tell. Both Turkish and Greek communities have a rich culture and past. For a long time, Cyprus was the gateway to the Middle East and still holds an important role in the geopolitics of the region. Any solution must work for both communities and protect their respective heritages. The island can become an exemplar for how peoples of different identities and faiths can resolve longstanding differences.

As someone who grew up during the Troubles in Northern Ireland, I understand the importance of securing lasting peace. Although there were flaws to the resolution in Northern Ireland, we have come a long way and there is much that can be learned from it in resolving seemingly intractable conflicts between two different communities. The peace process in Northern Ireland proves that even the most difficult conflicts can be resolved where there is the will.

The Foreign Office has a unique opportunity to demonstrate the real value of ‘Global Britain’ and help resolve the Cyprus issue as the UK is no longer part of the EU and required to follow the EU line. The United Kingdom has perhaps the greatest influence in the region of all European nations, outside of Greece and Turkey. It should be bold and lead on securing a peaceful and mediated resolution to this long-running conflict, kickstarting discussions on a permanent solution for Cypriots. Both Greek and Turkish Cypriots deserve better.

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